×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘Photograph’

'The Lunchbox' director Ritesh Batra returns to India for another likably low-key romance, though its gentleness could use more contrasting grit.

Director:
Ritesh Batra
With:
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jaffar
Release Date:
Mar 8, 2019

1 hour 48 minutes

Six years after the international crossover success of “The Lunchbox,” along comes “Photograph” to prove, whatever Thomas Wolfe may think, that you can go home again. Writer-director Ritesh Batra’s first Indian film since his debut feature has the same quiet streak of wistful sentimentality that made “The Lunchbox” so globally beloved — and, for that matter, the same softly-softly humanity found in his two subsequent English-language efforts, “The Sense of an Ending” and “Our Souls at Night.” Whether roaming the streets of Mumbai or the plains of Colorado, Batra’s filmmaking has remained markedly consistent in tone and texture: You’d be hard pressed to find anyone making nicer films in world cinema right now.

That’s an easy quality to underrate, as is the modest but careful craftsmanship and muted but honest performance style that makes “Photograph” — a film itself about the rewards of patiently building on first impressions — a winsome diversion. At the same time, it’s hard not to wish for an occasional hot surge of uncivil emotion in this mellow May-December romance between a hard-up street photographer and an introverted student from opposing social realms. For all the complex class politics and bottled-up desires at play in its narrative, Batra’s film is perhaps a shade too timid for its own good; it touches the heart, but hovers just short of the soul. That shouldn’t stop this universally appealing tale from charming its way across global arthouses; sales have already been brisk, with Amazon Studios releasing it March 8 in both the U.S. and India.

Credit Batra with some self-awareness in writing his chastely old-fashioned love story, in which the denouement is as easily forecast as it is slow-burning. “The stories are all the same in movies these days,” says middle-aged bachelor Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui, rejoining his “Lunchbox” director) to shy, sweet Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) on a tentative date to see a splashy musical spectacle. The difference, of course, lies in the telling. “Photograph” nods affectionately to the overt romanticism of classic Bollywood, the films and songs of which have long fueled Rafi’s unfulfilled fantasies of a better, less lonely life. And yet, the circling strains of Peter Raeburn’s prettily saccharine, somewhat over-present score notwithstanding, the film’s sensibly shod feet are planted in the non-Technicolor real world.

Indeed, the richest pleasures here are sidewalk-level ones, as Batra and cinematographers Tim Gillis and Ben Kutchins capture Mumbai’s restless street life — a careworn procession of haphazard cab drivers, chaiwalas and ice candy vendors — with an unhurried, observational eye. Rafi is a reluctant part of that urban ensemble: Having journeyed from his remote native village in search of work to pay off a family debt, he scrapes together a living photographing sightseers at the Gateway of India, returning every evening to a cramped single room shared with other male workers. When his cantankerous grandmother Dadi (Farrukh Jaffar) sends word from home of her desire for him to marry, he invents a fiancée to ward her off, sending a snap of a beautiful stranger from the Gateway as proof.

The ruse works too well. A thrilled Dadi insists on visiting to approve the union, and Rafi must track down the girl — Miloni, a middle-class accountancy student in her early twenties, also fending off the marriage-minded meddling of her family — and convince her to live the lie with him. It’s a premise with the makings of a screwball farce, though Batra has little interest in playing things that way, focusing instead on the gentle, gradual attraction between two kindred spirits from different ends of the Indian class (and caste) ladder. As opposites-attract studies go, it’s paced and played with unimpeachable delicacy, if a bit lacking in straight-up tinderbox chemistry — one thing that the similarly vanilla “Our Souls at Night,” for example, had in spades with its Jane Fonda-Robert Redford pairing. It’s certainly pleasant to hang out with Rafi and Miloni (to say nothing of Siddiqui and Malhotra, both winning), but “Photograph” can’t quite convince us that these tender souls, two decades apart, are truly mates.

