Film Review: PHOTOGRAPH (India/Germany 2018) ***

Photograph Poster

A struggling street photographer in Mumbai, pressured to marry by his grandmother, convinces a shy stranger to pose as his fiancée. The pair develop a connection that transforms them in ways they could not expect.


Ritesh Batra


Ritesh Batra

Writer/director Batra has risen to fame with his Mumbai hit THE LUNCHBOX which allowed him to direct two English language films (OUR SOULS AT NIGHT and THE SENSE OF AN ENDING).  Batra is back to his Mumbai roots with his new modest film, a sort of Indian romantic comedy of manners or Indian manners rather, entitled PHOTOGRAPH.

As the title PHOTOGRAPH implies, a love affair begins with a photograph, in this case, the photograph taken of a pretty girl at the Gateway of India.  And the romance begins from there.  For those unfamiliar with India or Mumbai for that matter, PHOTOGRAPH delivers an insightful look of the city and the continent.  Mumbais smoke ‘bidi’ too, their slang word for joints.  The Gateway of India is no less than Mumbai, so called because it is a beautiful city by the waters and a tourist spot for both foreign and local tourists was well.  Mumbai is not only the busy overcrowded city as depicted in other films like Danny Boyle’s SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.  In PHOTOGRAPH, director Batra shows both the beauty and bustiness of the Indian city.

PHOTOGRAPH is a light romance, so there is not much that the audience needs to concentrate on or figure out or meditate on.  But there are lot of Indian cultures and mores built into the story.  India is known for its caste system.  In the story the male and female come from different classes.  The girl Didi or Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) is Muslim with a maid (who she can confide with) and a stricter mother who has arranged Miloni’s mirage with another Indian who is about to get his MBA from the United States.  The running joke is that the man has been fat and has lost weight and now thin and the fear is that he might get fat again.  When Didi meets him for the first time, he offered her cake and refrains from having any himself saying that he is watching his weight.

The love which blossoms between Didi and Rafi (Bollywood icon Nawazuddin Siddiqui) takes its time to unfold.  The affair is sped up by the arrival of Rafi’s grandmother, Dadi
(Farrukh Jaffar), a fiesta old woman who is not afraid to make her thoughts known.  She also puts in a bit of bite into the story.  Director Batra is in no rush to have them kiss or have them do the nasties in the bedroom.  Which is a good thing.  But romantic comedies are romantic comedies and one big flaw of rom coms are that they are predictable and are filled with cliches.

Director Batra overcomes the predictable clichéd romantic comedy by parody, lifting the film a few notches.  This he does in the movie theatre where Rafi takes Didi to see a movie for the second time.  Didi leaves the auditorium at one point, the reason given being a scurrying mouse beneath her feet.  When Rafi goes out to get her later on, they discuss the predictability of romantic comedies.

If one does not expect too much, PHOTOGRAPH is a satisfactory romantic comedy with a Mumbai touch that enlivens the action.  


Film Review: THE SENSE OF AN ENDING (UK 2016) ***1/2

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the_sense_of_an_ending.jpgDirector: Ritesh Batra
Writers: Julian Barnes (novel), Nick Payne (adaptation)
Stars: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter

Review by Gilbert Seah

The first thing that should be known when watching the drama THE SENSE OF AN ENDING is that it is based on the 2011 Man Booker Prize winning book of the same name by British author, Julian Barnes. The influence of a writer and the importance of writing are both evident at many points in the film.

The story in the book is told in two parts, narrated by Anthony ‘Tony’ Webster at two stages of his life, the first as a school lad in the 6th form (Grade 12 or Pre-University) and secondly in his elderly retired part of his life. The script by Nick Payne (a playwright with this being his first film script) reverses the process. The film opens with Tony (Oscar Winner Jim Broadbent) in his senior years recounting the past, which is told in flashback. This story-telling better suits a film structure.

The film is the story of how a letter written in anger by Tony in his younger days had affected the girl, Veronica (Freya Mavor) he loved and his best friend, Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn). The story here emphasizes the importance of writing even as Tony jokes with this line uttered at the start if the film: “No one writes anymore.”

The film is an excellent blend of writing in and direction. The words of the book come alive as the beautiful dialogue is spoken by the actors. Director Ritesh Batra’s (he made the highly successful Indian film THE LUNCHBOX in 2014) English directorial debut is excellent.

Batra plays the film as a mystery with lots of skeletons in the close in addition to false clues to tease the audience. The truth comes out at the very end. Nothing is what it seems. The climax occurs in the pub where a revelation is made to Tony. Batra’s Indian influence can be noticed with the over-excited, chubby Indian postman who delivers the post to Tony’s house.

Despite the seriousness of the story, there is a lot of humour in the film. The humour comes primarily from Tony’s lesbian daughter, Susie (Michelle Dockery). She is a member of the LPL (lesbians impregnating lesbians). When the film opens, she is taking her father to the lesbian baby delivery classes.

But the film, in all earnest, (funny enough) is a coming-of-age story of a senior retired man, disgruntled with his life, as seen as he mutters and grumbles about at the start of the film. After his growing up process, he is shown the kinder gentleman.

Jim Broadbent is again, excellent in his meticulously portrayed Tony without any display of over-acting. Charlotte Rampling (who is always doing roles of frustrated seniors) plays the elderly Veronica while Matthew Goode has a small role as Tony’s teacher in school.

THE SENSE OF AN ENDING is so called because, as quoted from by author Julian Barnes, in life incidents just happen. In books, a meaning to an incident is explained. In the film all events occurring to Tony’s life come with explanations. And very satisfactory ones resulting in a very satisfactory film.



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