Photograph

Bit of a disappointment this, from Lunchbox director Ritesh Batra. He’s again concerned with old systems of Mumbai life, with the story of a tourist photographer, Rafi, who falls for a melancholy woman he photographs but who runs off without paying.

Rafi pretends she’s his intended and sends the picture to his grandma back in his ‘village’. She promptly travels to the city to meet this girl, so he has to find her and convince her to play along with the conceit…

There’s a lot to like here – the Mumbai photography, the atmospheres, the beauty of the taxi cabs, street stalls, chai shops, sweethearts, cramped dormitories for workers, bus rides, the middle-class flat and an old movie house where rats scuttle. It’s a film about class divide and fulfilling impossible family dreams instead of your own desires.

But Batra makes it all rather crushing. Nobody seems to be enjoying themselves very much, nobody smiles. And lots appears to be missing, including where the best bits should be, such as Rafi explaining to Miloni about his Grandma, or a subplot about her favourite brand of Cola which comes to nothing. 

This ellipsis sometimes has the dreamy, ghostly feel of, say, Uncle Boonmee and the Thai cinema of Weerasetakul, and there’s certainly an insight into modern Mumbai life – yet it’s all old-fashioned, full of respect for elders and family, with no internet or cell phone, and this analogue style feels a bit contrived, where the Lunchbox found a clever way in – through the tiffin box system – to the same ideas. Even the changing nature of a photograph on mobile phones doesn’t really get explored. Come on, I kept thinking: smile for the camera, at least.