Ritesh Batra’s unassuming, poignant and likeable Bollywood film, Photograph, which opens in Canada on May 31, conjures up what might have been a successful romantic relationship in a better world.
Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) ekes out a living as an itinerant photographer in Mumbai’s Gateway to India tourist attraction. He seeks out new customers by promising them indelible memories that will last a lifetime.
As she strolls around the Gateway to India, Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), a student, agrees to have her photograph taken by Rafi. She leaves without paying, leaving him more puzzled than angry.
A bachelor, Rafi shares a room with a bunch of men, who all wonder when he will finally get married. A reserved and gentle man in his 30s, he doesn’t know the answer to their question, but he likes Miloni, a quiet, self-effacing and soft-spoken young woman. They meet again on a municipal bus, and Rafi takes another photograph of Miloni in a park.
Is Rafi a stalker? Not exactly. He appears neither weird nor strange, and Miloni takes a shine to him.
The film shifts to a busy railway station where Rafi greets Dadi (Farrukh Jaffari), his loving and chatty grandmother. She advises him to start a small business, being convinced that photography is a dead end for an ambitious man. He promises to follow up.
Rafi’s platonic friendship with Miloni blossoms as he treats her to tea in a cafe and takes her to a movie theatre.
Batra’s underlying message is that Rafi and Miloni can only be friends rather than lovers. He’s a working-class Muslim from a remote village and is poorly educated. His prospects are dim. Miloni, a Hindu, comes from an urban middle-class family and, as an outstanding student, is potentially upwardly mobile.
Miloni’s family introduces her to a suitable prospect, a young man who’s ready to finish his education in the United States. He leaves her cold, while she amuses him as a naif who wants to live in a village and farm the land.
As time passes, Rafi and Miloni grow increasingly fond of each other. As they sit in a car, she reaches out to touch his hand. He doesn’t reciprocate, staring straight ahead in embarrassment. But he goes out of his way to buy her a bottled soft drink that is hard to find in the city.
Photograph grows on you as Rafi pursues a relationship rooted in a fantasy and doomed to crash. Batra draws no hard-and-fast conclusions, but invites viewers to imagine the outcome.