The Movie Waffler New Release Review - PHOTOGRAPH | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review - PHOTOGRAPH

photograph 2019 movie review
A photographer convinces a young woman to pose as his girlfriend.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ritesh Batra

Starring: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Sachin Khedekar, Denzil Smith

photograph 2019 movie poster


Following a brief diversion in English language cinema with The Sense of an Ending and Our Souls at Night, breakout Indian filmmaker Ritesh Batra returns home for Photograph, a return to the sentimental storytelling of his acclaimed debut, 2013's The Lunchbox.

Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) earns a meagre living taking instant photographs of tourists in the centre of Mumbai. The family debt he's become straddled with has severely compromised his life. He lives in a shack with four other men and has written off his chances of ever finding a female romantic partner, much to the chagrin of his grandmother, 'Dadi' (Farrukh Jaffar), who is so desperate to see her grandson get himself hitched that she refuses to take her medicine until he finds a woman.

photograph 2019 movie review

Reacting to this emotional blackmail, Rafi sends Dadi a recent photograph he took of a shy young woman, with whom he claims he is romantically involved. His plan backfires when, so delighted with the news, Dadi decides to come visit Mumbai to meet Rafi's new love. Rafi tracks down the woman from the picture, Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), who, once an aspiring actress and now bored by the routine of her life, agrees to go along with his ruse and meet Dadi in person.

Needless to say, what begins as a fake relationship blossoms into the genuine article, but Rafi and Miloni are from very different worlds. Rafi is penniless, a Muslim, and appears to have gotten stuck in a rut. Miloni is from a wealthy Hindu family and as the top student of her Accountancy class, seems to have the world at her feet. But is it really Miloni's world, or merely one that has been moulded for her by her parents?

photograph 2019 movie review

The aspects of his life that Rafi long feared would turn away any potential female suitor hold an attraction for Miloni, who envies his freedom and his ability to find joy in the simple things. Meeting the wealthy young son of her father's boss, at her parents' behest, Miloni confesses her dream is not to become an accountant but to run a small farm and sleep under the shade of a tree in the afternoon. So alien and in his material world, so devoid of aspiration is this notion that the young man simply stares at her in disbelief.

Yet at the same time, Miloni struggles to adjust to the poverty Rafi has taken for granted all his life. On a trip to a rundown cinema, Miloni flees the auditorium when a rodent brushes past her ankles, an occurrence Rafi is so familiar with he doesn't give it a second thought, as oblivious as Robert De Niro taking Cybill Shepherd to a porno theatre in Taxi Driver. After consuming some ice cream from a street vendor, Miloni is forced to visit her doctor, so unaccustomed to junk food is her stomach.

photograph 2019 movie review

Photograph may be sentimental and saccharine at times, but it doesn't sugar-coat the practical role class plays in dating. Even in less class conscious societies than India, inter-class relationships are as rare as inter-racial relationships. Following their cinema trip, Rafi and Miloni discuss how every Bollywood movie seems to have the same plot - that of two people from opposite sides of the class divide falling for one another - and Batra leaves us guessing as to whether his socially divided lovers have any real future together.

Unable to make any grand financial gesture to Miloni, Rafi instead does something far more romantic, embarking on a quest to find a bottle of the discontinued cola Miloni claimed to love as a child. It's the sort of affecting subplot that distinguishes Asian romantic cinema from its more superficial western counterpart, as do the many moments of silence between Rafi and Miloni. No doubt Photograph will find itself remade by Hollywood, its silence replaced by snappy, smart-ass dialogue, which misses the point. Giving his lovers minimal dialogue, Batra allows us to project ourselves on Rafi and Miloni (perhaps this is why so many women fell for Rudolph Valentino; he kept his mouth shut and looked pretty) and ultimately, whether or not they can succeed as lovers is left to us to decide. I think they just might be okay.

Photograph is in UK/ROI cinemas August 2nd.


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