William Shakespeare, one of the most celebrated authors to have ever lived, has the following written on his grave at the Holy Trinity Church: “Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare, To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, and cursed be he that moves my bones.” It is widely thought of as a warning to deter any movement of his mortal remains. But scratch beneath the surface and it gives a small window to look at the mind of this great author and his need to be remembered.
I bring this up because this is precisely also what Photo Prem, directed by Aditya Rathi and Gayatri Patil and starring Neena Kulkarni as Maee in the titular role, is all about. While the title and the synopsis suggest that the film is about her fixation to have one good photo that would be used upon her death for her eulogy, I believe this dramedy says much more.
The film begins with a wedding sequence and the photographer giving directions to the married couple on how to pose. While everybody at the wedding gets their photos taken, Maee is conspicuous by her absence. She has to be literally pulled onto stage but is awkward in the two photos that she gets clicked in and eventually runs away on the pretence of running an errand.
Later on in the film, the wife of a colleague of Maee’s husband dies. During her ‘shok sabha‘, it’s revealed the family is not able to find a recent solo photograph of her that could be used and hence an old picture from her teenage years is framed up. Although the situation is designed for laughs, it’s here that the realisation dawns upon Maee that a similar fate awaits her, kicking the film into motion. The rest of the film depicts Maee and her journey from her need to belong (she starts by visiting multiple ‘shok sabhas‘), her fears of being forgotten, the phobia she has at having a photographer click her (there are two instances in the film; one is during her teenage years and one during the present time) to finally her ‘coming of age’ moment, which is predictably also the climax of the film.
While the film meanders along a bit and some arcs are not tied up completely, the acting and the underlying comedy more than make up for it. Neena Kulkarni, whom I had only been exposed to in Hindi films like Hungama and Guru up until now, is absolutely stellar. She displays the whole gamut of emotions, from her deep anguish at not being important enough for her husband (they barely have anything to talk about to each other) and her joy at discovering an old analogue camera at home to the subsequent disappointment on learning that it isn’t functional and the banter she has with the neighbouring girl whom she bribes with laddoos. She never once puts a foot wrong or is out of character. The house help, played admirably by Chaitrali Rode, is the perfect foil to Maee; she is spirited and has opinions. She admires Maee for who she is and becomes a small lending hand to help Maee get that one photo that she desires.
The film also has undercurrents of social commentary on how women, specially like Maee (reserved and understated), tend to be treated in the traditional setting. Their only importance is to take up all responsibility as everybody else around them goes out to fulfil their desires and dreams. In a nutshell, Photo Prem does an adequate job of giving an insight into the human psyche that wants to be talked to, loved and most importantly remembered after their passing for who they were.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.