Writer-director Ritesh Batra’s newest feature Photograph delicately holds the lives of its protagonists up as they are, cemented in their circumstances. The filmmaker’s script is dense and metaphorical and beautiful in spite of its scarcity of dialogue. Batra manages to create a touching film that never quite arrests the entirety of your attention.
Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) works in bustling Mumbai as a tourist trap photographer at the Gateway of India. He hustles under the hot sky, day in and day out, trying to ignore the growing fears of his Grandmother, Dadi, that he will never marry. That’s when Molani (Sanya Malhotra) comes into the picture (terrible pun intended). She’s drifting through her own life, acceptant of the desires of her own family, when she reluctantly agrees to have her photo snapped. Rafi hauls his portable printer in his backpack and their journey starts to unfurl. Later, unable to take the beratement from his Dadi, the protagonist constructs a fake lover out of the photo. Molani agrees to go along with the farce as Rafi’s grandmother gets the train into Mumbai.
Batra hones restrained performances from Siddiqui and Malhotra. Caught inside the blaring city, their silence becomes more potent. The latter is particularly refined: she breathes texture into the role and develops ticks indicating an asymptotic connection between who she is and the woman in the photo. She was happier than her; she was prettier. She often shakes her head “no” as she says “yes” to the continual demands from her family.
The overuse of dramatic music guides the emotional arc of the film. At times it’s a crutch for the internal lives of the characters as they are left on screen doing nothing but trapped in thought. The movie’s loose dramatic tugs never cause Molani and Rafi too much undue stress, which leaves your mind to drift. Photograph sighs as it accepts that some worlds are too distant to bridge. Its ends before you can take your final breath and it oddly leaves you glad that the slow, pulsating film is over but sad that the endearing tale had to end.
Photograph is released in select cinemas on 2nd August 2019.
Watch the trailer for Photograph here: