Photograph - Film REVIEW
Director: Ritesh Batra
REBEKAH DAVIES gives the thumbs up to a love story in an intoxicating setting that’s as much about self-discovering as smouldering chemistry.
I’ve never been there, but when I conjure Mumbai I visualise humanity en masse: colour, heat, and intensity. But I found this new film from acclaimed director Ritesh Batra is remarkably tranquil, despite its setting in India’s largest city.
The heart of Photograph is a love story, but there’s also a tender subplot which explores awakening to one’s true self and potential. So instead of a played-out, claustrophobic tryst between two characters, we have a wonderfully spacious, unfolding tale of two people discovering one another, and how that changes their respective lives.
There is true alchemy in the photograph that gives the film its title. Studious Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) encounters street photographer Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), allowing him to capture her likeness on a whim. Both are being pressured by their families to marry. In Miloni’s case, an arranged marriage is being foisted on her. Rafi has an overbearing grandmother to whom he sends the picture of Miloni, initiating a ruse that draws the two together.
Allusions to India’s caste system are all-pervasive: Rafi’s darker complexion and humble existence stand in contrast to Miloni’s pale skin and academic prowess. Yet what’s most interesting about this film is what the two inspire in one another: a latent desire for a different life. The film doesn’t rely on lush cinematography to seduce the viewer. In fact, parts of it look like guerrilla tactics were employed to get the shot. It’s a character-driven story, with subtle, engaging performances from its lead actors.
There’s so much introspection, so little interruption from the outside world, you’re left suspended in the warm and natural chemistry between the two sweethearts, who miraculously find one another again and again in the chaos of metropolitan Mumbai. Photograph isn’t a conventional love story, in that it’s as much about self-discovery and the pull between the old world and the new, but ultimately that’s its charm.
[Note: You can see Paul Rose’s film festival review of Photograph here.]
* Photograph screens in NZ from October 17.