In 2012, Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra made their lead debuts in the romantic thriller Ishaqzaade. They made an excellent duo, turning in nuanced performances in a story that tackled a number of thorny subjects. Reunited nearly a decade later in Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar (“Sandeep and Pinky Have Absconded“), Kapoor and Chopra remind us that they might be at their best when they’re together.
Writer-director Dibakar Banerjee’s chilling opening scene sees a car full of rowdy bros gunned down as the opening credits come to an end. Shortly thereafter, we learn that their murder is a case of mistaken identity.
The real target is Sandeep “Sandy” Walia (Parineeti Chopra), a high-ranking executive at Parivartan Bank. She’s dating her boss, Parichay (Dinker Sharma), and is pregnant with his child. As Sandy waits at a restaurant for her boss/boyfriend, a messenger — Satinder “Pinky” Dahiya — arrives with a note from Parichay asking her to accompany Pinky to a different location.
Pinky is trying get his suspension from the police force overturned by doing jobs for a well-connected goon named Tyagi (Jaideep Ahlawat). Pinky assumes he’s been hired to turn Sandy over to some thugs who will scare her (he doesn’t care why). When he realizes Tyagi intended to have him killed along with Sandy in order to cover up her murder, Pinky reluctantly takes Sandy to a border town where they can cross into Nepal.
Pinky’s emotional arc is pretty conventional and self-contained. He needs to shed his tough guy self-image and learn to care about people other than himself. He does so first by realizing the special considerations Sandy has to take to protect her own health for the sake of her unborn child. Pinky’s progress is also helped along by Munna (Rahul Kumar), a young man who looks up to Pinky and needs a shoulder to cry on. Pinky’s compassion toward Munna — however grudgingly it’s given — yields dividends when Tyagi shows up in town.
Sandy’s arc is more complex and ties in with the film’s themes about misogyny, double standards, and capitalism. Sandy’s just as morally flexible as Pinky, if not more so — comfortable with both large scale corruption and simple interpersonal lies — but she’s often pressured to act by external forces. Parichay convinces her that the only way to save the bank is for her to do something illegal, so she acts in a way that saves her company and her relationship with him at the expense of faceless customers she thinks she’ll never meet. When she needs a clean place to stay, Sandy convinces an older couple — known simply as Aunty (Neena Gupta) and Uncle (Raghuvir Yadav) — to rent a room to her and Pinky even though they have no money. It’s an understandable act of deception for an expectant mother worried about her health.
The world as presented in Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar allows women no margin for error and gives men full discretion over the terms of their existence. Sandy climbs the ranks in her field through hard work but becomes disposable once she asks for something for herself. She makes a mutually beneficial deal with a local bank manager (played by Sukant Goel) who abruptly changes the terms, then resorts to violence when she refuses to comply. Uncle values his pride more than Sandy’s safety.
Aunty tells a story to Sandy and a group of other women about being so angry at Uncle that she packed a bag and left the house. He followed her out and asked where she was going to go. Realizing she had nowhere else she could go, she turned around and went back in the house. Everyone laughs, but the truth of the story is incredibly sad. All of the options for women in Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar are bad.
The only woman with a chance of making things right is a lawyer named Sejal (Archana Patel), hired by Parichay to track down Sandy. Like Sandy, Sejal is smarter than the men around her, so Parichay withholds information from her about the reasons why Sandy fled and what he plans to do with her when she’s found. Though at first she seems like another pawn working to preserve the power of capitalism and patriarchy, Sejal is Banerjee’s way of introducing hope into the story. Sandy didn’t see Parichay’s true colors in time, but if Sejal can, maybe she can balance the scales of justice a little bit.
Every performance in the movie is spot-on, down to the smallest roles. But boy do Chopra and Kapoor do an amazing job of reminding you just what they are capable of, especially when they’re working with a great director. Banerjee’s story — co-written with Varun Grover — heads in unexpected directions but never feels like it’s being clever for its own sake, and it does so at a pace that is neither too fast nor too slow. Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar is totally engrossing and dense enough to merit a second viewing.
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