By Pankaj Sachdeva

Dibakar Banerjee’s Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar opens superbly. The sequence plays twice from different perspectives where a group of drunken men in a car on the roads of Gurgaon are shot dead in a case of mistaken identity. “Doosri gaadi Maggi ho gayi”, says the investigating officer Tyagi (Jaideep Ahlawat). The men in the car had been talking about women wearing lipsticks and men wearing pink shirts in a dismissive manner; the way men typically do. Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar then slowly peels down the stereotypical notions and traditional definitions of masculinity to become a film that is more than just a cat-and-mouse chase thriller. The people originally supposed to be shot dead were Sandeep (Parineeti Chopra), an executive at Parivartan Bank, and Pinky (Arjun Kapoor), an erstwhile police officer currently working as a private security guard. When reality hits these two, Sandeep and Pinky hatch a plan to save their lives by escaping to Nepal. They are taken in by the kindness of an old couple (Neena Gupta and Raghubir Yadav) in Pithoragarh till their plan for Nepal materializes.
Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar is about people helping each other and more than often getting betrayed in the process. Sandeep executes a scam for Parivartan Bank because her boss and paramour Parichay (Dinker) asked her, “Help kar do.” After all that she did for him, Parichay refused to give her money. Pinky is waiting for Tyagi to help him get his job back but Tyagi betrays him, using him for his other political needs. Pinky and Sandeep are similar in the sense that they are both expendable. They are no longer needed by their patrons. Aunty takes in Sandeep as she was moved by her plight but ultimately, she is also betrayed when the truth about Sandeep’s identity is revealed. Sandeep asks for help from an innocent-looking bank manager (Sukant Goel) in return for money, but he also turns out to be a psychotic predator. There are other moments of strangers helping the people in the film. At an early stage, a couple lends their mobile to Pinky to make a call to his mother. A lady helps Sandeep with water when she has motion sickness on the train. Munna (Rahul Kumar) helps Pinky and Sandeep escape in his wedding procession as Pinky had helped him save his life.
The film names its eponymous characters opposite to the commonly-used name for its genders. Sandeep, typically a man’s name, is the name of the female protagonist, while Pinky, typically a woman’s name, is the name of the male protagonist. This reversal of gendered norms is seen throughout the film which is also used to critique casual sexism in the different strata of society. In corporate India, a man uses the often-cited reason of women going out of the workforce due to maternity to pit one woman against the other. In small-town India, a man does not think that a woman who works in the bank would know about the functioning of the stock markets. She has to only follow the diktats of her husband and make rotis and offer achaar. Uncle does not let Aunty speak her mind where throughout the film they keep arguing, “Main bol lun.” At the bank, the manager does not even look at Sandeep when she is asking him questions related to closing the account. This demonstrates the underlying belief in men that women are not capable of taking financial decisions. When the hotel manager gives the card for his son’s wedding to the couple, Aunty gives it to her husband to look at it first. Tyagi does not think any help from the lawyer Sejal (Archana Patel) is needed as he thinks catching criminals is not the job of women. When things go wrong, these men blame the women for their own decisions. Parichay tells his associates that Sandeep is taking ‘revenge’ from him when he refuses to give her money. When the police turned up at Uncle’s place, like Parichay, he also blames his wife for revenge, and screams at her, “Le liya badla“, while it was he who had decided to give their floor as rent to Sandeep and Pinky. Aunty had clearly said they have no space in their home but it was Uncle who agreed and told them that their top floor is empty. But, Aunty gets the blame for his actions. A man (like Tyagi) can simply urinate on the road but a woman (like Aunty) has to run to different shops to find a toilet. The film is more about these issues while the faraar is only a pretext.
In the opening scenes of the film, two men joke about the ability of men to wear pink shirts. Moments later, Pinky, a man, wearing a pink shirt makes an appearance in a club. This pink color is used to represent the feminine traits in a masculine man. Pinky depicts the traits of both men and women. For instance, in a scene on the train, Pinky holds a lady’s handbag in one hand and wears a Salman Khan bracelet in the other. He is good at playing with guns but is equally adept at making rotis. In another display of sensitivity, Pinky becomes a caregiver to Sandeep after her miscarriage. He is the one who cleans up her blood instead of calling another woman for help. The final scene of the film comes as a closure to its first scene where Pinky again dresses up in pink to defeat his fate of near-certain death. Pinky dances twice in the film—the first time at the cocktail party in a masculine fashion on a Salman Khan-type item song where he wears a pink shirt and is surrounded by pink tents and pink lights on a pink stage. The second time, he dances in a feminine way as a Chholiya dancer again dressed up in bright pink. There are no guns, and no shootouts but a man manages to escape with the help of femininity. The original dancer whose costume Pinky wears comments that he looks good without the mustache—another symbol associated with masculinity. It is also noteworthy that the final confrontation happens on a bridge with all the men standing on the other side. The bridge starts to shake when the procession passes through; Pinky, however, is able to get past the men crossing the border.
Red forms the other dominant palette of the film. It is present in almost every frame of the film. The film opens with blood-red title credits. Sandeep walks through a club lit up with red. She is dressed up in black and wears bright red lipstick. She meets a friend who is also in red. Sandeep later goes to a party where everyone is wearing bright red costumes. At the abortion clinic, the camera pans to red apples next to the ultrasound machine, while bright red cherries can be seen when Tyagi goes to the house of Parichay’s business associate. At Parichay’s office, a bright red lamp grabs all the attention in a room full of white color. The symbols of Parivartan Bank are all red. The storage drives are red. Sejal wears a red muffler. When Sandeep is in Pithoragarh, she is again wearing red. When Sandeep is assaulted by the bank manager, the red button of the coffee machine stops. When she suffers a miscarriage, blood is all over. One of the most interestingly shot scenes in the film is when Sandeep and Pinky meet Uncle and Aunty. It is worth observing their costumes in that particular scene. Sandeep and Uncle are in red, sitting opposite to each other, while Pinky and Aunty wear shades of pink, sitting opposite to each other. The house of Uncle and Aunty is all red and pink. Red is the color associated with power and dominance, and it serves as a companion to pink, which is more feminine. And, just like Pinky dresses up in pink in the end, in the last scene of the film, Sandeep, too, is also wearing a pink shirt, probably the only time she is seen in pink.
