It is probably fair to say that director Ritesh Batra’s Sundance Film Festival premiere, “Photograph,” is unlikely to become one of his standout movies.
Pitted against his masterly 2013 debut work “The Lunchbox,” and his stirring “Our Souls at Night” in 2017, “Photograph” has the feel and texture of an old-world romance. It is leisurely and laid back but lacks the spirit of his earlier films.
In a way “Photograph” is similar to the Cannes premiered “The Lunchbox,” which traces the anguish of an ageing widower and a lonely, neglected young wife, whose handwritten notes, sent through Mumbai’s famously efficient lunchbox system, evoke affection as the pair build a fantasy world together.
However, “Photograph” explores a seemingly impossible relationship, this time between an upper-class educated girl and a street-corner lensman.
Mumbai and its iconic structures provide the backdrop to the unlikely story of Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) and Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui).
Struggling street photographer Rafi, pressured to marry by his grandmother, convinces shy stranger Miloni to pose as his fiancée. The pair develop a connection that transforms them in ways they could not have expected.
But Batra never makes it clear why an attractive and well-to-do Miloni gravitates toward Rafi, who takes snaps of visitors around Mumbai’s famous Gateway of India monument.
Instead, Batra paints a quaint picture of an era when romance played out through stolen glances and coy touches, instead of mobile phone texts and social media.
“Photograph” tries to be subtle and soft, but fails to connect on an emotional level, leaving several questions hanging. The pace is so lethargic that the film’s 110-minute running time begins to feel like an eternity.
Malhotra (whose performance in “Dangal” was a high point) impresses with her understated mannerisms and ability to sink into the moody, melancholic character of Miloni. But Siddiqui stutters and stumbles in the face of an underwritten part, and the bond between them does not gel.
Peter Raeburn’s music is intrusive to the point of extinguishing what few traces of affectionate warmth exist in Batra’s script. In the end, “Photograph” seems a soulless sojourn.
Watch the railer here: