If “seize the moment” is a spectrum, C Prem Kumar’s 96 (2018) and Ritesh Batra’s Photograph would lie at the opposite ends. Ram (Vijay Sethupathi) from 96 instructs his students to capture the moment instead of mere photographing while Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) finds a unique momentary aura captivated in a photograph. And then the clichéd quote works in favor of Batra’s Photograph, “the journey is more beautiful than the destination.” For the general audience, Cinema is an escape from reality but one can’t escape the hustle-bustle of reality. Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox (2013) brought in melancholy amidst the hustle-bustle and chaos of Mumbai, his characters like Rafi, Miloni or Saajan, Ila thrive on real “mass” elements unable to escape the melancholy in a hustling urbanscape. which one often passes-by. Ritesh Batra’s craft has a consistent tone and texture where minimalistic stories dive deep and evoke melancholy, even his previous venture Our Souls At Night (2017) offered a nuanced yet simplistic canvas of characters.
Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a struggling street photographer is pressured to marry by his grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar), convinces a shy stranger Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) to pose as his fiancée. As the film opens with an overbridge, it explicitly suggests a bridging element between the class of Rafi and Miloni. Gradually, while traveling to their destination they pass under an overbridge and mend the disparity to only embrace “self”. Ritesh Batra captivates the momentariness instead of resorting towards twists-and-turns for an existential relationship. Like The Lunchbox, Photograph also captures the urban existence with a social disparity. Photograph has unsaid moments and awkward silences which speak volumes, for instance, the characters engrossed with themselves while doing mundane things. Mumbai is a restless character, but Ritesh Batra steps forward and even extracts a character out of a ceiling fan. If you’re a fan of The Lunchbox, it’ll instantly remind of a peculiar attachment to the same. Batra’s mismatched characters are shaped with personal development and social discomfort, that’s where the suggestive ceiling fan comes in the scene: suggestive of mundane existence on loop.
Photograph evokes a strange feeling and reciprocates into the realms of “depth of feeling” rather than “depth of field”. Miloni, constantly dictated by her family finds a rebellion in accepting Rafi’s offer to stand-in as his fiancée for his visiting grandmother. In a strange way, the rebellious act expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being. She even lives her fictional name, Noorie by bringing light into despaired life of her own and Rafi’s. Miloni yearns for nostalgia in the form of “Campa Cola”, a product which disposes of the social disparity by being available irrespective of social status. Her nostalgia is reminiscent of “Toska”, a Russian word which renders a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels, it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, and yearning. Miloni’s aching soul finds expression through her maid (Geetanjali Kulkarni), the most heartwarming subplot where bracelets bind the anguished souls. Amidst the chaos of urbanscape, Ritesh Batra weaves tender sadness and evokes stillness through unmatched characters strangely intertwined. At times it’s exhausting, the stillness transforms into restlessness but it’s a meditative choice.
“In meditation, you are supposed to closely observe your mind and body, witness the ceaseless arising and passing of all your feelings, and realize how pointless it is to pursue them. When the pursuit stops, the mind becomes very relaxed, clear and satisfied.”
Cinematographers Tim Gillis and Ben Kutchins compose gloomy frames, both complement the chaos and melancholy of Mumbai by creating a vivid sky in the light of rapid urbanization (?). Peter Raeburn’s musical score construes a meditative tinge, it literally held me back and introspect the “self” during the end credits. Sanya Malhotra internalizes Miloni (as well as fictional Noorie) with simmering performance. Though, she stands the possibility of being outshined by Nawazuddin, his subtle and composed performance lends her strength to sink-in. Farrukh Jafar adds a liveliness with her old-charm and linguistic humor while Geetanjali Kulkarni steals the show in a glimpse of the moment. Although the Screenplay sometimes flatters itself with stillness, the characters run deeper and the film strengthens its grip long after it’s gone.
Photograph isn’t a firework-like The Lunchbox, it’s more calm and composed. It’s a film about two contrasting individuals handpicked from the “mass” which is apparently unapproachable for the “mass”. Photograph evokes poetry through mundane occurrences, it finds happiness in little things and captures stillness in the chaos, eventually starts growing…
Release: 15 March, 2019
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