The Marathi movie Photo-Prem deals with potentially dark themes of death and the afterlife with a bright smile and a hint of snark.

Introverted Pune housewife Sunanda is that rare beast – she hates to be photographed. She is one of the last members of that generation of Indians whose limbs and facial muscles stiffen when they are faced with a camera. It shouldn’t matter but begins to when Sunanda realises that the family of a recently departed woman didn’t have a single decent image to remember her by.

Sunanda (Neena Kulkarni) develops a morbid obsession with commemorative photos and obituary notices. She frets about how she will be visually represented when she is gone, especially since she is all but missing from the family photo albums. Yet, her inhibitions prevent her from marching into a studio and getting her picture taken.

There’s more to Sunanda’s camera fright, writer-directors Aditya Rathi and Gayatri Patil will have us know. Sunanda’s internal monologues reveal her frustration at being taken for granted, especially by her obnoxious husband (Vikas Hande). A movie better attuned to domestic politics might have made a deeper connection between Sunanda’s desire to overcome her shyness and her husband’s dismissive attitude. The photograph is to Sunanda what English-speaking lessons were to the housewife in English Vinglish – the key to greater confidence.

The idea remains woefully underexposed in the 93-minute Photo-Prem, but manages to poke its head out every now and then. The focus of the Amazon Prime Video release is light comedy derived from a minor incident, the kind that neighbours might exchange when they meet on the stairwell. One such specimen, a gossipy woman obsessed with Solapur, is delightfully played by Gitanjali Kambli.

The star attraction is Neena Kulkarni, both funny and touching as the put-upon Sunanda who gets some of her inspiration from an overblown television soap. Although Sunanda’s journey from near-erasure to self-empowerment is grossly underdeveloped, Neena Kulkarni channels her considerable acting experience to suggest that there’s more to the character than the bee in her bonnet.

Photo-Prem (2021).