Movie Review: “Photograph” (2019)

Do opposites really attract?

There is an incredibly large number of movies which display individuals from very different backgrounds falling in love with one another and, perhaps, living happily ever after (stories tend to focus less on what happens next).  Add to that genre “Photograph,” written and directed by Ritesh Batra, which opens in select theaters today.

An immensely sweet and very funny film, this is the story of a photographer, Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who sells pictures in front of a Mumbai tourist attraction.  He snaps photos on his digital camera and then prints them out on a portable printer he carries in his backpack, offering people a quick memory of a special occasion.  Sending money home every month to his family, Rafi has friends in Mumbai, but his grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar) back home, the women who raised him, wants him to find a wife.

Enter Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), who is studying to be a certified accountant.  Her parents, too, want her to find someone, but probably not someone like Rafi.  He is, after all, a poor man from a village who is trying to pay off his deceased father’s debt and with few prospects, while she is comfortably middle class.

Back and forth the movie goes, showing us how the couple becomes more entwined due to a lie Rafi tells his grandmother about dating Miloni before he even knows her.  At that point, he has merely taken her picture one day, but he sends a copy of the picture to his grandmother to keep her off his back about finding a wife.

Usually, “Photograph” leans more heavily into Rafi’s story than Miloni’s.  This is the film’s single biggest disappointment – for much of the running time, Miloni is quiet, subdued.  Although she becomes more talkative as the film goes on, there are several early sequences when, while we understand where the people around her are coming from and what they are thinking, we have less insight into her.

At it’s best, “Photograph” is a movie that understands it’s own silly tendencies. It knows the parts of it that are stereotypical, it knows what moments it would be better to skip over rather than allow to play out.

In the biggest such skip, Rafi convinces Miloni to pretend to be his girlfriend when his grandmother’s arrival is imminent.  How exactly he is able to do this is unclear, why she would agree is unclear, but the movie breezes right past the sequence.  If the audience had a better handle on Miloni by that point it might be a more successful jump, but Batra still makes it work.  It is an acknowledgement of the genre—we don’t know that moment, we’ve seen it all before—as much as anything else.

Watching the rest of it take place though, watching the love bloom, is magical.  Batra wonderfully captures the awkward, opening, “getting to know you” phase of the relationship as Rafi and Miloni slowly come to accept that, perhaps, what is set up as a fake relationship is turning into something more.  Seeing their own hesitations about the each other’s differences and what they may mean is the two get together feels true to life, and does so no matter where one comes from.

Although there are definitely some aspects of the film which are benefited by additional insight into the culture, even those with no particular knowledge of India and Indian customs will have no difficulty understanding what is taking place.  It is a love story, and as such it is universal. In fact, while the specifics might get lost if one doesn’t read the subtitles, the images would more than tell the story.

“Photograph” is a touching, genuine film.  It understands the magic of love, that the feeling knows no bounds.  It also gets the complications thereof.  It is a movie that, perhaps, doesn’t expand the scope of such a conversation, but rather gets straight to its core, laying bare truths about how we’re all more similar than we are different.

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photo credit:  Amazon Studios

 

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