‘Photograph’ review: too quiet for comfort

A still from ‘Photograph.’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Ritesh Batra’s Photograph is about the stillness and hush that masks the many flutters within, whether it’s the lonely, constricted and controlled life of the well-to-do Mumbai girl Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), or the wants, needs and frustrations of a street photographer Rafiq (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). The implausible sneaks in just as quietly into the realistic frames. The class divides merge ever so discreetly as Miloni agrees to play Rafiq’s imagined fiancée Noorie just to keep his grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar) happy.

  • Director: Ritesh Batra
  • Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jaffar
  • Storyline: Rich Mumbai girl Miloni agrees to play photographer Rafiq’s fiancée to keep his grandmother happy.

It’s a wisp of a story that has nothing dramatic or of any enormity about it; no major twists and turns of the plot either. The narrative is more about conversations — from the utterly banal to more gently humourous ones — and the awkward silences and pauses that precede, puncture and follow them. It’s an exploration of the changing dynamics of a situation, and a relationship two individuals are thrust into with each other and, in turn, with their own selves.

Batra lays bare two disparate worlds with empathy and nuance, both in terms of the physical space and the people inhabiting it. The grubby tin-shed ghetto of the immigrants, the grimy blue-collar workers, their drinking sessions and salacious talk is starkly juxtaposed against the polite, stolid dinner in the upper-class Gujarati household.

There is also a persistence in dwelling on the immigrant experience in the urban chaos, be it the tales of the other workers or that of a cabby who is a post graduate in English literature. Miloni’s interactions with her domestic help provide a peep into another, less empowered world within the larger edifice of her privileged home. Even as societal hierarchies are maintained, they get questioned, if not entirely shattered. It’s in these two individuals that don’t belong to her station in life that Miloni finds sympathy, understanding, companionship and comfort. Can it be for keeps?

In many ways Photograph reminded me of Rohena Gera’s Sir in how it holds the class divides up for a probe without really turning the same on its head. The lack of closures, the continuities in both the films hint that things won’t alter radically but wouldn’t remain the same either.

But with Photograph I was also left feeling a sense of void and dissatisfaction, in that it barely scratches the surface of what could have been a far deeper engagement. It chooses to provide just passing snapshots that don’t come together as a memorable album. The situations themselves feel consciously set-up, more deliberate rather than flowing along spontaneously.

Jaffar, who was such a delight with her sharp tongue in Peepli Live, becomes almost like a caricature used to provoke deliberate laughs. Siddiqui’s naturally angsty visage is enough to convey the lacerations deep within Rafi, the gussa (anger) that has frozen inside his body, as his friend puts it. However, Malhotra’s inscrutable, deadpan turn does little to highlight her contained conflicts. The film also, most times, ends up feeling a bit like her character — ill at ease in establishing a connect and curiously inert.

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 7:24:14 PM |

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