“Tumne mujhe dekhaa, ho kar meharabaan
Ruk gayee ye zameen, tham gayaa aasamaan”
“What does Miloni see in Rafi?” asked a friend after watching Ritesh Batra’s Photograph. It’s about how Rafi sees her, I replied.
Love is not blind in Batra’s first Indian feature since The Lunchbox (2012). It’s expressed in a vocabulary that fans of Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood for Love will appreciate.
Words are used sparingly — and silences are not awkward but comforting. It’s surreal, tender and wistful.
Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) meets Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a photographer, at the Gateway of India. “Sab chala jaayega,” he says in his sales pitch to click her portrait. The sunlight that falls on her face, he adds, will remain. Batra makes the moment so routine that it’s anything but love at first sight. And yet, there’s something about that brief encounter that lingers. Like a photograph, it remains frozen in memory.
The serendipity of it makes you want these two quiet, lonely souls to meet again.
“Kahee dard kee seharaa me, rukate chalate hote
In-hothhon-kee hasarat me, tapate jalate hote”
Batra establishes their worlds with no sense of urgency. The film is languid, like the leisurely stroll that Miloni and Rafi take. Their socio-economic backgrounds are far apart. When Miloni isn’t studying for her chartered accountancy exams, where she is expected to excel like she always does, she quietly eats dinner at the family table. Rafi, when he isn’t soliciting customers at Gateway, has roommates who keep him company.
Both are dealing with the expectations imposed on them.
Rafi does a better job than Saloni of disguising his forlornness. Saloni’s soft voice and her hesitation in simple things — like picking a colour she likes — suggests an individuality that has been suppressed. Rafi is free to be himself, but it’s a version that he knows can do better. It’s when they are out of their confined spaces are they at ease — they are at their best in the company of each other.
Rafi, Miloni and Dadi are a delight! (Source: YouTube screengrab)
As much as Photograph is about two unlikely people getting to know each other, it’s also a tribute to Mumbai — which allows them to be.
“Meharabaan ho gayee, zulf kee badaliyaan
Rafi needs Miloni to pretend to be his girlfriend in front of his grandmother. Acting, audiences are told, was something Miloni excelled in at school, winning multiple trophies before being diverted to academics. Miloni is happy to play along — after all, there’s nothing more liberating than to create your own fairytale and be in it. The meetings between Rafi, Miloni and Dadi are a delight — with the old woman’s wry remarks keeping Miloni and Rafi on their toes.
There’s no conflict in sight — but there’s still a sense of trepidation. (Source: YouTube screengrab)
And gradually the guard is let down. The sound of settling-in begins.
Tumne Mujhe Dekha from Teesri Manzil plays in the background. Mohammed Rafi’s voice becomes the perfect soundtrack for Rafi’s fairytale love. In a refreshing change, it’s the man who is in shringaar mode. There’s no conflict in sight — but there’s still a sense of trepidation in their idyllic world.
In Batra, dreamers aren’t fazed by restrictions. They carry on in their world where everything need not add up. All you need is love — and a Rafi song to carry on.
Sometimes, the journey is more significant than the final destination.