Shy photographer Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) takes a picture of student Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), who runs off before he can present it to her. With his domineering grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar) expecting him to find a wife, Rafi placates her with the picture — a ruse that backfires when she announces she is coming to stay.

By Ian Freer | Posted 29 Jul 2019

Ritesh Batra’s Photograph is built around around a fanciful conceit that perhaps even the crassest Hollywood studio exec would deem stretches credibility. Poor, sweet-hearted Rafi (Siddiqui) scrimps and scrapes a living snapping photographs of tourists at Mumbai’s Gateway Of India. Middle-class accountancy student Miloni (Malhotra), in a weird funk, decides to have her picture taken but runs away before Rafi can hand her the image. Under pressure from his grandmother (Jaffar, hilarious) to settle down, Rafi sends her the picture of Miloni (calling her Noorie), passing her off as his girlfriend. Of course, Rafi’s grandmother decides to visit so Rafi is on a countdown to not only find Miloni but convince her to pose as his partner for a few days.

A nuanced, tender picture that doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises or incident but creates a believable romance.

In outline it sounds hackneyed and preposterous, but Batra’s lovely touch both grounds and elevates the scenario. The director of the similarly styled The Lunchbox and the terribly titled Robert Redford-Jane Fonda vehicle Our Souls At Night (say the first two words quickly), Batra creates a nuanced, tender picture that doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises or incident but creates a believable, slow-burn, May-to-December romance about two people you want to see get together.

Siddiqui is a quiet but winning presence as Rafi and Malhotra imbues the potentially passive Miloni — she goes along with both Rafi’s scheme and her parents plans to marry her off — with some sense of ambition and dynamism. As a piece of filmmaking it’s carefully mounted but gets jolts of texture and energy when it ventures with Rafi into Mumbai’s teeming street life, filled with chaiwalas and crazy cab drivers. The film subtly etches the difference in class between the two characters — Rafi is completely used to the rat scampering around the local cinema; Miloni not so much — but also makes it convincing and utterly charming that these two souls from different worlds could come together. In these dark, disquieting days, sometimes it’s just comforting and rewarding to see nice things happen to nice people.

Photograph is decidedly old-fashioned and the outcome is never in doubt but the craft is impeccable, the performances low-key and likeable plus there is something persuasive about Batra’s gentle worldview, his faith in people and love restorative.