Movie Review: Photograph (2019)

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Lasting roughly as long as it takes for street vendor photographer Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) to snap and sell pictures of tourists at the Gateway of India, there's a tentative seven note refrain that plays throughout award-winning filmmaker Ritesh Bantra's Photograph.

Heard whenever our protagonist is about to put his heart and ego on the line to risk making a human connection, as just one subtly symbolic touch in a film that's full of them, the delicate sound of those seven keys highlights onscreen what seems to be the writer-director's favorite theme off-screen as well.

Another lovely ode to our need for companionship in an increasingly far-flung, lonely, and chaotic world, Photograph marks Batra's return to India after two English language forays following the breakout success of his smash hit, The Lunchbox.

When Rafi's dominant grandmother Dadi (the scene-stealing Farrukh Jaffar) lays the grandmother of all guilt trips on the hardworking middle-aged man by refusing to take her medicine because he has yet to get engaged, he decides the fastest way to remedy the situation is to invent a fictional fiancée.

Hoping to put an end to Dadi's concerns which have spread throughout the streets of Mumbai, he encloses proof of his attachment in the form of a gushing letter as well as a photo he'd taken of a beautiful young woman who'd posed for the picture on a whim but rushed off before she could collect it and pay. Unfortunately, just as his best friend and the audience predicted, Rafi's lie is put to the test when he gets word that Dadi is coming to meet the couple right away.

Managing to track down the woman he'd dubbed Noorie after a Bollywood heroine from a song that had been playing nearby, it's only when Rafi tries to work up the courage to speak to the shy, studious, middle class twenty-something we know as Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) that composer Peter Raeburn's seven note query kicks into gear.

Settling into something more melodic once she agrees to pose as Noorie, the strangers embark upon a courtship that, much like Raeburn's notes, starts tentatively before their friendship strengthens and the two begin to bond — meeting up on a daily basis — with or without Dadi in tow.

And although the old romcom trope of a fake fiancée is usually played for laughs in America, Batra opts for realism in his Mumbai set love story, letting us into the lives of the characters away from one another to focus not only on their similarities and differences but most importantly the effect that they have on each other when apart.

Centered on a relationship we fear might be as fleeting as a photograph taken by a stranger that reminds us of that one perfect day (or piano notes striving to build to a song that isn't there), Batra's film is as hopefully yearning as it is melancholic and bittersweet.

Hindered by a rushed, staccato final act and some clunky edits, while it isn't as narratively successful or as palatable as The Lunchbox, it's still a moving look at two introverted strangers who strike a chord by accident and strive to stay in tune.

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