Ever wondered what’s the definition of photography? ‘Painting with light’. Ritesh Batra’s latest offering, ‘Photograph’ is a painting with darkness. It explores the emptiness and vagaries of life in Mumbai. In a world of ‘fiery feminist’ leads, here’s a quiet, composed and reserved actor, the brilliant Sanya Malhotra as ‘Miloni’ aka ‘Noorie’.
If you anticipate yet another ‘chashmish to charismatic’ transformation here, you’re in for some serious ‘pleasant disappointment’. Ritesh Batra lends a realistic charm to his leading lady. Miloni is so unmistakably raw and real that if you happen to bump into someone like her, you just might able to listen to her eloquent silences. Now when was the last time you felt such affinity with an onscreen character?
‘Photograph’, in an implied sense, has its narrator disguised as lead character. Mind you, Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s ‘Rafi’ isn’t your regular ‘Inse miliye yeh hai Laxmi Niwaas pariwaar’ kind of narrator of the Hrishikesh Mukherjee films. Nawazuddin’s Rafi is street-side photographer at The Gateway of India, Mumbai, who sells sunshine for a living.
The character of Rafi is silent witness of the Maximum City, who has accepted its ironical contrasts like its unpredictable rains and is brimming with positivity, wearing a twisty smile that only his grandma (the terrific Farrukh Jaffar) can see. Nawazuddin approaches his role with a restraint that ably exorcises the ghosts of ‘Gaitonde’ and ‘Faijal’, ensuring that his Rafi remains relevant and endearing all through its running time of 108 minutes.
Farrukh Jaffar, the woman who predicted the fate of Mohan Bhargav in Asutosh Gowarikar’s ‘Swadesh’ with the unforgettably prophetic line, “Apne hi paani mein pighalna barf ka muqaddar hota hai” owns the screen in every frame, often reducing Nawazuddin as an intern, especially in a bus sequence where she is sharing her concerns with him about marrying a girl who is more educated and successful than him.
Actors like Akash Sinha and Saharsh Kumar Shukla lend support to Rafi and his grandma, chipping in precisely at the points where they make the right impact. Even a brief role of Virendra Sinha makes his presence felt with a line that muses about the nation’s fading memory. The scenes between Sanya Malhotra and her domestic help, played-to-perfection by Geetanjali Kulkarni stays with you even after you exit the auditorium.
Spelling out the lines or scenes of these characters would rob you of the joys of discovering the nuggets studded in the film’s narrative. But it’s difficult to resist hinting at this one gem of a scene featuring an actor is a well-guarded Raaz here. Well, I’d better stop here.
‘Photograph’ would be incomplete without the mention of its cinematographers, Tim Gillis and Ben Kutchins. The way this duo captures the film with almost every frame in mid close up will go on to become a textbook in cinematography of our cinema.
There’s no ‘look the frame looks so beautiful’ approach here, but a visual grammar that resonates with the characters’ minds. John F. Lyons edits the film with such precision that its ‘chalo chaai peete hain’ and ‘har picture mein yehi to kahaani hoti hai’ moments transpire at the right time and the right place. Ironically, the audience never get to see the ‘photographs’ for long, still they get the bigger picture.
Kudos to Writer-Director Ritesh Batra, his brilliant technicians and his ensemble of gifted actors, who collate a ‘bunch of photographs’ and transform them into a fabulous flipbook called ‘Photograph’.
To end on a poetic note, here’s a poem dedicated to ‘Noorie’ of ‘Photograph’:
A moment smiled at me,
I captured her with a click.
Thereon she lies frozen,
Wearing a smile thawed.
Beholders sing her glories,
Yet she stares, unmoved.
The camera makes one wonder:
Is this what Da Vinci captured?
A frozen moment,
A smile thawed.
Did Mona Lisa really smile?