My own mother was extremely fond of the camera. And those were the days when cameras reels came with a limited option of 36 clicks. She would dress up and pose, and then would enjoy the display of her best shots in the house. It helped that she was extremely photogenic too. And so watching this Marathi film where the main protagonist was extremely conscious of being on camera was entertaining to me.
Photo-Prem is a short feature film lasting 93 minutes, written and directed by debutants Aditya Rathi and Gayatri Patil. Sunanda, who is called Maee by her family, is a 55-year-old lady who has just married off her young daughter. She is extremely uncomfortable of facing the camera, and prefers to disappear whenever the photographer at the wedding asks her to pose for pictures. But things change overnight for her.
She attends the funeral of Mrs Joshi, her husband’s colleague’s wife— a woman she barely knew. And in the muted conversations there, she learns that the family is unable to find a solo photograph of the dead woman. The thought lingers in her head all night, and she searches the morning newspapers for Mrs Joshi’s obituary. It isn’t there. Neither that morning, nor in the other mornings that follow. Sunanda rummages through her old albums, and discovers that her worst fears are true. There isn’t any solo pic of hers in any of the albums, but for a black and white photo as an irate teenager, which had been clicked to send to prospective suitors. Even her daughter’s wedding album doesn’t have a satisfactory frame-worthy photograph.
Neena Kulkarni, the consummate actor, plays Sunanda with flair and carries the film on her shoulders. Dressed in simple crumpled cotton sarees, the frown never leaves her forehead as she goes on with her daily chores. She gets addicted to reading obituaries in the newspaper, and tries to write her own. But the question of being remembered in a photo frame on the wall, and having an identity for her grand children to remember, plagues her. Her travails to get clicked in a frame she likes, leads to quirky situations. Giving her company is talented Chaitali Rode, who plays the sharp-tongued but caring house-help. Gitanjali Kambli plays an irritating neighbour who we all know but desperately want to avoid.
Neena Kulkarni’s awkward body language whenever she sees the camera and her frozen facial muscles are simultaneously funny and sad. Sunanda comes from a generation which does not understand cell phones and selfies. She keeps most thoughts to herself, preferring to keep a low profile everywhere. But the train of thoughts running through her head are amusing. The script could have been tauter and the situations could have been exploited much better to make things hilarious. As would Sunanda’s backstory. But I guess the filmmakers wanted the film to be as simple and sweet as Sunanda is, without going over the top.
Does Sunanda finally get framed the way she wants? Will she eventually leave behind the legacy that she prefers? Watch Photo-Prem to find out. It is presently streaming on Prime Video.