Synopsis – A story of a man and woman who represent two completely different Indias. They are united in one thing only. Their mistrust, suspicion, and hate for each other.
My Take – Ever since he broke into the scene with Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006), director Dibakar Banerjee has been associated with creating experimental cinema with a touch of commercialism to appease the masses and the classes. While his follow up films, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008), Love Sex Aur Dhokha (2010), Shanghai (2012), and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015), have met with mixed results in matters of box office returns, yet they have been appreciated enough by cinephiles to earn a sense of excitement around his every next release, even if they are just shorts in anthologies like Bombay Talkies (2013), Lust Stories (2018) and Ghost Stories (2020).
In his latest which sees him return to feature film directing after six years, though the film completed production in 2018, director Dibakar Banerjee clearly once again aimed to bring his trademark idiom to narrate a story of the societal divide that erupts when a boorish heartland cop crosses path with a corporate refined big city girl. All in order to set up a black comedy with focused on patriarchy and highlighted the radical societal divide that has forever struggled to coexist.
While the idea is well-intended, unfortunately it’s the execution that falters, making it director Banerjee‘s weakest effort yet. Running for about 126 minutes, the screenplay, written by Banerjee and Varun Grover (Masaan), struggles to switch between being a road thriller, a dark comedy on capitalism and an observational drama about crime and redemption, leaving the audience confused about its faltering identity crisis.
Sure, while the film is mostly engaging in part due to its surprisingly superlative lead performances, the pace at which it moves and the slowness with which it makes its revelations weigh the whole story down, as does its intermittent obliqueness.
The story follows Sandeep “Sandy” Walia (Parineeti Chopra), a top-ranking executive in a private bank, and Satinder “Pinky” Dahiya (Arjun Kapoor), a suspended Haryana policeman, who find themselves in an impossible position together. Pregnant with her boss’s child, Sandy, in order to get herself an excellent pay day upon resignation, starts blackmailing him over a Ponzi scheme she engineered to help save his bank and fill his pockets. But now flagged for elimination, she finds herself in Pinky’s car, who only took up the driving assignment on the promise that his corrupt supervisor, Tyagi (Jaideep Ahlawat), would get his job back.
But upon realizing that Tyagi intended to get rid of both of them, the two flee to the hilly town of Pithoragarh, in order to find an illegal yet safe passage into Nepal. Finding refuge in the home of a gullible and warm elderly couple (Raghubir Yadav and Neena Gupta), the unlikely duo hide in plain sight, while, the bank and the police try tracing their whereabouts.
Without a sense of urgency or a clear understanding of how the characters are evolving between various crises, the narrative moves stiffly from one scene to the next. Needlessly grim for the most part and jaunty when least expected. Here, director Dibakar Banerjee was clearly aiming for a meditative tone with its narrative style, unobtrusive sound design, and silently observant camera. Sometimes the understatement gets too much, but more often than not it works.
The film is definitely a mixed bag but I found myself drawn to its quietude and heartening conviction that kindness may be found in the most unexpected places and the most unexpected persons could turn out to be allies, sometimes without the expectation of anything in return.
One has to admit that the elements and idea of the story has convincing potential but the film shows only glimpses of it, which ultimately ruins your expectations. For instance, the first scene of the film is quite gripping and takes you forward with it, making it a good first-half of the story.
But the second-half disappoints you with repetitive and excruciatingly slow exchanges between the characters. Director Banerjee tries to inter work in various underlying themes that represent the many Indians that co-exist within the nation. While the director cleverly tries to relate the massive bank scam to an old couple in rural India, the film’s slow pace and erratic dialogues take their toll on almost everything.
Even the characterization, could have done with more depth. We discover that Pinky is a Salman Khan fan and an accomplished dancer, but are vague on the details why he was suspended from the service in the first place. Meanwhile, the Sandy’s motivations for being involved in a multi-crore bank scam are also less than clear, as well as her recent awakening of conscience.
The issues do not cease there, with the narrative concerning a number of factors and attempting to be every part from a heist film to a feminist story to a human dram and even a narrative of the heartland, however by no means coming collectively as an entire, ending up not more than a hodgepodge of every part. Sure, the film also delivers a climax that is unusual by Bollywood standards, removed from formula, but the problem is by the time the finale arrives you might just about lose interest, given the overall sluggish pace.
Both Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra started their careers with a bang in Ishaqzaade (2012), his debut and her second film. While they did reunite in the disastrous Namaste England (2018), their chemistry here is more natural. While Chopra comes up with a restraint performance, a far cry from her melodramatic act in her last release, ‘The Girl On The Train’, Kapoor brings in a subtle assured performance. The two balance the sophisticated facade well with their character’s imperfections.
In supporting roles, Jaideep Ahlawat, Raghubir Yadav, and Neena Gupta are, as always, in top form. On the whole, ‘Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar’ is an engrossing yet convoluted tale that meanders potential with its flawed execution and a frustratingly pace.
Directed – Dibakar Banerjee
Rated – R
Run Time – 126 minutes