Unable to find a good show to watch on a lazy Saturday, my attention gravitated towards Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar while scrolling through multiple streaming platforms. With a far-from-grandiose expectation of what this film could be, I was ready to view a sleepy, 'time-pass' thriller where Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra would fall in love against all odds and end up together. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement because the story arc is simply a backbone used by director Dibakar Banerjee to dispel so many gender identity norms cinema has inculcated in viewers since time immemorial.
There's no faffing around with setting up the plot as Banerjee throws the viewer right into the conflict in the first ten minutes. Sandeep Walia a.k.a. Sandy is seen twiddling her thumbs on her iPhone in a 2-lac dress at the back of a car, while Satinder Dahiya a.k.a. Pinky, a suspended Haryanvi cop, has been sent to take her home as a police escort. One doesn't need dialogues to notice the stark difference in their worlds, outlooks, and something as simple as their reactions to situations.
Sandy channels a nuance, a poise that only comes through privileged education and financial ease of life. In every situation, she finds herself exercising a calm demeanour, turning to rationality rather than emotional outbursts. Played by Parineeti Chopra, Sandy Walia refrains from engaging in stereotypical reactions assigned to female characters, yet never comes off as the conventionally cold and 'career-oriented' woman. Her protective and nurturing attitude towards her pregnancy, at multiple points in the film, emphasises the idea that women aren't just either maternal or driven. She is thrown in a world far from the plush houses of Gurgaon and elitist parties, where men expect her to know nothing about finance and serve them to rotis and achaar. Despite her intelligence and evident seniority in her profession, she becomes a victim of the dispensability of women in lower-middle-class set-ups. A chilling scene in the second half exemplifies this when a menial bank manager of Pithoragarh tries to sexually assault her, proving that no matter her accomplishments or authority, she is still going to be viewed like every other woman in the orthodox township.
Pinky, on the other hand, is introduced as a brutish disgraced cop, who is desperate to get his position back in the force. Like every other film, his male characteristics are embodied through a rough dialect and brooding stares. Yet Arjun Kapoor brings out the inherent kindness Pinky harbours right from the beginning – be it him apologising for hitting a pregnant lady or helping a misguided hotel owner's son find his happiness. His rugged exterior almost successfully hides the innocence in him, but impromptu dance parties and the signature Salman Khan bracelet manage to give those elements of him away. While Sandy moves away from emotionally charged female stereotypes, Pinky embraces a more mature outlook towards manliness. One scene that stayed with me was him hesitatingly caring for Sandy after her miscarriage. Men in cinema are mostly shown to comically faint or run away at the sight of women giving birth, but the way Pinky cleans the bloodstains on her legs comes as a welcome change. It shows a very underrepresented side of manhood, in which the sex isn't uncomfortable with a woman's sexuality and body processes. He breaks the stereotypical view that men can only solve situations by brutal force beautifully and leaves the viewer with a bittersweet smile when he finds resolve in the end.
Neither Sandeep nor Pinky attempts to be an advocate or an ideal for their genders. Instead, they subtly highlight the sometimes silent and mostly outward sexism all genders face in the conventional Indian environment. Their contrast is evident to their older counterparts, played by Neena Gupta and Raghubir Yadav, driving the point home that the levels of prejudice and sexism are often relational to the place one lives. Sandeep and Pinky started off as two people forced together by circumstance, but they don't fall prey to the predictable loop of opposites attract and inevitable romance. They simply serve as catalysts in one another's mundane lives, opening their eyes to the worlds opposing their respective classes. Writers Varun Grover and Dibakar Banerjee have taken their time to etch out these characters, each bringing a fresh perspective on identity to the table and leaving the viewer wondering why they underestimated this film in the first place.