When Dibakar Banerjee first announced Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar about six years ago, everyone worth their salt viewed it with interest (and some skepticism). After all Yash Raj Films has a standard, cut and dried structure for rolling out potentially popular and mass entertainment films. Most are produced slickly and use the best of VFX, technical crew and gorgeous locations.
In this setting, Dibakar’s lens – one that takes a hard look at life’s lowest points in India – didn’t seem to fit in. But the production house has collaborated with the maverick filmmaker to make a Titli (as producer) in the past; as well as the visually engaging Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! Clearly this indicates mutual respect and a desire to collaborate on films of a certain scale, despite different filmmaking sensibilities and aesthetic.
Perhaps this move targeted a strategic step forward for Yash Raj Films – rescuing the careers of Parineeti Chopra and Arjun Kapoor. The banner launched both in the polished heartland romantic drama, Ishaqzaade. Over the years their film careers hadn’t quite taken off, despite them landing prized projects.
With Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, both reverse stagnancy and show just how far they can go as performers, when challenged. Much has already been written and said about the film’s plot and storyline. Parineeti is perfectly cast as a chic, super smart banker of questionable ethics. Her character rarely smiles or looks girlishly joyful. She is focused on her goals; and completely cold about the route that she has to take to get there. There is a calculated desperation simmering just under the surface of Sandy (her altered name) in the film. Just when one thought that Pari was lost behind layers of perceived good acting in Hindi films, she has reinvented herself on OTT with Saina and Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar.
Arjun Kapoor is another actor whose life has not been easy, despite a starry launch and proficient film lineage. Lumbering, somewhat overweight and not conventionally good looking, Arjun has carried baggage right from the start. His debut and his roles are attributed to nepotism; his attempts to break away from a pre-set image with films like Panipat have largely gone unnoticed. But with SAPF he plays Pinky, rough on the edges, naturally chauvinistic but a wily survivor, with panache. He is short fused, wears a betrayed, weary expression and panders to social norms only to survive. His character originates in a place very far from his actual life, so the fact that he plays Pinky so well is commendable. With SAPF, Arjun has narrowly escaped from being bracketed like Abhishek Bachchan has been; even his good work is called mediocre simply because he is Amitabh Bachchan’s son.
While both actors have found recognition and a lifeline with SAPF, the most voluble praise for this film belongs to its director, Dibakar Banerjee. I had begun to wonder if he has given up filmmaking entirely. There’s so little work coming from him! (This is a common fact about proficient and genuinely talented artistes; they work infrequently. But push that too far, and you might just become irrelevant over time.) While he has had to wait a fair bit for SAPF to release, the film is perhaps his best after his debut feature Khosla Ka Ghosla. It’s a sociological comment, a satirical remark on in-built misogyny that is perpetuated everyday in our country. Co-written with Varun Grover, it makes a scathing comment on classicism, and social hypocrisy (notice the drunk woman throwing up in the backdrop at a wishy washy, elite farmhouse party in Delhi). Every scene and character makes a comment on the state of affairs in India; and the choices that they make as individuals. Gender fluid in names and character portrayal, SAPF is a genre unspecific entertainer. I call it an entertainer because it doesn’t let off the thrill and surprise element at any point.
While OTT has opened up room for many filmmakers and storytellers to present their work, most of it falls within standard formats. It is to the credit of the film’s producers that SAPF first got a theatrical release; also indicates that their creative sensibilities aren’t lost at all. Over time, one hopes that Dibakar will pace up his speed of making and delivering films. If not him there aren’t many that can break the monotony of standard storytelling that dominates narratives of most filmmakers in India.