Ritesh Batra’s new feature is a pensive film about two people who have forgotten to smile. Rafi is a photographer at The Gateway of India, who charges ₹50 per photo. He is a loner. Has a set of friends, with whom he lives in a cramped space, stinking of the alcohol they drink every night, cribbing about their lives. Miloni is a topper of a CA institute who is preparing for the final leg of her CA examination. Both Rafi and Miloni are surrounded by people, usually people who advice them on how to handle their lives but the presence of these does not mean anything to them. Everyone in the lane, greets Rafi, Miloni’s parents are proud of her academic achievements. But neither the greetings nor the pride permeate their cloud of sadness.
Rafi and Miloni meet at The Gateway of India, Rafi clicks her picture. To pacify his frantic grandmother, he writes her a letter along with Miloni’s photo, lying to her that he has found a girl for himself. The grandmother is played by an excellent Farruk Jaffar who is a scene stealer. Rafi carries around his camera and also a burden of the past. Dadi compells him to shed the burden of the past and smile at a hopeful future. Alas, Rafi is blinded by loneliness. His blindfold is undone ever-so-slightly when he starts to acquaint the meek Miloni, a.k.a Noori. Both grieving souls find a smidgen of light in one another, as old hindi songs play in the background, as if acknowledging this surreal relationship.
Ritesh Batra creates a surrealistic world, with old Hindi songs, Rain and two broken individuals. Although the form of the film is fairly realistic, the content echos the feeling of a Hindi novel, with ‘ bhatakti Hui, dukhi aatma ‘ playing an important role. To buy into a world where a young lady, pursuing a career in Chartered Accountant would accept to be a pretend-lover to a poor tourist photographer, could be a little too much to ask for but in this world that Batra creates, you are swept by the melancholy and hence, would not contemplate about the possibility of the situation. We understand Rafi as a person. He is an elder brother who abandoned studies to get his sister’s married and payback a loan taken by his father and is living in loneliness in a bustling Mumbai City.
Miloni is the more obscure character. We know little about her, this deprivation of knowledge about her, restricts us from judging her decision. Miloni is a CA aspirant, of which her father is proud. Over a casual family dinner, her mother shares about Miloni’s achievements in acting, in school. In the same conversation her mother says ” I asked the school to stop awarding her for her acting, as it would affect her academics.” This scene encapsulates the misfortune of the Indian youth and the shameful craving of the parents, for security in life. The first time we see her, she is looking blankly into a mirror as her mother decides which dress looks best on her. Sanya Malhotra beautifully underplays this character and adds a lot more depth to her than is in the script. Miloni’s silent sorrow finds the perfect face in Sanya Malhotra. This is her best performance yet. Nawazuddin has played many deprived characters, poor characters but he somehow, seems to know the degree of poverty and the nature of poverty, sometimes he is deprived of humanity ( Raman Raghav ), sometimes he is deprived of acceptance ( Manto ), and in Photograph he is deprived of Love/Happiness. It is a different man everytime, the pain is the same but the sorrow changes, the eyes are same but the tears change.
The filmmaking is terrific. Ritesh Batra replaces the bustle of Mumbai with bereavement of happiness. He juxtaposes the swarming visuals of a busy city with the aching music of the lonely people in it. There is a string of melody that is used in the film. The points at which it is used is perfect. That piece of melody adds a soulful feel to the heart touching moments. Cameras and mirrors are recurring visual motifs. Suggesting perspective. We even hear a character saying ” Noori photo me zyaada acchi lagti hai “. The film subtly suggests us to view the world through a different lens. Its not necessary that we often view it from the posh eyeglasses of a CA teacher who owns a Honda car. It is refreshing and rather rewarding to view it from the camera of a photographer at Gateway of India, who commutes in a bus.
This is a story without a closure, it is not about a closure. Photograph is about feeling. The profound filmmaking ability of Ritesh Batra, evokes the deeply entrenched sorrow in us and conducts an orchestra of melancholy with it. The silences of Photograph find abode in the depths of your soul and travel with you, long after the film has ended. Photograph hugs you with a sense of melancholy, which deepens as the film goes along and by the end, your soul is engulfed with the musical scent of empathy.