How ‘Photograph’ Captures Class and Identity: An Interview with Director Ritesh Batra

A movie that watches the way a good book reads, Ritesh Batra has once again hit a home-run (six runs for my brown folk) with his latest film, ‘Photograph.’ Starring the iconic Nawazuddin Siddiqui and the elegant Sanya Malhotra, ‘Photograph’ is a candid portrayal of love, class, and identity in the hustle of modern day Mumbai. (Poll: How many photography puns can a I sprinkle throughout this review? We’re already at two if you’ve been paying attention).

‘Photograph’ follows Rafi (Siddiqui) a street photographer whose primary source of income comes from taking pictures of tourists in front of the Gateway of India for money. It is here that he meets Miloni (Malhotra) a younger woman who is financially supported by her parents and is studying to become an accountant. After Rafi takes Miloni’s picture, she disappears before he can give it to her.

[Photo Source: Amazon Studios]
We then follow Rafi home and learn his true living situation. He’s of a lower caste and is burdened by the debt of his family. As if that wasn’t enough to cause stress in his life, Rafi finds out that his dadi (grandmother) is refusing to take her medication until he gets married #priorities. To cajole her, he sends her the picture of Miloni along with a letter under the guise that she is the woman he will marry. What Rafi forgets is that for Indian grandmothers, the proof is in the pudding, so it does not take long before she decides to visit Rafi to meet his would-be wife. After explaining the situation to Miloni, she decides to play along once dadi arrives. The film follows the blossoming of the initially fake relationship into something genuine.

While I typically don’t enjoy “slice of life” films, I found this one charming, smart, and entirely unexpected given the basic nature of the plot. So naturally my first question to Ritesh was:

Is ‘Photograph’ based on a true story?

It’s just fiction! Something like this, as you probably know, would never happen in India. People from such starkly different backgrounds would not interact together for so long like this movie. Their interaction would be limited to ‘how much does this cost’ and maybe ‘here’s your change.’

[Photo Source: Amazon Studios]
While the focus of this film could have very easily turned into a heavily romantic tale, it never became that. The affection between Rafi and Miloni is merely an anchor for both of their journeys to self-discovery and how they both suffer from the burden of choice given their social status within Indian society; both never able to make decisions for themselves. Rafi’s darker skin is constantly compared to Miloni’s lighter skin. Miloni is treated more like property that appreciates in value than a daughter with feelings to her parents. These are all ideals of caste and class that we tend to overlook but are the very reason the system persists to this day. And these parallels in conjunction with how they feel about each other is captured perfectly.

For me, the first scene I write for a movie is always what it is about. I wrote the last scene of this movie first. And then I just went from there to really figure out who these people are. And I had the basis of a rich girl poor guy story but wanted to make it more authentic and real and a little magical even.

Without going into detail about how the film ends, I’ll say that it was a flashback and that it was perfect. Enough closure to leave me satisfied but enough unanswered questions to keep me curious.

It’s very difficult to find a resolution to a situation that has none. Both for someone who is watching it and for someone who is making it. And there are many different ways I could have ended it but this is what made sense and felt the most authentic.

[Photo Source: Amazon Studios]
In my conversation with Ritesh, it also came up that he started writing this film 2-3 years ago. He kept picking it up and putting it down but never felt like it needed to be adjusted for the times. Story telling aside, the film also incorporates many classic Hindi songs that only add to its timeless nature.

With a ‘slice of life’ film such as this one, what do you want your audience to feel after they watch it? What do you want them to walk away with?

I mean, what you really want is for people to take it home with you. So, when people watch this movie and get to the last flashback scene I want them to go home and re-think about the second half of the movie in the light of that last scene. That would be nice. But yeah it would be remiss of me to say that whatever happens happens because it is not really like that because I am trying to say something with this film.

[Read Related: How ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’ Challenges Convention: An Interview with Director Shelly Chopra Dhar]

Just as he did in his feature debut The Lunchbox, Ritesh Batra has once again stripped an unlikely relationship down to its core – the desire for basic human connection. Photograph is now playing in select theaters. (And my pun game was lacking focus today, so only 4. Oh wait, 5.)

By Nikitha Menon

Nikitha Menon (Nikki) hails from the obscure and snow-ridden Erie, Pennsylvania and has always had a passion for comedy and … Read more ›

‘The Romantics’: Revisiting the Legacy and Grandeur of Yash Chopra With Filmmaker Smriti Mundhra

The Romantics

If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking. 

I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.

— Smriti Mundhra

As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.

In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.

For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Smriti Mundhra (@smritimundhra)

At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.

In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.

By Nida Hasan

Editor by profession, writer by passion, and a mother 24/7, Nida is a member of Brown Girl Lifestyle's editing team … Read more ›