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.