Cast: Parineeti Chopra, Arjun Kapoor, Pankaj Tripathi, Jaideep Ahlawat, Neena Gupta, Sanjay Mishra
Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 5 stars)
Artfully eccentric, Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar gives Bollywood conventions a wide berth. It proffers nothing that one would expect from a tale of two fugitives yoked together by circumstances. It isn't a romantic road movie nor a bickering-pair-on-the-lam thriller. Suffice to say, it is a Dibakar Banerjee film. That is the only label one can pin on it.
Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, released theatrically, is of a unique timbre - and spirit. It gives top billing to Parineeti Chopra. It also gleefully jettisons the Mumbai industry's gender norms in other ways that are integral to the narrative. To begin with, Sandeep isn't a man and Pinky isn't a woman.
The former, 'Sandy' Walia (Chopra), is a wily, unapologetic, self-made woman who saves her bank from collapse by helping her boss mastermind a scam involving countless small depositors, thousands of fake accounts and millions of rupees. The inevitable fallout is big trouble. The bank president wants her dead. The pregnant Sandy knows too much. She is left with no option but to flee.
Her unlikely accomplice in a desperate escape plan is Satinder 'Pinky' Dahiya (Kapoor), a thick-set Haryana police constable who is under suspension for an unspecified act of discretion. He gets sucked into the plot to bump off Sandy. He, too, falls foul of his superior (Jaideep Ahlawat) when the strike goes awry. And he, too, is compelled to leave all behind and head to Pithoragarh with the intention of crossing into Nepal.
There is no love lost between Sandy and Pinky, both flawed individuals with unclear motives. The duo shacks up in Pithoragarh with an unsuspecting old couple (Neena Gupta and Raghubir Yadav, delightful scene-stealers both), posing as man and wife as they bide their time before they can make the final dash across the border.
The two runaways - one a girl from Panchkula with a Mathematics degree and an MBA, the other a gruff Haryanvi whose police career has hit a dead end - belong to different worlds and view each other with great mistrust. But the man who might have killed her had all gone well agrees to guide Sandy to safety for a hefty consideration. "Use head not heart," the morose Pinky says to the equally grim-faced Sandy. When a studio photographer requests Pinky to flash a smile for a passport snap, it is like asking a boulder to melt. He says curtly: "Nahi aa rahi smile."
Neither form nor substance is entirely unblemished here, but Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar is delightfully piquant. It has an undertone of pitch-dark humour that puts the plot on a firm footing even when it appears to be alternating between the dour and the quirky, the wayward and the orchestrated, the amusing and disquieting.
The endearingly gullible old lady who gives them refuge requests Sandy for help with the chapatis, which she gladly extends. And when the husband needs assistance to access a substantial deposit stuck in the bank that Sandy once worked for, she steps in to help out by browbeating a recalcitrant, unhelpful branch manager.
The burly Haryanvi lad, on the other hand, is a changed man when Sandy encounters a medical emergency. The gender divide is repeatedly breached and questioned as the two make common cause despite having nothing in common by way of background or temperament.
Dibakar Banerjee has built his career around films that thrive on defying expectations. Not one film that he has made since his first, Khosla Ka Ghosla, which had to beat many odds and overcome a time-lag to hit the screens, is even remotely like any other that he has directed. Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, which also had its release held up for an inordinate length of time (the reason seems obvious: it is too individualistic a work to sail unhindered out of the YRF assembly line), is just as uncategorizable.
When the film kicks off, you suspect just for a fleeting moment that it might be straying into the NH10 zone, what with the unsettling opening sequence of a trio of obnoxious, yakking young men in a dangerously speeding SUV, a recipe for disaster. A few sequences on, as Pinky roughs up Sandy, you wonder, again only momentarily, if the film is poised to go the Highway way.
Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar does neither, zig-zagging off in a direction that never fully reveals its contours. It is not where they are going that really matters; it is Sandy and Pinky's uncertainty-ridden journey, stopovers and detours, which approximate life's vicissitudes as closely as a Hindi film about two people on the run can, that propels the film.
Indeed, even after the film has run its course, one isn't certain whether the two lead characters were actually meant to be where they have ended up. It is only in conventional Hindi cinema that the hero (or the heroine, much less frequently of course) reaches a destination that is spelled out loud and clear in the very beginning. In Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, it isn't.
That is the beauty of this film scripted by Banerjee and Varun Grover. It lets you roam free within the spaces it creates, does not put everything on the table and restrict your freedom to think for yourself, and employs exceptionally elliptical, defiantly novel means that eschew over-explication as a means to lending clarity to the way the minds of Sandy and Pinky work.
Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar isn't a fast-paced drama designed for easy comprehension and cheap thrills. It demands that you abandon the lexicon you usually employ to decipher a genre film and embrace the joy of responding to unusual, often cryptic modes. Is it asking for too much?
The performances that the two leads, with all their mannerisms and angularities intact, turn in are perfectly integrated into the narrative. Parineeti Chopra has her nose slightly ahead in the race because her character is allowed a wider emotional range. Arjun Kapoor makes a convincing drifter whose path is never straight and narrow.
The supporting cast, notably Raghubir Yadav, Neena Gupta and Jaideep Ahlawat, exist outside the central narrative arc, weaving in and out of it and the enhancing the staccato, whimsical rhythm of the film. The manner in which Sandeep and Pinky wend their way through hazy territory weighing the pros and cons as they go along without any apparent patterns may not grow on everybody - it might not even work for many. But Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar is an inspired cinematic essay that draws strength from upending time-worn tics.