Filmmaker Ritesh Batra, as evidenced with The Lunchbox and Our Souls at Night, has longing on his mind. Photograph, Batra’s latest exploration into how strangers connect, centers on Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a Mumbai street photographer who takes a photo of a Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) while on the job. This chance meeting leads into something deeper, as Rafi concocts a plan to have Miloni pose as his fiancée to make his loving grandmother Dadi (Farrukh Jaffar, an absolute scene stealer) a happy woman.
Rafi, whose sole focus is to work his tail off and buy back his grandmother’s house, has spent years away from his village, but his thoughts remain back home. Miloni, who received her share of awards acting in school, is now studying accounting, pursuing a career to please her parents. Both come from different socio-economic backgrounds (Miloni’s family is middle class) and their age difference makes their pairing feel like a May-December romance.
The mutual affection between the two is refreshingly restrained, and Batra keeps these emotions close to the vest throughout much of the tale, preferring to let moviegoers fill in those spaces themselves. When Rafi takes Miloni to a Bollywood film, he wearily addresses that such stories of mismatched lovers is old hat, and though they are ironically the stars of their own tale, their coupling is rooted in reality rather than cinema.
Subtle in tone yet immersive in atmosphere, Photograph is a richly woven tale of strangers who are unwittingly stuck in their respective world, only a different path in the offing. Photograph’s ambiguous ending may leave some viewers frustrated, but credit Batra for giving us the power to create our final chapter. The chemistry between the two leads is surprisingly powerful beyond measure, providing Photograph with a beating heart that many romantic themed films fail to capture. They say the world is for lovers, and Photograph reinforces that notion poetic and surprisingly resounding fashion.
Photograph is now playing in select theaters.