Ritesh Batra’s latest work demands attention, thought and above all discussion.

The tremendous power of a photograph can never be underestimated. 

Perhaps no film of the last couple of years has better illustrated this than Ritesh Batra’s Photograph. The film was released in UK cinemas on Friday, August 2nd 2019 and has been heralded as a highlight by many. Looking over the recent slate of movies, it’s a tough task to stand out in terms of quality, but it’s managed to do just that. 

It’s been an absolutely tremendous year for film in the UK. A personal favourite has been Hu Bo’s Chinese epic An Elephant Sitting Still – definitely check that out if you haven’t already. Besides that, we’ve seen the release of such phenomenal efforts as Vox Lux, Burning, Under the Silver Lake, BooksmartOnce Upon a Time in Hollywood and more. 

What a year, but let’s narrow our focus and talk about the Ritesh’s moving romantic-drama. 

Ritesh Batra returns with Photograph

40-year-old filmmaker Ritesh Batra has quickly risen to a status of great importance in the realm of Indian cinema. 

If you cast your minds back to 2012, you may remember some serious buzz generating about his directorial feature debut. He was making shorts back in 2008 – The Morning Ritual – and continued to do so for a few years, but it was The Lunchbox which saw him receive international acclaim and attention. 

It’s a lovely film, which sees a young housewife experience a connection with an older gentleman by passing notes in lunchboxes. Sure, it’s a quirky premise, but one which the performers ensure were able to wholeheartedly invest us in. Audiences and critics alike praised the film as one 2012’s very best. Since then, he’s helmed the 2017 films The Sense of an Ending and Our Souls at Night; now, he’s back with Photograph. 

Photograph movie ending

This touching feature centres upon Rafi (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a street photographer in Mumbai who asks a stranger named Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) to pretend to be his fiancé in an attempt to fool his grandmother. Although it begins as a desperate attempt to put his family at ease, a journey of discovery ensues. 

It begins when Rafi snaps a photo of Miloni, claiming that she’s his partner to his grandmother. However, when she pries, he’s left with no choice but to come clean or track her down and strengthen the illusion. Miloni sees somebody else in the photograph, not literally of course, but someone happier and content. Ritesh uses the device of the photograph to communicate so much about her; is she able to see herself through different eyes because of the image? Is this just how everyone else sees her? It’s an empowering and comforting thought and provokes transformative self-reflection.

We learn lots throughout, such as her dreams of wanting to be an actress, and as Rafi begins to create a character for her to play, she is able to build on that and feel exhilarated in another life, essentially making her dreams of youth come true.

It’s the ending which has urged many to question the meaning of it all though. It’s that conclusive quote: “The stories are all the same in movies these days.” What are we supposed to learn from this?

What does it mean?

There are numerous ways to take it, but perhaps the big takeaway is that yes, the stories have all been told before, but we’ll never be done with exploring new characters. 

Every single screen character is unique and has the potential to unlock something inside of themselves. In that sense, we’re met with a dilemma, because Photograph presents us with a story we feel we’ve seen so many times before, but it manages to set itself apart. It’s a fairytale, a classic story, but Ritesh’s welcome twist – courtesy of the authentic characters – breathes new life into the familiar. 

The story sounds like something master filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu would tell, and in turn, we’ve seen similar films in the vein of Ozu – like 2012’s Like Someone in Love – tell this kind of tale, but differently. 

Perhaps Ritesh is saying that it’s not about the stories, but how they’re told. Fortunately for him, he tells them very well. Just some thoughts!

In other news, how many episodes in The Handmaid’s Tale season 3?