Red in Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar
Red and Pink
One of the other motifs in Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar is the presence of children. Early in the film, a little girl comes to clean the car in which Sandeep and Pinky are sitting. The girl starts telling them that she wishes that they will have a hundred kids soon. An angry Sandeep shoos her away. During the moment when Sandeep reveals the details of the scam to Pinky near the riverside, a bunch of girls is playing around them. At a later stage, the son of the investigating lawyer Sejal comes to her asking her to unlock his tablet device when she is speaking on the phone. Children are present as background characters in many other scenes. Another young boy serves as a link for the camera where his movement connects the scenes of the wedding processing and the men standing on the bridge waiting for Pinky to arrive there. Sandeep’s journalist friend brings her a letter from Nepal that contains pictures of kids from a dancing school, which is presumably run by Pinky. The little girl’s prediction about Pinky having a hundred kids earlier serves as a foreshadowing of his future where he becomes a teacher running a dance school teaching hundreds of kids. In the end, it is again a girl who keeps circling Sandeep and her friend on the jail premises. The film ends with the very moment when Sandeep waves to the girl. It is hard to figure out the reason for the scenes of these children; perhaps, it has something to do with their innocence and kindness.
There is also another peculiar thing going on in the film. For instance, look at the scene below. It plays out when Sandeep and Pinky are traveling by train to Pithoragarh. I could not help but only focus on the leg of the child that keeps drawing attention to it. It seems to be deliberately captured in the frame. This is just one of the many other scenes related to the shoes and feet in the film.
At another stage, Tyagi goes to the house of the associate of Sandeep’s boss. The man is sitting and playing with his feet. Moments later, he presses a button to call his domestic help and he throws his shoes at him with force. The camera pans to capture the expressions on Tyagi’s face where he takes it as if the shoes were thrown at him. Then, the story moves to Pithoragarh. Nyal (Dev Chauhan), the manager of Pathik International Hotel, looks at Pinky’s shoes when he first visits his shop. When he goes to Uncle’s house, he brings it up again and says that he identified his stature through his shoes. At another stage, Sandeep informs Pinky that the bank manager agreed to close Uncle’s bank account. At this point, Pinky is seen polishing his shoes. Further, there is Aunty, suffering from broken knees, and needs money to treat them. During the cocktail party, she talks about the time when she tried to run away from her house. She packed all her stuff and wore her shoes to escape but then her husband made her realize that she has no place to go. She took off her shoes and went back inside, she tells her friends with amusement. Beneath their laughter lies a bitter and sad truth for many dependent women who have given all their lives to serving but have no place left to go anywhere. Aunty then advises Sandeep that she also needs to wear her shoes, probably, to threaten her husband to fall in line else she will run away, too. Finally, in the last moments of the film, a journalist friend visits Sandeep in jail. In that scene, Sandeep again stops and looks at her feet for a moment. All this has something to do with running away as when Sandeep decides to go back, she tells Pinky that she is tired of running.
Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar is teeming with many other details in the background. Early in the film, a girl is throwing up when Sandeep requests Pinky to help her. Later, a couple is taking a selfie when Sandeep and Pink request Uncle and Aunty for accommodation. Sandeep always called Pinky as Sir initially. The poster of Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar is made using a common design that has been seen before (for instance in the poster of Roy) where the faces of two characters merge. Here also, the faces of Sandeep and Pinky merge into one, but it has also something to do with the theme of the film where the man has the feminine traits and the woman has masculine traits. Something else that struck me was during the moment Munna tells Sandeep and Pinky can hide in the truck for his dowry. But why would he take a truck full of items to the girl’s place because, usually, dowry comes from the bride’s side? In some communities, it is the groom who has to give dowry to the bride, also called bride price, but the film does not make this aspect clear.
The performances of Parineeti Chopra and Arjun Kapoor are far better than the ones that they have given in recent films. Parineeti is nice in the quiet scenes towards the end. In R. Balki’s overtly preachy Ki & Ka, Arjun Kapoor had played a house husband taking over the traditional responsibilities of Ki. In the poster of that film, he wears the mangalsutra. In Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, he again plays a role reversal of sorts but the treatment here is far more subtle. Like the Padman dialogue from Pagglait, Raghubir Yadav again gets to speak the funniest line in the film when he talks about surgical strikes to Tyagi. I also really liked the characters of Sejal and Munna. They both were amazing, probably, the smartest people in the film.
Early in the film, Pinky tells Sandeep to run away as her boss is a powerful man. He tells her to “use head, not heart.” Later in the film, he tries to escape to Nepal all by himself, but something stops him and he turns back to check on Sandeep. It was his heart that saved him this time; otherwise, he would have been caught by Tyagi at Suicide Point. In life, we have always been told that there is a conflict between the head and the heart and one needs to choose one. But it does not necessarily have to be only one. It can also be both head and heart as each has its important role. Likewise, it is not about men or women; it can be both men and women. That is also what Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar tries to convey. It is not Yin or Yang; it is Yin and Yang.
[Read more of the author on his film blog here]