A tender and moving love story from India, “Photograph” explores class differences involving a street photographer and a woman whose picture he took. It has been directed with smoothness and sophistication by Ritesh Batra, who previously made the successful film “The Lunchbox,” also set in India. “Photograph” emerges as among the best films of 2019 thus far.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Rafi, who in Mumbai roams tourist sites to take pictures. It is a meager living as he struggles to pay off a family debt. He is being bugged to marry by his grandmother, colorfully portrayed by the veteran actress Farrukh Jaffar, who is coming from her village to visit Rafi. To appease her, Rafi convinces Miloni, a shy woman whom he has photographed, to agree to pretend to be his intended bride. His grandmother is an all-knowing woman who cannot be easily fooled and she dispenses some wise advice to Rafi for his future.
Sanya Malhotra is cast as Miloni, and her performance is nicely modulated. As one might expect, a real attraction between Rafi and Miloni deepens, but the class differences pose an obstacle.
Miloni lives in a middle class environment complete with a housekeeper to whom she is close. Rafi shares a crowded attic dwelling. When he and Miloni go to a neighborhood movie, a rat scampers across her feet. She tries to ignore it. But director Batra quietly underscores the differences between the lives of Miloni and Rafi, even while the screenplay, which Batra wrote in addition to directing, moves them closer and closer in their feelings toward one another.
Will love conquer? Batra in the end leaves it up to the viewer to decide. On the one hand, he drops a hint after Miloni exits a film before it is over. Rafi follows and says she didn’t miss anything, as the stories all end the same with the man not getting the girl because he’s from a different class. Yet, on the other hand, we see Rafi and Miloni walk away together.
The city of Mumbai comes across as an added character as a result of the excellent location filming. The performances ring true in this setting, and once again, Batra has created a convincing story entertainingly told with delicacy and an understated emotional buildup. The result is a very special achievement. An Amazon Studios release. Reviewed May 16, 2019.