Directors: Aditya Rathi, Gayatri Patil
Cast: Neena Kulkarni, Amita Khopkar, Vikas Hande, Chaitrali Rode,Sameer Dharmadhikar
The latest Marathi movie, Photo-Prem, on Amazon Prime Video, reminded me of a 2014 Tamil work called Mundasuppati (Turban Village). Here the villagers have a huge phobia about being photographed. The story goes that an ancient superstition about faces being captured on camera will spell doom. The film had a great climax with the village mob chasing our hero, a photographer, as he is eloping on a two-wheeler with his lady love. And the contraption stalls, and in a clever move, he takes out his camera and points it at the angry crowd, which turns around double quick and scoots!
In Photo-Prem, helmed by Aditya Rathi and Gayatri Patel, the protagonist, Sunanda, also addressed respectfully as Maee (played by Neena Kulkarni), is also camera shy to the extent that she has a terrible fear of being being captured by the lens – paranoia that she has had ever since she was a teenager. It is never clear why she feels so, and as she grows older and gets married, it is revealed that she was not even to be seen in her honeymoon pictures. Her boorish husband (Vikas Hande), who keeps lording over her and hardly ever talks to her, complains in one scene that it appeared from the honeymoon pictures that he had gone all by himself. The directors, who are also writers, stretch this a little too far when Sunanda shies away from being photographed even during her own daughter’s marriage.
But this changes when Sunanda attends the funeral of a woman, and notices her family scampering around trying to find a picture of her’s for a newspaper obituary. Later, when Sunanda visits the woman’s home, she sees the picture of a young girl on the wall; obviously the family could not find a later-day picture.
This incident pushes Sunanda to ponder about her own death and how her grandchildren can remember her in the absence of a photo. And the rest of the movie wanders through her attempt, punctuated by reluctance and a deep sense of inexplicable shyness, to get a picture of herself. This sudden obsession is not written with a sense of believable conviction.
And, Photo-Prem seems such a drag even with its relatively short runtime of 90 minutes, peppered as it is with inane situations. Incidents such as an acquaintance repeatedly accosting Sunanda on the street with questions, and her own daily conversations with her house-maid are at best silly, and if the writers had fancied that these would produce laughs, they could not have been wide off the mark.
However, there is something to take away from the core plot, which seems to be covertly lambasting the modern world’s obsession with selfies and photographs. But this is hardly fleshed out. What a pity!
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is a movie critic and Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s biographer)