Photograph review Nawazuddin Siddiqui Sanya Malhotra

Year: 2019
Director(s): Ritesh Batra
Writer(s): Ritesh Batra
Region of Origin: India
Rating: PG-13
Color, 110 mins

Synopsis: A struggling street photographer in Mumbai, pressured to marry by his grandmother, convinces a shy stranger to pose as his fiancée. (Source)

We’re all strangers until we aren’t. While that sounds obvious, it’s also a fact that in today’s self-absorbed world, connection and kindness is sometimes hard to come by. Ritesh Batra’s Photograph is a gentle reminder that, whether we admit it or not, there’s an invisible tie that binds us together. Steeped in cultural identity and introspective atmosphere, Batra’s latest is a irresistible romance that blends the bittersweet with undeniable grace. Grounded by two powerful performances and Batra’s own restraint, this film stops us in our tracks.

Amidst a bustling, transforming Mumbai, Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) struggles to make ends meet. He’s a street photographer who lives a modest life, working diligently to pay down family debt. He’s also got an overbearing grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar) who believes it’s past time for him to marry and settle. One day, Rafi photographs a young woman named Miloni (Sanya Malhotra). Miloni is struggling with her own set of problems, a prized student torn between her own path and the one that her parents want her to have. After Rafi cooks up an ill-advised plan to satisfy his grandmother, he and Miloni develop a complex relationship. It quickly springs into something neither of them could have anticipated.

While the story satisfies on a standard romance front, it’s Batra’s vivid portrait of Rafi and Miloni’s cultural milieu sets the film apart. Too often, stories like this are busy going through the motions. In Batra’s film, Mumbai’s inherent social pressures and deep traditions dictate an evocative story. Starting with a relationship founded with a lie, Batra dissects parental obligation and two aimless souls at a crossroads, using generational and class divisions to make his story bigger than a typical, insular courtship. Rafi and Miloni are fully formed by the world around them, blending fact and fiction to find deep, human truths. It all amounts to something downbeat yet satisfying despite some darker implications.

Photograph Nawazuddin Siddiqui Sanya Malhotra

In addition to Batra’s affecting direction, the film’s humanity shines through Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sanya Malhotra’s piercing performances. Both are pitch perfect in their opposing roles. Siddiqui and Malhotra both have a gentle, sensitive nature, able to evoke a quiet storm internally while outwardly expressing kindness and warmth. Together, they give the film both the depth and diversity it needs to really sink in. On the side, Geetanjali Kulkarni contributes some of the film’s most tender moments. She plays a soft-spoken but sharp maid, striking up a fascinating relationship with Malhotra’s Miloni. As Rafi’s grandmother, Farrukh Jaffar keeps everyone on their toes. She’s funny, pragmatic and pushes things forward in a grounded way.

Photograph is refreshing thanks to its cultural perspective. It’s a film that feels personal above all, with Batra capturing familial and cultural struggles in a way that very few have. Ultimately, the film ends in a way that is rewarding without pandering. Batra has created an important film about the people, places and obligations that tie us down but also lift us up.