- Amazon Studios
In writer-director Ritesh Batras’ 2013 romantic comedy The Lunchbox, the Indian filmmaker delighted audiences with a heartfelt narrative set in Mumbai about a woman who begins an innocent penpalship with a stranger when the lunch she packs is accidentally delivered to him instead of her husband.
Batras, who also directed the 2017 Netflix drama Our Souls at Night with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, returns to his hometown of Mumbai for his latest foreign-language romance, Photograph. Although it’s not quite as charismatic in character and tone as his feel-good foodie film, it does have a gentle approach that is difficult to dislike.
Photograph tells the story of Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a struggling street photographer who is under some intense pressure from his persistent grandmother Dadi (a scene-stealing Farrukh Jaffar) to settle down and get married. Dadi is even going as far as telling people who know her grandson that she will stop taking her medication if he doesn’t decide on a bride.
- Amazon Studios
Rafi, however, doesn’t seem too worried about giving Dadi grandbabies anytime soon. When he meets Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), a pretty, young accounting student who stiffs him five rupees for her photo, he devises a plan to appease Dadi. He asks Miloni to pose as his fiancée and meet his grandmother. If this sounds like a cheesy American rom-com like The Wedding Date or Failure to Launch, it’s close. But what makes Photograph much more palatable than a movie the Hallmark Channel would upchuck at Christmastime is Batras’ direction, the sweet-natured personalities of Rafi and Miloni, and the way Batras as a screenwriter examines the Indian culture and how class factors into their daily lives.
Where moviegoers will lose out is in the film’s dawdling pace. It’s one thing to create an atmosphere where a relationship slowly builds or evolves over time, but there’s nothing in Photograph that tells audiences that once the credits roll, Rafi and Miloni don’t end the charade and go their separate ways. In what could have been the most charming storyline in a movie this year, Rafi searches for something from Miloni’s past that she hasn’t experienced in years, but for whatever reason Batras denies moviegoers the satisfaction of watching that moment unfold when he finally presents it to her.
Batras is a wonderful storyteller and arthouse film fans should commit his name to memory now, but when all is said and done, Photograph will be known as one of his enjoyable if minor works.
Photograph opens exclusively at the Santikos Bijou Cinema Bistro May 24.
3 out of 5 stars