Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jaffar
Direction: Ritesh Batra
I loved Ritesh Batra’s ‘The Lunchbox’ – the need for companionship, the unusual romance between two people who hadn’t even met and Mumbai, the maximum city, in whose nooks and crannies flowered the myriad relationships that give the city its distinct flavor.
Somehow, ‘Photograph’, Batra’s latest, doesn’t quite work for me the way his earlier venture did.
Rafi, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, is a timid photographer struggling to make ends meet in Mumbai. His grandmother, played brilliantly by Farrukh Jaffar, insists that it’s about time her grandson got married. Rafi lives in a shared accommodation with four others and realizes that it’s best to pretend that he’s already engaged to assuage his grandmom. It’s only when she decides to actually come down to meet his would-be bride that Rafi is in a real fix.
Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) has topped her CA foundation exams and is busy preparing for the finals when she bumps into Rafi at the Gateway of India. They build a unique relationship and he convinces her to be his fake fiancée just to placate his grandmother.
Rafi and Miloni are poles apart – economically, socially, by religion – and have little in common. It would be okay for people like these to be drawn to each other if there was a way to understand the connection between them. The fact that their friendship is a result of Miloni agreeing to be the ‘pretend girlfriend’, and not the other way round, just seems unusual and unconvincing.
While Rafi’s attraction is still somewhat comprehensible, Miloni’s feeling are simply not. I found it impossible to wrap my head around what her real feelings are! Is she actually attracted to Rafi? Is it just an escape from the mundane? Is she just enjoying the playacting (there is a passing mention of how she was very talented in the school dramas)?
All said and done, I just didn’t get the drift of her character.
It’s Rafi’s dadijaan, her wit and her feisty spirit, who makes the film so watchable. Her interactions with both Rafi and Saloni are endearing. We watch closely her wrinkled face and furrowed brows as she sees through the many lies of the ‘couple’. It’s interesting to observe how liberated she is and how she chastises Rafi for wearing his burdens like a medal.
‘Photograph’, though, feels a tad tedious and long. Nawazuddin looks distinctly uncomfortable trying to pull off the unusual lover. Sanya seems unsure about how to pitch her part. I couldn’t even figure out what the deal was between the protagonists – a strange kind of love or just a rare bond between strangers?
Irrfan and Nimrat’s uncommon connection tugged at our heartstrings in ‘The Lunchbox’, but here I felt conflicted by what Nawaz and Sanya shared. ‘Photograph’ just doesn’t have the sincerity and conviction of Batra’s last film.