The still camera used as a character in any film offers two perspectives to the audience – one is through the movie camera which has shot the film, and the other is the still camera held by one of the characters. One of the best examples of offering two different perspectives through the two cameras was Aparna Sen’s Parama.
Another milestone film where the audience is witness to two cameras at work at the same time in two different ways is in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), a nail-biting thriller that reveals how the still camera, in the hands of an ace and intelligent photographer trapped temporarily on a wheelchair can unravel a cold-blooded murder by freezing moments in time and space through an open window.
It all began in films, at any rate, with Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966), where a high fashion photographer has his moral comeuppance. The photographer is no detective but becomes one when he discovers the magic of his camera while he is imprisoned in a wheelchair. In Aravindan’s Chidambaram (1985), e photographer Shankaran, who is the cause of all the upheavals in Sivakami’s life leading to Muniyandi’s suicide, moves from the position of the spectator to that of the active participant, forsaking in the process, his camera.
But the ideal allegory that comes to mind while watching In Photograph, the photographer, Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), does not place much emphasis on his camera once he befriends Milonee (Sanya Malhotra), distanced from his peer group where he drinks every night and treats everyone to kulfi at the end of the month and listens to old Hindi songs. With the advent of the mobile phone camera and its sophisticated versions, the conventional still camera is fading away from the public domain.
The basic storyline of a street photographer and an upper-class girl in Nitesh Batra’s Photograph may carry resonances of William Wyler’s Roman Holiday. Still, it is different because it happens against the backdrop of certain neighborhoods in Mumbai in an entirely Indian ambiance that has shaped the characters and given them a life of their own. It does not take the couple on holiday making the girl step into pranks she would never have imagined in normal circumstances like Roman Holiday.
It is precise because of this organic character of the script that flows freely and fluidly from the Gateway of India to the narrow lanes of the shanty that is Rafi’s abode to the old, antique building flat that is the residence of Milonee who burns the midnight oil in a mature residential area with the kindly maid placing a mug of coffee to keep her awake, to her coaching class that uses her big picture for its ad posters and so on. The rest of Mumbai – the charming neighborhoods with their fancy shopping malls and nattily dressed residents are kept away from the frame, which adds flesh to the film.
Photograph, after a long time, features a photographer as the protagonist of the film. Not just any photographer but the one who loiters daily near the Gateway of India in Mumbai to catch tourists, click their photographs, and deliver them immediately through a hand-operated machine. The price of each picture is negotiable between Rs.30 and Rs.50, provided you know how to bargain. His sales pitch is hitched to nostalgia and is intelligently framed. The way he delivers the ball is good enough to attract customers.