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'Photograph' review: Sanya Malhotra shines in a film that lets silence do all the talking

Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sanya Malhotra in a still from 'Photograph' Photograph:( WION Web Team )

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Mar 15, 2019, 10.42 AM (IST) Written By: Shomini Sen

There's a lot left to interpretation in Ritesh Batra's new film 'Photograph'. Having traveled to various international film festival including Berlin Film Festival and Sundance, Batra's film featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sanya Malhotra is a love story of an uncanny pair.

They belong to different worlds. He lives in a shanty with four other men where the walls are made of tin plates and one lone rickety fan barely gives them any respite in humid weather. She lives in a spacious flat in an upscale apartment complex where she has her own room. He is a street photographer, capturing memories for tourist at the gateway to India. She is a CA topper. But when they cross paths they leave a lasting impression.

She can't recognise the person he makes her look in the photograph and thus is searching for him. He has to present a girl in front of the grandmother as his fiance and she seems to fit right in. And while at first the idea sounds ridiculous, she eventually agrees on the condition of getting more photographs clicked. He just needs to show his grandmother his fiance so that she stops asking him to get married. And as they pose like a couple in front of his dadi the two develop a unique bond

Shot extensively in Mumbai, the story is inherently Indian. The lead protagonists- Rafiq and Miloni- are governed by their respective families. That's perhaps the only commonality between the two. Having two formidable actors playing the leads has its advantage as the director lets both Siddiqui and Malhotra emote through their eyes and expressions. The conversations are few and lot is said through discreet glances and silences.

Batra, in fact, has got his casting on point. Be it the lead pair or the grandmother played by Farrukh Jafar or Miloni's maid played by Geetanjali Kulkarni- all look very convincing in their respective characters. Malhotra is particularly impressive as Miloni, the class topper who is not quite happy being the star in the family.  She is reserved and awkward yet goes along with Rafiq's plan of posing as Noorie, his fiance and even cooks up a back story for herself as she meets Dadi for the first time.

Batra, who also serves as the screenplay writer, doesn't give Miloni a back-story or any explanation on why she is so detached from her family and yet Malhotra shines in her own, in her own accord as the awkward topper who has so much going for her and yet yearns to be somewhere else. Unfortunately, Siddiqui's Rafiq is not as impressive even though he has a formidable back story on why he is willing to stay single all along. Perhaps a poorly written character sketch, Siddiqui's performance is half convincing, unlike Malhotra who shines in her part.

The film, though set in the present day, seems to be part of 90s Mumbai where the concept of selfies and Instagram did not exist. The director also uses old Hindi songs in the narrative, just like the way he had used 'Saajan' title track in his previous film 'The Lunchbox'. In Batra's cinema, Mumbai is not so rushed or busy or indifferent- here the local taxi wala is as concerned about Rafiq's grandmother as Miloni and here the economic and cultural difference between Rafiq and Miloni is never a point of concern.

In the end, the film leaves a lot of questions unanswered or open for interpretation. No explanation is given as why Miloni is so reserved and aloof about her surrounding, why is she always yearning to be somewhere else? The narrative lacks coherence at several moments which ultimately hampers the movie. Much is left to the audience to understand and assume on their own.

Ritesh Batra's 'Photograph' has its moments which may put a smile on your face just like Miloni's occasional smile for Rafiq's camera but ultimately remains underdeveloped film.

Story highlights

Having traveled to various international film festival including Berlin Film Festival and Sundance, Batra's film featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sanya Malhotra is a love story of an uncanny pair.