Photograph Movie Review: Serenity at its peak

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The Lunch Box fame Ritesh Batra has this knack of creating characters with whom the different shades of life come to the fore. Photograph is no different.

A long shot shows Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui is brilliant as always) walking on a footover bridge as the traffic on the roads below is crawling along. There is a placidity and quietude about him even as he is deluged with loud honks of the vehicles. This is the very first scene of the movie. Even though it is ephemeral, it is also a moment to be captured on camera. A photograph of this scene will bring back the memories of solitude and quietness amidst the noise of everyday hustle and bustle. Such is the beauty of a photograph that Rafi, who earns a living by taking instant photos of tourists outside the Gateway of India, uses to great effect. The Lunch Box fame Ritesh Batra has this knack of creating characters with whom the different shades of life come to the fore. Photograph is no different.

Rafi and Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) are like two different ends of a thread. Circumstances are such that the two ends meet each other in the form of a knot. But the knot is not tight enough and is in the position of getting disentangled anytime.

Rafi’s stubborn grandmother (It must be said that Farrukh Jaffer’s authentic performance lent great weight to this grandmother character) is trying to get him married. Around the same time, he meets Miloni with his usual selling point when he says that “saalon baad jab aap ye photo dekhengi madam, toh aapko aapke chehre pe yahi dhoop dikhai degi…” (You will be able to see this sunshine on your face when you will take a look at this photo after several years). The story begins when Miloni agrees to act as his girlfriend in front of Rafi’s grandmother and a feeling of love and affection starts growing between them.

It is the bond between Rafi and Miloni that remained the standout feature of this film for me. Rafi, while writing a letter to his grandmother, writes that Miloni is like the first rain in the fields. It is, also, lovely to see Miloni’s slight hints to her fondness for him during her interactions with Rafi’s grandmother. The charming interaction between them when they sit opposite to each other in a tea shop exchanging their childhood secret is so wonderful (While Rafi reveals why he always goes for a kulfi at the end of a month, Miloni narrates her love for a beverage named ‘Campa Cola’ that is not in business anymore). When Rafi reaches just in a knick of a time to take Miloni away from her teacher (Jim Sarbh), who was trying to force her to come with him for a cup of coffee, she, later, innocently expresses her relief of being in Rafi’s company again as she utters, “Tum theek ho?… Main bhi theek hoon” (Are you fine?… I’m also fine).

The life of Rafi and Miloni, however different they are, seems to have one thing in common – wedding. Rafi dodges a question like “What sort of girl do you want?” from a shopkeeper. Even the news of his grandmother’s decision to not to take her medicines until he agrees to marry reaches the likes of taxi drivers and the kulfi (a type of dessert) sellers who know him. Miloni, on the other hand, is a bright student, belongs to an affluent family and her parents are looking for a perfect match. She is living life by the rules laid down by her parents. All she has to do is study well and get married to a guy who they think to be her best match. She has no say in the choice of her own dress (In a shop, she nods in agreement to whatever dress her family chooses for her). She silently eats her food and responds with a feeble voice that all is well when enquired by her father. The best portrayal of suppression of her feelings comes to light when the camera focuses on her feet, which is hesitantly moving, and we hear the voices of her parents discussing her future.

I was moved by Miloni’s character and a lot of credit goes to Sanya Malhotra for lending innocence and gentleness to this character with aplomb. Miloni’s revelation that her photo, taken by Rafi, showed a much happier version of her and a more beautiful one too, is telling evidence of how, in reality, she has to be content within the constraints of her life. In another instance, when Miloni expresses that she wants to live in a village and work in the fields, we understand how eagerly she wants to be liberated of her confinements.

As the movie neared its end, Rafi tells Miloni, while sitting outside a movie theatre, that all films have a similar tale where a man and a lady love each other but get separated due to man’s poor financial condition and the pressure exerted on the lady from her family. Somehow, the ending of such tales seems to be the most likely outcome of this movie as well. Ritesh Batra, probably, understands how attached one can get to these lovely characters and there is no definitive end given to this story. The beautiful bond between them is ephemeral just like the scenes inside a photograph.

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