Usually I am not so much a fan of dark humour or noir thrillers per se, but Dibakar Banerjee has always been the master of deploying dark humour and the noir genre in order to garb something bigger than the usually discernible within its folds. His purpose is much more prescient than he lets on in each of his films. He continues playing his tricky little hide-and-seek game with the audience in his recent commercial venture, Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar (2021). As a mainstream Hindi movie, SAPF is quite mediocre, but Banerjee re-invents the black-comedy-cum-thriller genre by launching a scathing attack on one of the burning questions in today's India: that of female emancipation. He subtly targets that socially elite class of women who are apparently the most privileged, and, therefore, the least talked about, in the broader context of radical feminism: corporate executives.
Sandy Walia (Parineeti Chopra) is a top-notch corporate honcho, the co-founder of a private bank, and is worth a million in terms of personal assets. She is the woman with whom you do not mess, for she is one of those invincible 'She-preneurs' who do not let their gender get in their way to success. Interestingly, such powerful women in the real world defy the thought of vulnerability, sexual exploitation or mansplaining in the public imagination. Seldom does the possibility of them getting raped, molested or groped in public cross our minds, for these women are apparently guarded by an invisible aura of unattainability and their credentials of entrepreneurial success. Which man would dare to cast cheap glances upon such 'sheroes', at least explicitly?
Banerjee hits upon this 'de-sexualised image' of women executives right at the beginning, when it is divulged early on in the film that Sandy is pregnant out of a clandestine affair with her boss. I do not mean to say that this makes her vulnerable in any way, but it brings the audience to sympathise with her as a human, and more so as a woman who has been betrayed by the man in whom she placed her love and faith and who perhaps even sexually exploited her. The scene where the branch manager of Parivartan Bank tries to sexually harass her while addressing her as 'madam' throughout the heinous act is extremely potent. The terror on Sandy's face as she tries to keep up her appearance as the 'boss' in front of her subordinate and her eventual miscarriage prove the centuries-old hold of patriarchy over the woman's body.
Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar reiterates the fact that whether it is an empowered and elite woman like Sandeep or an ordinary woman walking on the streets, there is not much difference between them except for their social standing, for both of them are viewed essentially as sexual objects of desire by men. It is merely a fine line of eyewash and make-believe freedom that escalates corporate women to a realm of 'emancipation'; moreover, the escalation comes at the cost of 'masculinising' the woman, for femininity is still considered to be precarious.