Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Akash Sinha, Abdul Quadir Amin, Robin Das, Shreedhar Dubey, Farrukh Jaffar, Sachin Khedekar, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Ashok Pathak, Lubna Salim
Directed by Ritesh Batra
Writer-director Ritesh Batra heads back to Mumbai, the setting of his 2014 debut “The Lunchbox,” for another story about two lonely people who become bewitched with one another after a chance encounter. Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Rafi, a middle-aged street photographer working the touristy Gateway of India monument where he meets an accounting student named Miloni (Sanya Malhotra). She agrees to have her picture taken but runs off before paying. Rafi sends the photo to his grandma Dadi to convince her that he’s engaged after word gets out that she’s stopped taking her meds until he finds a wife. Well, of course, she wants to meet this girl so Dadi heads to Mumbai and Rafi has to track down Miloni and ask her to pretend to be his fiancé.
The film’s premise sounds like a zany rom-com but if your familiar with Batra’s previous films like last year’s “Our Souls At Night” with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, then you can guess what’s in store. “Photograph” is a slow-burner that tries to replicate the groove of “The Lunchbox” which also starred Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a supporting role. Although the film never reaches its full potential, the performances by Siddiqui and Malhorta are worth the price of admission plus 86-year old Farrukh Jaffar as the wise grandma Dadi is a pleasure to watch.
There are some funny moments in "Photograph" like the scene where people on the street keep coming up to Rafi to tell him they heard that his grandmother has stopped taking her medication until he finds a wife. Rafi and his siblings were raised by Dadi after his parent’s passed away. Each week he sends money back home to try and pay off his parent’s debt, but taking pictures of tourists doesn’t bring in a lot of cash.
Miloni comes from a conservative middle-class Hindu family that believes in arranged marriages. She’s shy and respectful to her parents and the maid but she’s also unhappy. When Miloni is approached by Rafi at the Gateway of India she’s hesitant to have her picture taken but when Rafi hits her with the line “Years from now when you look at this photo, you’ll feel the sun on your face” she decides to give it a shot. Before Rafi can collect his fee, Miloni runs off with the photo to catch up with some people. She loves the way Rafi captured her likeness so when he tracks her down and asks if she’ll take part in a ruse to fool his grandmother Miloni agrees on the premise that he takes more pictures of her.
Dadi may be old but she's also wise and as the story progresses she becomes suspicious of Rafi's romance. The film takes some interesting detours that include the spirit of a former tenant, a sketchy professor, and possible suitors for Miloni, but these are just minor diversions that serve as interludes between the film's best scenes with Siddiqui and Malhotra together.
I had no problem with Batra’s laid-back pacing. Think of “Photograph” as a nice glass of wine that you sip letting your taste buds enjoy every drop. Siddiqui and Malhotra deliver solid performances and Jaffar steals the show. While Rafi and Miloni’s potential romance seemed stretched out, the two actors are so interesting that I didn’t mind. The subtle ending didn’t satisfy me but on a positive note that’s only because it left me wanting more.
(3 ½ stars)
Now playing at the River Oaks Theater (Houston) and Regal Arbor 8 @ Great Hills (Austin)