The Indian culture-clash drama “Photograph” has a plot out of an old screwball comedy, but is handled so seriously and so gently that it practically evaporates as you watch it.
Rafi (played by the prolific Indian actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is a photographer who hustles to get tourists to pay to have their picture taken at a Mumbai landmark. He lives in a tin-roofed apartment with several other street vendors, and sends most of his money to his grandmother, Dadi (Farrukh Jaffar). What Dadi really wants from Rafi is news that he’s found a fiancée, so one day he sends a photo of a girl he encountered at his job, in hopes of getting grandma off his back.
The girl is Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), a shy accounting student from an upper-middle class family. Miloni dreams of being an actress, but she studies to make her parents happy. What would really make them happy is if she would marry a rich young Indian man, preferably one emigrating to America.
Rafi’s photo ruse only works for a short time. Soon, Dadi announces she’s coming to Mumbai, and she wants to meet Rafi’s new girlfriend, whom he has given the name Noorie. Rafi finds Miloni again — Mumbai is a big city, but it’s also a small world — and asks her to help continue the masquerade to make Dadi happy. Miloni, who’s all about putting other people’s happiness ahead of her own, agrees, and the screwball comedy ensues.
Writer-director Ritesh Batra navigated these cross-cultural crossed wires before, most successfully in his 2013 film “The Lunchbox,” in which a lonely housewife’s meals for her husband (played by Siddiqui) get mistakenly sent to a sensitive widower. Here, the cultural differences between the rural-born poor Rafi and the prosperous Miloni are more pronounced but less interesting, and the movie suffers for it.
There’s also little chemistry between Rafi and Miloni, in part because Batra makes Miloni so timid that there’s scarcely any room for Malhotra to blossom. “Photograph” is, in the end, pretty to look at, but distressingly two-dimensional.
Opened May 17 in select cities; opens Friday, May 24, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake City). Rated PG-13 for some thematic material. Running time: 110 minutes; mostly in Hindi, with subtitles.