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Photo movie review: Utsav Gonwar’s Kannada film about migrant exodus during lockdown is hard-hitting, but to what avail?

When the country went into lockdown without sufficient notice, thousands of migrant workers were stuck in different parts and had a harrowing time trying to get back home. Photo is one such tale

Photo movie review: Utsav Gonwar’s Kannada film about migrant exodus during lockdown is hard-hitting, but to what avail?
Mahadev Hadapad and Veeresh Gonwar in a still from Photo

Last Updated: 03.37 PM, Mar 14, 2024


Photo movie story: Days before India went into complete lockdown owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, schools announced holidays amid scant information about the virus. The unexpected holiday was just what young Durgya (Veeresh Gonwar) needed to pursue his mother to send him away to Bengaluru, where his daily labourer father Gynappa (Mahadev Hadapad) works at a construction site. Durgya’s goal is to have his father take him to the Vidhana Soudha and fulfil his long-standing dream of clicking a picture in front of it.

When Gynappa finally gets a day off from work and heads out with Durgya towards the Vidhana Soudha, they are chased back to their shanty by cops enforcing the Janta Curfew. It is only then that the severity of the situation begins to dawn on Gynappa and he soon enough packs up his belongings in the hope of getting home in Maski at the earliest. But with lockdown in force and hardly anyone out and about, the trip back home becomes harder than anyone anticipated.

Photo movie review: The Covid-19 pandemic affected people across socio-economic status in varying degrees. There were losses – of lives, livelihoods and more – but there were also many who emerged relatively unscathed. This is a privileged segment that I belong to; but for the fact that everyone was at home, life was pretty normal for us. Yes, we had to cook and clean with no help available for these tasks, but that was a small price to pay for the ‘safety’ of being home. We were in our own little cocoons. The most that I fretted was about travel permits to head ‘home’ for a while since work from home had become the norm.


The subject of Utsav Gonwar’s film – migrant labourers who were caught unawares by the sudden declaration of complete lockdown and then ran helter-skelter trying to somehow find a way back home – caught my attention back then, but did it linger in my mind? If I am being brutally honest, not very long. Most of us tend to be selfish and caught-up in our lives, that we don’t care enough about certain things until and unless it affects us directly. Yes, there were people with hearts of gold who worked tirelessly to help the less privileged during this time, but how many can actually claim that? That number, I’d say, is going to be woefully small.

Most of us watched the plight of others, maybe felt bad for them for a few fleeting moments and went back to watching our own backs. Photo may have been shot with actors, but its story rings true for lakhs of people. As you watch the film, your heart aches for the father and son who walked hundreds of kilometres in the scorching heat, and you may even spare a moment to thank your stars that you and your near-and-dear-ones did not face such hardship. But is that the sole objective of the film?

A stlll from Utsav Gonwar's Photo
A stlll from Utsav Gonwar's Photo

Utsav’s film is meant to evoke a reaction to the troubling times of the early days of lockdown. The question on my mind after watching the film last night was about the target audience. The film’s done the festival circuit, with audiences who probably ‘experienced’ lockdown as I did. No matter the response that Photo gets from this segment of people, this is still a minority voice. If Photo is meant to start a political dialogue, well, an exploration of urban India may throw up some uncomfortable truths, I am not even going to venture there. Also, the ones who were actually most inconvenienced by the lockdown – the lower strata of society, migrant labourers, etc., have not even heard of this film, and even if they did, may not really do something about it (vote wisely) to avoid a repeat of those hard days.

The timing of the film’s theatrical release – just ahead of the official announcement of Lok Sabha elections – and that it is being presented by veteran actor Prakash Raj, an outspoken critic of the current regime, may seem suspect. But even if you keep politics out of art, how many of us would really want to revisit those dark days? And, in this case, pay and watch such a tale? I leave that to audiences to decide, because this is not a film that’s going to entertain.

My reservations about Photo aside, what must be highlighted are the brilliant performances by the cast, especially Mahadev Hadapad, Sandhya Arekere, Jahangeer MS and, of course, little Veeresh Gonwar. For these actors, Photo becomes a film that one ought to watch; what you make of the subject is up to each individual.

Photo movie verdict: Utsav Gonwar’s film is all of 97 minutes that he packs with a lot of hard-hitting material, but it also has some sweet and fun moments, whether it is little Durgya getting his mother to send him to Bengaluru or his father’s deception in promising the boy that a glimpse of the Vidhana Soudha was still on the horizon. At its core, it is quite grim and should be watched if one well and truly wishes to do something about it.

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