NEW DELHI: It was shortly after the release of "Masaan" in 2015 that director Dibakar Banerjee got together with lyricist-writer Varun Grover to discuss a possible collaboration.
The result was "Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar", a film that Grover says explores 'grim realities' of class and gender without being dark.
Grover had been a fan of Banerjee, known for films such as "Khosla Ka Ghosla", "Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye", and "Shanghai".
Banerjee, on his part, liked authentic India presented in "Masaan", written by Grover and directed by Neeraj Ghaywan.
"We started talking and soon realised our worldviews are very similar. Both of us believe you should have something to say through your art, not necessarily political but something that you have seen through a different point of view and you want to share," Grover said, recalling that initial conversation six years ago.
Banerjee had an initial brief for Grover -- two runaways of different genders and backgrounds who don't like each other but have to stick together to survive and the people they encounter on the way.
The story was open for interpretation and world-building from there.
"Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar", a road film that travels from the luxe world of Delhi-NCR and its seedy underbelly to the small town of Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand, stars Parineeti Chopra as Sandeep and Arjun Kapoor as Pinky in a fun gender name flip.
"We decided we will not make a love story. We will talk about the world around us, and how different kinds of power equations play out in our world," Grover told PTI in a telephonic interview from Mumbai.
"The plan was to make a film where, by the end of it, both the central characters are at least more aware of each other's world," he added.
It has taken six long years for the film, which was released on Amazon Prime Video on May 20, to be seen by a wider audience.
The film's initial release was postponed due to the pandemic last year.
And when it was released to mixed reviews this year, the country was already in the middle of the second wave.
Grover said he had given up all hope it would ever see the light of the day and is relieved the film is out for people to watch, like or dislike or maybe discover it years later.
"I accept all reviews -- good or bad. Every interpretation of every film is right. Someone who didn't like the film is speaking their truth. But the film must get a release, especially in the age of OTT platforms. You can discover a film years later which was not possible in theatres," he said.
"It is good to see that people are getting the core ideas we wanted to talk about in the film. We didn't want people to say 'issues were good, but the film was bad'. What we want is people to say, 'the film was good but the layers that you put in it were also good'. The good thing is the people who have reached the layers have liked the film. That is heartening and unexpected at the same time."
A lot of discussions and detailing went into giving the characters, even the smallest ones, a lived-in quality, and familiarity, Grover said.
"We worked on each and every character separately. There were weeks when we did not talk about Sandeep and Pinky at all. There is Munna, a Salman Khan fan, or there is Uncle who finds power equations in bad-mouthing the neighboring hotel or the small-town bank manager."
Kapoor's Pinky was the most challenging character to write while Uncle, played by Raghuvir Yadav, was the most fun.
"Pinky is not an easily likable character, is a bit sexist and has other complexities. We wanted to make him a bit more understandable. It took more time to etch the backstory of the character." he said.
The film may deal with grim realities but both Banerjee and Grover did not want it to be dark.
They were also conflicted about how to end the film.
"We had three-four endings for the film. Just before the film went to shoot we were conflicted about how we should end the story. Happy, sad or open ending. But in the end, we went with this because somewhere we thought that the film already had many elements that could be sad and triggering," Grover said.
"We have maintained this (rhythm) that the film is not very dark while it is talking about the grim realities of our times. Somewhere we felt that we should give a ray of hope in the end, however unrealistic it may be. We wanted to give an imaginary hope," he added.
The multi-talented artiste, who is a writer, poet, stand-up comedian and runs comedy group Aisi Taisi Democracy with Sanjay Rajoura and Rahul Ram, said writing films is a "time-consuming process".
He said he began discussing "Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar" in 2015, started writing it in 2016, finished it in 2017, the movie was shot in 2018 and it has been released now.
Notwithstanding the time taken, Grover loves watching movies and considers movie writing a "privilege".
"With films, you never know if it will ever be made and when. I wrote a film two years ago and I don't know if it will ever be made. At least a year goes into writing a film. The hard work you do for a year, sometimes you get to see its fruits after three years."
"That period is very difficult. You start losing faith in yourself. You wonder whether people will like the film or not as it has been quite dated. I do stand-up comedy or write songs. Today, songs are created after the film is complete, so that is a quicker process."
"Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar" also stars Neena Gupta, Jaideep Ahlawat, Sukant Goel, Rahul Kumar, and Archana Patel.