Social media and several opinion leaders on the internet are going gaga over the film. As a feminist participant of the Indian media landscape, I crave narratives that don’t pander to sexist portrayals on screen. Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar’s trailer piqued my curiosity for this reason.
The fact that the female character is named Sandeep and the male character is named Pinky is a smart move to deflect stereotypes. It makes us feminists happy! To show a privileged female character on the advantageous end of the caste and class spectrum and to make the male character occupy the diametrically opposite end of that scale is another complicated character design that lends itself deftly to the narrative.
The opening sequence of the film made me sit up straight. Yes, it was that intriguing. It could easily pass as one of the smartest, most wisely written and filmed opening sequences in the recent past. When Pinky and Sandeep’s characters witness that they would’ve been shot to death had Pinky not lied to the cops, I knew I was looking through the viewfinder of a dexterous bunch of storytellers.
However, there are instances where the male gaze to me was undeniable.
The fact that Pinky attempted to murder Sandeep at night, and yet she still tracks him down at the railway station the next day: an influential, privileged woman like her had no other option but to go back to the man? In fact, she undertook the task of finding him at his precise location the next day in order to seek help from him. This act of hers undermines the struggle of women who have been at the receiving end of toxic relationships where they’ve fought tooth and nail to escape the men who have attempted to harm them or threaten their lives. All this without the privilege that Sandeep’s character has. No matter how much it was attempted to establish that Sandeep is a strong, independent woman, towards the end the anti-hero has to come to her rescue.
Pinky’s predicament is that he was a prodigal son, an evicted-from-duty officer in the Haryana Police who is tempted by a bait (to kidnap and eventually kill Sandeep) in order for him to get reinstated. He is established as an innocent, brawny man. Another dimension to his character is the fact that he doesn’t care much about Sandeep and lies to her about having her passport for Nepal ready when in reality he has no intentions to take her across the border with him.
What we know about Sandeep’s character is that she hails from a household in Panchkula that could afford her a fancy private education, which she has used to invent a scam that has looted several thousand people of lakhs of rupees. When Pinky asks her why she did so, Sandeep replies, “Kyunki kangaal ho raha tha mera bank, bachaana tha usse” (My bank was going bankrupt, I had to save it), with a lot of pride. We also know so far in the story that her character has been personally and professionally cheated on by the founder of the bank, Parichay, who sent the police out for her blood, because she threatened to reveal the scam, despite knowing she was pregnant with their child. As a middle-class viewer who invests in such schemes banks roll out, Sandeep so far only has my sympathies because she is pregnant. I side with Pinky when he is astonished at how privilege blinds Sandeep.
During breakfast, Sandeep is unwilling to help Uncle, who has fallen prey to this bogus scheme. In the afternoon, she comes clean to Pinky about her involvement in the scam; he confronts her about her lack of empathy towards the people she has cheated. By dinner she is willing to help uncle out. It implicitly seems like Uncle and Pinky orchestrated the change of heart of the female character in the story. Her attempt to help Uncle thereafter is the only redeeming quality her character has, which was a change ushered in by male characters.
Auntie’s character is clearly shown as one being forced to listen to one sexist comment after another by Uncle. It can be understood that the film is trying to make a statement about how Auntie is a victim to Uncle’s reductive behaviour towards her. There’s no glorification in those scenes. Auntie’s shame, and everyone’s awkwardness and silent discomfort at Uncle’s behaviour towards her are also captured. Yet, Uncle is more three-dimensional than Auntie and hence easier to empathise with. When Uncle tries to talk in English in front of people of authority, as a viewer you feel for him.
You don’t need to make a hero out of Auntie, you don’t need to give her a smoking or drinking habit or make her divorce her husband; but my understanding says that it is essential to give her a win, even if it is small. It is essential to show women standing up for themselves in whatever way in commercial Hindi mainstream films, otherwise the point is lost on the audience, which has in the past shown a great appetite for sexism.
The portrayal of sexism on screen and acknowledging its presence in our society is a great decision the makers of this film take. However, if making a point was a three act structure, then if you don’t show the woman standing up to her oppressor, you have ended up, unintentionally maybe, leaving the third act unwritten. This shows that the oppressor’s behaviour is acceptable and nothing was done to change it, neither by the oppressor, nor by the person being doled out the discriminatory treatment. After attempts of molestation and murder, after her miscarriage, Sandeep’s pain goes unfelt.
After Pinky has violently tried to shut her up and even tried to kill her, her trust in Pinky is something that I as a woman don’t understand or relate to. Leave alone her affection for him. I felt Sandeep’s perspective was lost and Pinky’s character was deeply fleshed out in comparison, on screen and in the writing both.
In the end, when the duo decide to flee separately, Pinky is given a glorified, almost poetic cinematic ending, where he has to give up his brash avatar to dress as a woman; whereas Sandeep’s character is drearily walking through the streets. It feels as if Pinky’s character ending was thought out thoroughly and Sandeep’s wasn’t.
Lastly, the Business Line reporter surfaces as a confidante for Sandeep. Again, on the woke checklist, to show women standing up for women is rather refreshing and much appreciated. However, the voltage leading up to the light, the spaces to invest in their friendship and believe their bond weren’t there at all.
The film ends on Sandeep but as a celebration of Pinky’s character and fondly remembering him. In several such pockets, the film makes me miss Sandeep, her thoughts and her perspective.
When Sandeep finds Auntie outside the washroom and cries her eyes out, when the newly appointed Sejal – who has never met Sandeep – decides to believe her side of the story and doesn’t turn her in, when Sandeep categorises Pinky with a tone-deaf classist, casteist ‘tum log’: these are some moments that stand out. They make the film an entertaining watch, separating it from the clutter of media that refuses to even acknowledge that gender-, caste- and class-based disparity exist. It is a good film that tackles these societal issues well, but let’s not make it the bible of the ‘subtle’ feminist portrayal.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.