Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar: A Critique of Toxic Masculinity
Dibakar Banerjee's latest film is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
(Alert: The article contains spoilers)
“Why are you people never happy? You, Uncle, my boss - the entire brigade. Why are you people never happy”, asks Sandeep Walia (Parineeti Chopra), in Dibakar Banerjee’s latest film Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar that is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
The woman is Sandeep and the man (Arjun Kapoor) Pinky. In reversing the names, Banerjee challenges us to think beyond our conditioning. While discussing gender in Bollywood, most filmmakers paint strong, independent women as always smoking or drinking away their worries. But Banerjee isn’t ‘most’ of them. His crafty storyline speaks about the deep-rooted patriarchy that engulfs everyone in the country. Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar isn’t just a chase story, it’s a takedown of toxic Indian masculinity, the biggest hindrance towards gender equality.
Let’s take a look at some of the men in the film who wear their gender as a badge of honour and use it to try and subvert women, verbally or physically.
In an attempt to escape from the cops, Sandeep and Pinky become paying guests of an elderly couple (played to perfection by Neena Gupta and Raghubir Yadav). Yadav, or Uncle as everyone calls him, is the small-town patriarch who takes great pride in suppressing his wife in front of strangers. We first meet Uncle as he quizzes Sandeep & Pinky (who pretend to be husband and wife) about the circumstances in which they landed in Pithorgarh. “Your husband has a well-paying job so why do you feel the need to work?”, Uncle asks Sandeep. Aunty attempts to defend Sandeep, only to be shouted down.
This is just one of the many glaring instances of toxic behaviour that Uncle exhibits. He tells his wife, struggling with her bad knees, to not climb stairs on one hand. But when it comes to cooking and cleaning, he does not even bother to hire a house help. Uncle invests his wife’s money in a shady bank scheme, does not bat an eyelid to blame his wife when things go awry, and knows very well that he can get away with his obnoxious behaviour because the woman has nowhere to turn to. While recalling an incident at a wedding Gupta says, “I was so furious once that I packed all my belongings and was ready to leave. My husband comes and with a smirk asks me, ‘But where will you go?’ And that’s true. Where would I have gone? So I took my slippers and quietly went inside”.
Uncle tries to treat Sandy exactly like his wife. A smart, independent woman is too much of a blow to his massive ego. During a conversation with one of the locals, Sandy is asked about the Sensex to which Uncle interrupts, “She is just a customer care executive who answers calls throughout the day”. Sandeep is much more than that and slowly but firmly, she gives the man a befitting answer.
Jaideep Ahlawat plays a corrupt cop who is tasked to kill Sandy. He hires suspended policeman Satyendra (Pinky), making false promises that he will reinstate Pinky after the ‘job’ is done. During a conversation with his senior Tyagi tries to explain Pinky’s betrayal. “I have trained Pinky. He was ready to die. God knows what the girl offered him…. Sex changes everything. Sad but true”. Of course, in any situation it’s always the woman who lures the man into ‘darkness’.
A bank manager (played by Sukant Goel) who offers to help Sandy, Sumit acts all timid when he first meets her. He pretends to have not recognised his former boss Sandy Walia. But when Sandy goes to the bank late at night to work on her secret deal with Sumit, he grabs the chance to pounce on her. Sumit does not understand consent. Despite being repeatedly asked to back off, he assaults Sandy, resulting in an irreparable tragedy. It’s Sumit and his perverted mind that made him assume just because a woman had walked into his office at night for work does not in any way indicate that she has given consent for sex. The film also opens with a bunch of men speeding down the roads of Delhi, discussing whether they would opt for a woman wearing lipstick or a one without one. The conversation clearly points to the terrifying fact that objectifying women and thinking about taking advantage of them have become part of our regular conversations.
Sandy and her partner Parichay (Dinker) dupe thousands through the dubious Swabhimaan scheme to save their bank, Parivartan Bank. However, when things don’t go according to what Parichay wants, Sandy immediately becomes a threat. Parichay cooks up a story in an attempt to tarnish her image and tells his colleague, who has been brought in to trace Sandeep, “She (Sandy) was against hiring you also. You have taken a five-year break and Sandy was concerned as to whether you have been up to date. ‘Will she focus on her career or child’ Sandy said”. By pitting one woman against another, Parichay proves that he is just another insecure man. Through flashbacks, we get to know that Parichay uses Sandy to amass wealth and then hatches a plan to ruin her career. He even goes to the length of hiring men to finish her off. Through characters like Parichay, Tyagi, Sumit, Dibakar Banerjee shows us that pervert, sick men lurk in all corners of society - their sole aim being to dominate a woman in whichever capacity they can.
One of the protagonists, Pinky, isn't a saint either. We are made to believe that he can be just as toxic as the rest. When Sandy tells him, “When you don’t know about something just shut up”, Pinky takes that to heart and wastes no time giving Sandy a earful. Pinky has been conditioned to hurt women physically. Pinky flinches a little when Tyagi tells him he has to kill a ‘female’, but he nevertheless takes up the job.
In multiple instances we have Pinky choke, slap and hurt Sandeep. Both Sandeep and Pinky are flawed and not instantly likeable. It’s circumstances that force them to alter their behaviour and acknowledge the kindness that strangers have to offer.
Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar is not loud. Through its approach Dibakar Banerjee makes us reassess the expectations we place on each gender and the instances of abuse that are brushed aside or overlooked.
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