‘Photograph’ celebrates Indian romance

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Set in Mumbai, India, “Photograph” comes to the M.V. Film Center Friday, May 31. Ritesh Batra directs this romantic comedy; his film “The Lunchbox” played at the Film Center in 2014.

In “Photograph,” Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is a photographer who solicits customers at Mumbai’s landmark Gateway of India. His poetic come-on is, “Years from now when you look at this photo, you’ll feel the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, and you will hear all these voices again. Or it’ll all be gone. Gone forever.” When a young woman, Miloni, hears this and stops for a photo, he obliges, but she runs off without paying.

Viewers are treated to handsome overhead shots of the city as Rafi returns to the tenement apartment he shares with three other men. Everyone Rafi meets on the way home reminds him about his grandmother, who lives in the small village he comes from. She has stopped taking her medication to pressure him into marrying. Meanwhile Rafi and Miloni run into each other repeatedly, on buses, in taxis, and on the streets, without actually connecting,

The director crosscuts between Rafi in his apartment and Miloni in the middle-class home where she lives with her parents. The cultural contrast becomes obvious. Miloni is studying for an accountant’s degree, although she had excelled in drama in high school and wanted to be an actress. As the accounting school’s star pupil, she appears on a poster advertising the school she attends.

Inspired by pressure from Dadi (Hindi for grandmother), Rafi writes to her, saying he has a girlfriend named Noori. Noori is, in fact, Miloni. A delighted Dadi announces she will visit Mumbai to meet the so-called Noori. The poster with Miloni on it helps Rafi track her down, and he asks her to pretend to be his girlfriend. As the ersatz couple spend time together and learn about each other’s lives, romance begins to bloom. When Miloni meets Dadi, she tells her a made-up story about how her parents died in a mosque collapse.

One of two recurrent motifs in the film is Miloni’s affection for her family’s maid, who describes the farming village she lives in. The other is the family’s efforts to fix up their daughter with a middle-class boy who is going to the U.S. for an M.F.A. Miloni tells him she wants to live in a village and farm.

With her lively personality, Dadi (Farrukh Jaffar) outshines the two would-be lovers, who come across as shy and uncertain. One of her pungently humorous comments to Rafi is, “Why should I be a bone in your kebab?” She urges her grandson to stop trying to pay off his father’s debts and buy back the family house. She wants him to start a business.

The slow-moving plot in “Photograph” is conventional and a bit like a fairy tale. It’s the director’s rich and sensitive depiction of the world of these two and life in Mumbai that makes the film appealing. And the touches of humor, like the couple’s trips to what must be Bollywood movies, add to its charm.

Information and tickets for “Photograph” and other Film Center movies are available at mvfilmsociety.com.