You see the pretty girl and the not-so-pretty boy standing before India Gate. You notice the tint on the movie posters. You get the tone of the movie. You remember Lunchbox.
In a time when "the problem is that there's no time these days. It feels like everyone's running, running, running these days," Miloni, a CA student is fascinated by Rafi, a struggling street photographer who does more than just click pictures. He tries to help the tourists "remember the feel of the sun on your face, this wind in your hair and hear all these voices again". He is adamant about freezing time. To make it stay, to remember it and not just run; for "It's a big country" but "the country's memory is very small". Is he trying to save as much as he can for the "country's memory"?
The movie, it seemed to me, was more about how fast we are running, running, running through the characters of Rafi and Miloni. One, a struggling street photographer, whose livelihood depended on the number of pictures he clicked a day minus the number of girls who disappeared while he hunted for envelopes in his bag. And two, a young girl caught in the traffic jam of life—complete with rash-driving parents who killed her talents and honking, rushing CA classes.
She is depressed. Well, as much as Veera Tripathi (played by Alia Bhat) was, in Imtiaz Ali's Highway. Depressed and unhappy enough to want to abandon their "economically" promising lives for a hut on top of a hill (Veera) and to "live in a village. I'd farm in the morning and nap in the afternoon under a tree" (Miloni).
The movie is aesthetically slow and silent; isn't insistent on delivering a captivating 'story'. Rather, it is lending you time and silence by letting you glimpse into the lives of two contrasting characters and watch as they make slow and silent progress in their relationship.
Like Vishal Batra's previous movie Lunchbox, Photograph is deep and dwelling. It demands something "happening" in our monotonous life. He tells stories of shifts, of steering course, of living and of existential crisis.
How happy are we? Miloni cannot get past the 'extraordinary' fact that she looks more beautiful and happier in the pictures that Rafi takes of her. "When I saw the photograph... I didn't see myself. I saw someone else. She was happier than me. And prettier than me." With Rafi, she could be Noori—pretty and happy—and not Miloni, with a crown attached to her forehead on billboards.
Both of the protagonists, from absolutely diverse backgrounds—middle class Hindu and low class Muslim, these obvious differences aside, are the same. Shy. Silent. Yielding. Driven by the Dadi's desires versus pushed around according to the parents' wishes. Unopposing. Unopinionated. Hardworking. Married off sisters single-handedly versus topped CA foundation classes. Religion, class or caste do not do the "divide".
The movie, not short of humour, is inimitable in its pick of metaphors, such as Rafi's transformation from kulfi tough to a softie so soft that it melts in your mouth.
Justice has been done to all the characters. Dadi (played by Farukh Jaffer) is the epitome of all; "nothing gets past me," she declares. She is undeterred by all the "differences" between her son and Noori. In a way, she herself is as imposing as Miloni's parents are, but Noori nevertheless seems to like her. She frets when Noori catches a cold from eating the ice-candy that she had forced her to eat and finds slight comfort when Zakir, Rafi's flatmate says that Rafi's love will help her digest ice-candies one day. “I have a mother’s heart,” she tells Rafi more than once since the beginning of the movie. It is she who insists that Rafi cut off his strings, from his dooming responsibilities - just as Noori's Billboard was taken down.
Perhaps, the beginning of the storyline is quite fantastic. The meeting and convincing Miloni to pretend for his grandmother may be far-fetched. But aren't we all aware of fantastical things happening to us? Haven't we all had cinematic moments in our lives?!