The movie begins with an intriguing, long single take that immediately sets the tone of further proceedings. Three loud and insufferable men are discussing how a woman wearing lipstick is "available" and how not all men can carry off a pink shirt. Interestingly, the pink shirt is a recurring motif in this masterful commentary on patriarchy and gender stereotypes.
Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar is a story about Sandeep "Sandy" Walia (Parineeti Chopra), the well educated, English-speaking Vice President of a national bank, and Satinder "Pinky" Dahiya (Arjun Kapoor), a suspended Haryana Police cop. Their poles-apart worlds collide on a fateful night when Sandy's boss, Parichay Agarwal, tries to get her killed and Pinky is entangled in the mess. With their social media and bank accounts blocked and lives in danger, both of them flee (or go "faraar") to Pithoragarh.
The movie is directed by Dibakar Banerjee, who also co-wrote it with Varun Grover. Both of them are astute storytellers with a knack for keen social observation, as is evident in their previous work. That the film tries to break down or at the very least question gender roles is visible in the reversal of the names: the manly "Sandeep" belongs to a woman, whereas a male cop gets the feminine name "Pinky". In Pithoragarh, the duo become paying guests to Raghubir Yadav and Neena Gupta (known to us only as Uncle and Aunty). It is here that patriarchy and gender biases are on display in their full glory: only Sandy is expected to help Aunty in the kitchen and to serve food to the men.
Parineeti Chopra has been having a bad patch with her movies being unsuccessful one after the other. However, here she hits the ground running and carries the film on her shoulders. It seems that we are finally getting to see the blossoming of a great actor who showed us glimpses of her acting prowess in Ishaqzaade and Ladies vs Ricky Bahl. Her Sandy is never loud, and she gets the emotions of fear, anger and frustration bang on. There is a particularly disturbing scene when her character gets sexually assaulted. Thankfully both the director and the actor have handled the scene with grace and sensitivity, and it sends a chill down your spine without being vulgar or over the top.
Despite the disastrous Sardar ka Grandson, Arjun Kapoor has also done a pretty decent job here and he holds his own opposite Chopra. His Pinky has a tough Haryanvi exterior with a soft heart. He is a product of this male-dominated society, but is surprisingly progressive and forward-looking. He does household work to help Sandy and you should also watch out for a very tender moment between the leads post the aforementioned assault. Kapoor gets the cop mannerisms and regional dialect to a T.
The supporting cast of Jaideep Ahlawat, Neena Gupta and Raghubir Yadav add value to the story. All three actors have been on a roll recently and here also they do good work. Ahlawat is menacing and believable as a cop, and brings gravitas to his role. Even though he is a political stooge, the look on his face when a superior throws a pair of shoes at the domestic help is unmissable.
Gupta and Yadav are endearing as a regular middle-class couple. Their household is an embodiment of the Indian family system where wives do the bidding of their husbands unquestioningly, are silenced with a mere show of the husband's hand and have no agency. Yadav's Uncle never gives any credit to Sandy, even when she explains the Sensex or gets his money out of the bank. However, he does thank Pinky for being the "silent support" to Sandy. Talk about male chauvinism!
This is the kind of nuanced filmmaking that we need in today's times. Despite being marketed as a thriller, the movie forces you to think about discrimination based on gender, class and access to education, which is rampant in our society. Sandeep aur Pinky Faraar is a gripping tale that is slow at some places but never feels overstretched. The viewer is able to identify with Sandy and Pinky, and herein lies the filmmakers' victory.
All in all, the movie is a must watch and will no doubt attain cult status in the years to come.