When street photographer Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) takes a picture of middle-class student Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), it initially appears to be yet another job for him. However, pressure from Rafi’s grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar) for him to find a girl convinces him to concoct a lie involving the picture of Miloni, which he tells her is a photo of his fiancée. Rafi manages to successfully persuade Miloni to go along with the deception and meet with his grandmother, however, as the two spend more time together, they appear to be genuinely attracted towards each other.

Batra, most famous in the West for his gently appealing 2013 romance The Lunchbox, appears to be telling a similar story here, with the focus on Rafi and Miloni’s contrasting backgrounds resembling the differing circumstances of the earlier film’s leads. As with Lunchbox, Batra elicits strong performances from the supporting characters, with the actors playing Rafi’s fellow lodgers and Jaffar providing the majority of the film’s comedic moments in their interactions with a frustrated Rafi.

However, the central relationship between Rafi and Miloni never comes across as convincing, with  Siddiqui and Malhotra sharing minimal to no chemistry in their scenes together, a situation exacerbated by their obvious age gap. Batra’s script doesn’t help matters, as neither character share a moment more intimate than simple hand-holding or a conversation more meaningful than one involving their favourite food and drink.

This last plot element is resurrected to provide Rafi with a degree of agency, as he sets off on a journey to find Miloni’s favourite and now discontinued soft drink. However, as with many other narrative threads (Miloni’s arranged marriage being the most glaring example), this subplot is left unresolved. Other plot elements also appear implausible, such as Miloni quickly accepting Rafi’s request to go along with his charade and pretend to be his fiancé without objecting in any way to his proposal. It could be argued that Batra is possibly subverting the narrative conventions of the romance genre, but that doesn’t appear to be evident in the execution, which appears to take the central relationship seriously.

As a result, Photograph comes across as mostly inert, with little character or narrative development and uninspiring lead performances. This results in the main relationship failing to convince, which is surprising since Batra has effectively depicted relationships in both The Lunchbox and 2017’s The Sense of an Ending. Any fan of these two earlier films would be advised to give this one a miss, as it doesn’t represent Batra at his best.

@ Filmhouse Edinburgh from Fri 2 Aug 2019