After the unprecedented success of his directorial debut—The Lunchbox—filmmaker Ritesh Batra has come up with Photograph, a simplistic love story of a photographer (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who clicks pictures at the Gateway of India, Mumbai, and meets a student (Sanya Malhotra). The director was overwhelmed with the response Photograph recently garnered at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival, Germany, that was held between February 7 and 17.
“I got a lot of compliments at Berlinale. The response was great and I earned money. Around a thousand people saw the movie,” says Ritesh. Talking about the film fest, Nawazuddin further adds, “There is a huge theatre [in Berlin] where people watched the film and appreciated it. It felt good and they received it with so much warmth. It was quite cold in Berlin and when we clicked pictures our hands were shivering but the warmth [from the audience] made it all disappear. Sometimes, you tend to ignore the weather when you see good pictures.”
Ritesh shares that he has always been fascinated by the romantic movies of Bollywood from the 80’s. “We’ve all seen the rich-girl-poor-boy-kind of love stories. I wanted to make something similar but closer to reality. Nawazuddin plays a guy from a village, who comes to Mumbai to make money by clicking pictures of tourists at the Gateway of India. While Sanya plays a Gujarati girl, who is studying to be a chartered accountant. The real challenge was to make a believable film,” says the director.
The plot might seem like just another love story but lead actor Nawazuddin says it wasn’t an easy job playing the role of simpleton Rafi. “Ritesh curbed our acting sensibilities. He took several takes as he wanted us to be casual and not simply act. He has captured those moments and casual manners seamlessly on screen,” says the actor. Interestingly, despite wanting the actors to be casual, Ritesh forbid Sanya to be friends with Nawazuddin on the sets. “He didn’t want me to talk to him. Yet, he asked me to be comfortable with him. We would have script readings without Nawaz. I just met him in the gym once and said ‘Hello sir’. But I did go through all his interviews to understand how he approaches his roles,” explains Sanya.
Nawazuddin claims that the film is not just another clichéd Bollywood love story. Talking about the depiction of love in films, he says, “We are so used to watching these filmy stories. Whereas in real life love is much more interesting and we have failed to capture that on screen. We are caught in the trap of love stories which are fake and don’t exist. Love is so casual in real life. Sometimes we do not express it in reality. We just move from one relationship to another and express our love elsewhere.
In Photograph, we have not emphasised on whether the two characters will end up together. But the climax is bound to impress you.”
Being a popular tourist spot, Gateway of India is filled with photographers, who earn their livelihoods by clicking instant picture of visitors. Nawazuddin spent a considerable amount of time studying these men to pick up their mannerisms and nuances for his role. “I observed how they clicked pictures
and took the printouts, their mannerisms and how they talk. I noticed that they come in a white shirt and black pants and very fresh in the morning but by noon their energy levels go down.
By evening they have simply lost interest in their work,” says Nawazuddin. With The Lunchbox and
now Photograph, Ritesh and Nawazuddin have become one of those must-watch director-actor duos in Bollywood.“I always thought of Nawaz for the role [in Photograph] because the character is very much like him. I find him innocent and there is a certain sweetness about him. I was impressed by Sanya in Dangal. She helped us make the scenes [in Photograph] better during the readings.
I like to cast actors who help you make the film better. I enjoy exploring characters. I didn’t give Sanya many dialogues because she speaks through her eyes,” says Ritesh about his casting choices.