Saddled with the more passively drawn character, Malhotra must contend with the film’s most jarring contradiction: Though Miloni is presented as a modern woman, pursuing career-oriented education and rejecting arranged marital tradition, she remains a slightly wan character, defined and buffeted by the whims and desires of men, dreaming of wholesome domestic bliss in the country, and strangely unquestioning of the play-acting that Rafi requires of her. (Scenes with Jaffar, stridently hilarious as the film’s inadvertent, take-no-prisoners cupid, lend the film some welcome friction by comparison.) In hearkening back to a purer, simpler era of movie romance, this golden-lit comfort blanket of a movie winds up throwing some progressive baby out with the bathwater. Even that, however, it does with the softest of touches.

Sundance Film Review: 'Photograph'

Reviewed at Soho Screening Rooms, London, Jan. 22, 2019. (In Sundance Film Festival — Premieres; Berlin Film Festival — Special Gala.) Running time: 108 MIN.

Production: (India-Germany) An Amazon Studios release of a Poetic Licence, Film Science, Pola Pandora Filmproduktions, KNM production in association with Skywalk Films. (International sales: The Match Factory, Cologne.) Producers: Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani, Ritesh Batra, Michael Weber, Viola Fügen, Michel Merkt. Executive producers: Smriti Jain, Gaurav Mishra, Arun Rangachari, Vivek Rangachari. Co-producer: Jeff Rowles.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Ritesh Batra. Camera (color, widescreen): Tim Gillis, Ben Kutchins. Editor: John F. Lyons. Music: Peter Raeburn.

With: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jaffar, Akash Sinha, Shreedhar Dubey, Sanjay Kumar Sonu. (Hindi, Gujarati dialogue)

More Film

  • Atlantics

    Netflix Snags Worldwide Rights to Cannes Winners 'Atlantics,' 'I Lost My Body'

    Mati Diop’s feature directorial debut “Atlantics” and Jérémy Clapin’s animated favorite “I Lost My Body” have both been acquired by Netflix following wins at Cannes Film Festival. “Atlantics” was awarded the grand prix while “I Lost My Body” was voted the best film at the independent International Critics Week. The deals are for worldwide rights [...]

  • Stan Lee, left, and Keya Morgan

    Stan Lee's Former Business Manager Arrested on Elder Abuse Charges

    Stan Lee’s former business manager, Keya Morgan, was arrested in Arizona Saturday morning on an outstanding warrant from the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD’s Mike Lopez confirmed that the arrest warrant was for the following charges: one count of false imprisonment – elder adult; three counts of grand theft from elder or dependent adult, [...]

  • Moby attends the LA premiere of

    Moby Apologizes to Natalie Portman Over Book Controversy

    Moby has issued an apology of sorts after writing in his recently published memoir “Then It Fell Apart” that he dated Natalie Portman when she was 20 — a claim the actress refuted. “As some time has passed I’ve realized that many of the criticisms leveled at me regarding my inclusion of Natalie in Then [...]

  • Bong Joon-ho reacts after winning the

    Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite' Wins the Palme d'Or at Cannes

    CANNES — The 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival wrapped with jury president Alejandro González Iñárritu announcing the group’s unanimous decision to award the Palme d’Or to South Korean director Bong Joon-ho for his sly, politically charged “Parasite.” Following last year’s win for humanistic Japanese drama “Shoplifters,” the well-reviewed Asian thriller represents the yin [...]

  • Invisible Life Brazilian Cinema

    Cannes Film Review: 'The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão'

    A “tropical melodrama” is how the marketing materials bill “The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão.” If that sounds about the most high-camp subgenre ever devised, Karim Aïnouz’s ravishing period saga lives up to the description — high emotion articulated with utmost sincerity and heady stylistic excess, all in the perspiring environs of midcentury Rio de [...]

  • Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The 10 Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The Cannes Film Festival is too rich an event to truly have an “off” year, but by the end of the 72nd edition, it was more or less universally acknowledged that the festival had regained a full-on, holy-moutaintop-of-art luster that was a bit lacking the year before. It helps, of course, to have headline-making movies [...]

  • Aladdin

    'Aladdin' Soaring to $100 Million-Plus Memorial Day Weekend Debut

    Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” remake is on its way to a commendable Memorial Day weekend debut with an estimated $109 million over the four-day period. The musical fantasy starring Will Smith and Mena Massoud should uncover about $87 million in its first three days from 4,476 North American theaters after taking in $31 million on Friday. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content