When I received the invitation to screen this film, I was definitely interested. I love films that highlight different cultures and I was excited to see this film with characters located in Mumbai. In addition, the story sounded intriguing. After watching the film, I found it thoughtful, character-driven with excellent acting. The introspective film captures the culture of Mumbai and the contrasting lives of the people who live there.
Directed by Ritesh Batra, “Photograph” follows Rafi, (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a struggling Mumbai photographer who works day and night to pay off a family debt. Pressured by his grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar), he tells his Davi that he’s met a girl, sending her the photo he took of a young woman during his work but then has to ask the woman, Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), to play his girlfriend when his grandmother decides to visit. The pair connect despite the differences in their backgrounds and inspire each other.
This film is really about the changes in both Rafi and Miloni as they interact with each other. It is a study in contrasting cultures. Rafi comes from a small village and struggles to make a living. Miloni is from an upper-class family from a different religion and is a successful student. Rafi, however, has a rich community of friends, people who know his family and a loving grandmother and two sisters. His life, while far from content, is filled with people who care about him and he is free to make his own choices. Miloni is from a strict family who makes most of her decisions for her, to the point where she doesn’t even have a favorite color. She is isolated with few friends. As Miloni spends time with Rafi, she begins making her own choices, begins making friends and standing up to her parents. While she doesn’t change completely, she is more empathetic to those around her as well. Rafi is inspired to stop spending his life on past family debts and move toward the future, making a life where he is happy.
One of the elements that really shines is the study of the different cultures, the layers that most likely only natives from Mumbai will really grasp but it makes for a film with nuances and details that explore the differences between Rafi and Miloni. It is also very character driven, providing many moments where we get to see the pair connecting with each other, especially when Miloni talks about times with her grandfather and drinking a soda, Campa Cola, that has since been discontinued. I also love the way Rafi’s grandmother and friends treat him, with love and teasing, Davi encouraging him to find a better path in life.
The acting is one of the best aspects of the movie. Both Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Rafi and Sanya Malhotra as Miloni are excellent. Nawazuddin is nuanced and subtle in his acting. Sanya is sweet and shows two sides to her personality, one which is submissive and then a stronger voice as she learns who she wants to be. Farrukh Jaffar as Rafi’s grandmother is extraordinary, and delightful, providing humor, maternal love, and a voice of reason while the secondary characters do a solid job of illustrating how tight-knit Rafi’s community is and how isolated Miloni is. There is not one weak performance in this movie.
If there are weaknesses, it is that the film misses some possibilities. It is not a traditional romance which is great but there are also missed opportunities to highlight the connections between Rafi and Miloni as well. One part of the movie shows Rafi trying to track down some Campa Cola for Miloni but we never get to see that moment crystalize. It is a loss to the film because it could have empathized their connection with each other but instead, the filmmaker chooses to make a commentary about the most movies being traditional, boy meeting girl and all the dynamics thereof. But it misses the sweetness that this film has and doesn’t resonate as well as the rest of the film.
Ultimately, the acting makes this an incredible movie. If you like films about connections and other cultures, this film is surely one to watch. It is sweet, inspirational at times, and is full of humor and love. While it is slow, very character driven, the change in the two characters more than makes this film one worth the viewer’s time. I love the laughter, the family moments, the connections between the main characters despite the divide of their culture. One of the absolute saving graces is Davi with her scolding and savviness. I loved the film, even if it is subtitled, the cultural aspects are well worth it.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Campa Colas
Directed By: Ritesh Batra
Written By: Ritesh Batra
Starring: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Akash Sinha