Monday, 10 June 2019

Sydney Film Festival (7) - Barrie Pattison reviews PHOTOGRAPH (Ritesh Batra, India/Germany, 2019)

Six years back Ritesh Batra made the widely admired The Lunchbox and here he is back again with Photograph a German/Indian movie processed at the Sam Spiegel Labs, a rather better film which has the faults and qualities of the first movie multiplied. 

The plot has Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sanya Malhotra, a couple of not quite young people who meet when he starts to hawk her one of his tourist instant photos in front of Mumbai’s Gate of India. She is called away and he is left with the picture at a time when everyone in the market knows that his revered village Grandma, Farrukh Jaffar has stopped taking her pills because he won’t get married. He is haunted by memories of her doing a three day stand up outside his school when the institution threw him out because his family couldn’t pay the bills. 

To get himself off the hook he sends her the picture as being his bride to be and finds himself in more trouble when the old woman packs up and comes to the city to meet the girl.

Rites Batra
Malhotra has problems of her own though she tops her accounting class (her picture on their building’s poster). Her family arrange meetings with the used-to-be-fat son of a business associate. Conveniently (the film leaves out all the difficult stuff) the leads meet on a bus and she agrees to support his deception - so charming meetings with granny Jaffar.

The lead pair are as irritating as potential lovers in a Naruse film. Even with the laid back performances, we feel like giving them a good shaking until they get physical. He’s bankrolled the marriages of his two sisters and is into buying back the family house for granny who doesn’t need it. She won’t tell her parents that the path they put her is on nothing like what she wants. Their differences are underlined by cutting between him eating with the other workers in his furniture-less dorm and her at the family meal in their comfortable middle class dining room. 

Her excursions into his world give her Delhi belly from street food and the disturbing sensation of having a rat run over her feet in a movie theater. 

The film's digressions are more involving than the main narrative. A taxi driver from his old town is upset when Siddiqui tells him to stop reminiscing and keep his eye on the Mumbai traffic. She has the village woman maid tell her about the country side and he gets advice when he smokes a joint with the totally corporeal ghost of a suicide his friend witnessed. 

We never see the formula entertainment Siddiqui takes Malhotra to but Photograph is actually full of borrowed movie scenes - the purported photo is the spine of Pupi Avati’s splendid Bix (what happened to that?) and finding the pictures of the heroine in the admirer’s room runs for Past’s Abwege through de Palma’s Sisters.

Here we’re still closer to Merchant Ivory than Bollywood but that’s not an accurate location. 

The ‘Scope camerawork is polished and director Batra manages a few nice touches like the shot of Malhotra stuffing the orange gift scarf into her bag as the mesh lift rises through frame. It’s hard to knock a film that so clearly wants the viewer to like it.

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