This is a brave film. Brave and slight. Or so it seems from the outside. A film about an average housewife, played by the redoubtable Neena Kulkarni, getting on in life suddenly comes up with a throbbing fear: there is no decent photograph of hers anywhere. What if tomorrow, or for that matter today, she dies? What would her family use in the obituary?
This would hardly seem like a topic for a full-fledged feature film. I mean talking for myself, once I am gone what do I care what others do with my memory? But to Sunanda Kulkarni(the watchable Neena Kulkarni) it’s a problem that keeps her restless awake, fidgety and anxious.
Not that anyone notices. Her poor husband (Vikas Hande) is too engrossed in the rituals of day-to-day existence to even notice how agitated his wife is, and why. And even if she did confide in her husband, what would his reaction be? I can think of several, none of them nice.
Photo Prem understands the rhythms of daily drudgery and how it can be erased in one single moment when the heart stops beating. But the mood of the mundane is way too deeply entrenched in the narrative. We never get a sense of Sunanda despair, as her awareness of her desolation and mortality grow on her, the narrative seems more amused by her anxieties than concerned.
Throughout the 90-minute film we feel Sunanda will reach that moment of self-awareness when something in her mind will ….click(pun intended). Rather than wrap its head around Sundanda’s deeper dilemma, the narrative chooses to swim in shallow waters, concentrating more the hysteria around sudden deaths and on that one decent picture of Sunanda(in case….) rather than what that picture represents in her mind(self-awareness, dignity,self-respect, a sense of identity)?
More than a study of an average housewife’s ordinary dreams, Photo Prem “reads”(you can close your eyes and hear the plot since the dialogues revel in explanations) like Sunanda’s adventures in a photo frame. There are episodes in a rickety photo studio and in a posh glamour studio . There is neighbouring girl who comes and clicks Sunanda’s pictures with an old camera that Sunanda finds. There are endless shots of Sunanda being snapped and being snapped at(by her husband, neighbour, maid, random photographer, etc).
Sadly we never move to the protagonist’s deeper problem. Neena Kukarni’s the sparkling presence and a delightful househelp played by Chaitrali Rode (though her sarees look too starched ) who bonds with Sunanda are the only reason to say ‘Smile Please; in this photo-generic misfire.
Image Source: Instagram/offichatarpatar, Amazon