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***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

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"Everything about Batra's film is constructed around longing." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Potential romance across the class divide comes with a nifty set-up in the latest film from Ritesh Batra - who returns to the streets of Mumbai for the first time since his 2013 arthouse break-out hit The Lunchbox. Like that film, this is a slow-burn story - so slow, in fact that it periodically loses some of its heat - charting another unexpected connection, this time between poor street photographer Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and studious rich girl Miloni (Sanya Malhotra). The pair meet by chance by the Gateway of India monument, where Rafi plies his trade. "Let me put today in an envelope for you," he tells her before taking her picture, only for her to run off without paying.

At home, Miloni is little more than a shadow doing her parents bidding, successfully gracing posters around the city for excellence in her accountancy exams, but seemingly having time for little else. Rafi, meanwhile, lives in the slums with a surrogate family of workmates - under increasing pressure from his elderly grandmother Dadi (Farrukh Jaffar) to find a wife. In a bid to placate her, he sends gran the picture of Miloni, concocting a story of romance, only for things to backfire when Dadi announces she plans to visit. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Rafi manages to find Miloni - not so much of a narrative reach given those success posters - and begs her to pretend she's his partner, just for a day. Of course, things turn out to be more complicated than that.

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Everything about Batra's film is constructed around longing, from the simple everyday things, such as Rafi's wait for the end of the month to treat himself to kulfi and Miloni's increasing urge to leave the city behind, to the more romantic notions at play here. The pair may begin by going through the motions of a relationship, but the romance soon begins to look and feel more real than quasi. The heat of Mumbai gilds everything in warmth and the gentle absurdity of Rafi's situation keeps the emotions on the right side of sentimental, while even in its more meandering moments, the story is gently supported by Peter Raeburn's score. The documentary feel to the bustling streets of Mumbai are as beguiling as Rafi's open-heartedness and generosity of spirit.

Siddiqui is winning in the role, while his scenes with Jaffar bring a sparky energy to the screen that is a welcome contrast to the film's largely quiet tone. Miloni's character feels somewhat sketched by comparison, because she is mouse-like from first to last, we never get a strong sense of her voice, while her dreams of domesticity seem tame in comparison to Rafi's aspirations - unlike his instant photos, she never quite develops as much as you hope she might. Batra's softly-softly approach won't be for everyone but those who like their romances to be gentle but affecting will find plenty to enjoy.

Reviewed on: 30 Jul 2019
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Two lives intersect in Mumbai and go along together. A struggling street photographer, pressured to marry by his grandmother, convinces a shy stranger to pose as his fiancée. The pair develops a connection that transforms them in ways that they could not expect.
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Director: Ritesh Batra

Writer: Ritesh Batra

Starring: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jaffar, Abdul Quadir Amin, Denzil Smith, Saharsh Kumar Shukla, Ashok Pathak, Sunil Shakya, Robin Das, Sanjay Kumar Sonu

Year: 2019

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: India


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