Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Writers: Dibakar Banerjee and Varun Grover
Editor: Bakul Baljeet Matiyani
Cinematography: Anil Mehta
Cast: Parineeti Chopra, Arjun Kapoor, Jaideep Ahlawat, Neena Gupta, Raghubir Yadav
Dibakar Banerjee is as much a sociologist as he is a filmmaker. His movies – even when they are shorts for anthologies – are layered commentaries on the mostly terrifying state of the nation. In Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, he joins hands with another astute social commentator, Varun Grover, who has co-written the film. The result is a chase film that is much more than a chase film.
Nothing is what it seems, starting with the names of our protagonists. The masculine-sounding Sandeep is actually Sandy Walia, a hotshot banker. The feminine-sounding Pinky is a suspended Haryana cop, who is described by another character as a man nobody needs. She's an upper-class achiever with questionable business ethics, who carries a two-lakh-rupee handbag. He's a failure who never got the opportunities that she, with her gold medal and English-medium education, takes for granted. Their paths cross one night and they are forced to flee. In hot pursuit is Pinky's boss, Tyagi, played with droll nonchalance by Jaideep Ahlawat. Tyagi is chillingly casual about the rot in the system. When his men take out the wrong guys, he looks at the dead bodies and says, 'Kis kis ko mar dete ho yaar tum.'
Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar begins with men in a land cruiser talking about women. As the car careens down the Delhi highway, the camera, perched on the bonnet, stays still. We've never met these guys but within a few seconds, we know them – entitled, obnoxious, toxic, sexist. Most of the male characters in the film are versions of this. They control women, gaslight them or simply assume that being male gives them the right to grab what they want. Even a timid bank manager in Pithoragarh, where Sandy and Pinky escape, believes that he can subjugate Sandy. It's a horrifying hall of shame. The exception to the rule is Pinky, who can be aggressive and brutal but is ultimately smart enough to know that she is smarter. And when the things get ugly, we see a tenderness that we didn't think possible.
Dibakar and Varun orchestrate a masterful takedown of Indian masculinity and capitalist greed and corruption. Note the way in which the color pink, stereotypically associated with women, is used as a trope. The opening conversation in the car includes talk about what kind of a man can wear pink, there's Pinky himself, whose toughness belies his name and there's a lovely climactic sequence in which Pinky shows us the possibilities of the color pink and where it can lead you.
Note also the deft detailing of spaces and people – early on, Pinky and Sandy take refuge at a Delhi farmhouse party, which is brimming with affluence and elitism but when they leave there is a woman throwing up in the background. The contrast between Sandy's natural habitat and where she ends up is startling and funny. As Pinky tells her – saaf tauliye aur garam paani ke din gaye, madam. But Sandy doesn't just lose her lifestyle. She loses her identity as an intelligent, independent woman. In Pithoragarh, she is automatically the one called upon to serve pickle and make rotis.
Sandy and Pinky become the paying guests of an elderly couple played wonderfully by Raghubir Yadav and Neena Gupta. He is the sort of officious small-town patriarch who thinks that speaking in English automatically makes him superior. He starts off as a slightly comical figure but eventually, his habitual suppression of his wife and Sandy becomes heinous. Also keep an eye out for Munna, the local Salman Khan fan armed with a blue-stone bracelet, who adds laughs and later poignance to the plot.
Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar revives flashes of the fire we saw when Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra first teamed up in Ishaqzaade in 2012. Dibakar skillfully utilizes Arjun's lumbering physicality, which contrasts with Pinky's inner compassion. And best of all, Parineeti seems to have got her groove back. She lets go of that synthetic sheen that marred her more recent performances and finds the anguish of being a woman with brains and courage in our country.
An added plus are the visuals of Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand, captured by DOP Anil Mehta. The film has been shot extensively on location. After months of lockdown, the mountains and rivers provide sweet visual relief. The background score, composed by Dibakar, relies heavily on the santoor to transport you there.
Be warned that Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar doesn't have the pacing that you might expect in a chase film. The narrative has long stretches that plod dangerously. But ultimately, Dibakar steers it to a climax that is both stinging and satisfying.
You can see Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar at a theatre near you. Do remember to wear a mask.