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Fuzzy Picture

Saturday, March 16, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

Ritesh Batra
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jafar and others
Rating: * * *

Ritesh Batra’s much-acclaimed film The Lunchbox, was about the unlikely connection between a middle-aged man and a lonely young woman. His latest, Photograph, could be described in the same words, only the circumstances are different—equally implausible—and the two actually meet.

Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is photographer at the Gateway of India, encouraging visitors with poetic slogan, to get a picture taken as a keepsake. Like the earlier film, the period in which the film is set it not specified, so in this age of the selfie, would his photos have any value? (There is a hint though, of the time, with a mention of Campa Cola, that stopped production around 2000).

Miloni Shah (Sanya Malhotra) seems to think so—that the picture he took made her appear prettier and happier-- for which, in today’s dangerous times, she places complete trust in a stranger. She is a class topper, forced to do a CA course she does not care for, rather than pursuing theatre at which she supposedly excelled. She is so passive, that her middle class parents and older sister routinely browbeat her.

Rafi lives in a squalid room with other migrants and sends money home to pay off his father’s debts. When his grandmother (Farrukh Jafar) insists that he get married, he sends her the unclaimed photo of Miloni, claiming she is his girlfriend, Noorie (because a song from the film was playing in the background).

The grandmother writes of her visit to Mumbai to meet the girl. Rafi stalks Miloni, and she is aware of it, making place for him in the bus when another passenger gets up. How he persuades her is off screen, but she agrees to pose as Noorie when Dadi arrives. Perhaps channeling her stifled sense of drama, she even comes up with a backstory for herself, in which she is an orphan living in a hostel.

After that, Rafi and Miloni meet regularly and she is exposed to the seedy side of the city that she would never have stepped into otherwise. Her timidity extends to going along with whatever Rafi and Dadi propose, including eating a roadside gola, that makes her ill.

When Miloni leaves a decrepit rat-infested movie theatre, Rafi comments that all film stories are the same anyway, which could be Batra’s sly reference to typical rich girl-poor guy movies made in Bollywood of the time. But this Rafi-Miloni pairing is so far-fetched, that even though one appreciates the cinematic qualities of Photograph and the competent performances, it evokes unease instead of rosy-hued nostalgia.

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