Everybody remembers Bhaggu, the luckless street thug played by Pitobash Tripathy in Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai (2012). Bhaggu, having committed a crime, is strung along by a local politician who had given him the job. Time and again he shows up for a payback and is rudely sent away. It’s a wry comment not the first from the director about the futility of hope.
Fans of Dibakar Banerjee have felt a bit like Bhaggu in recent years. It’s been six years since he’s had a theatrical release (his last, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, came out in 2015). He’s been busy, of course directing hard-hitting segments in Lust and Ghost Stories but the peculiar pleasure of watching a Dibakar Banerjee world come alive on the big screen has been missed.
Well, that wait is almost over. His new feature, Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, is opening in cinemas this Friday. The film was wrapped up in 2018 — a three-year delay shrouded in mystery and stretched out by the pandemic. It stars Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra as the titular duo on the run. On their trail is Paatal Lok’s Jaideep Ahlawat, as a tough, money-grubbing cop.
We spoke to Dibakar about his return to the big screen, smelting multiple genres into Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, and revisiting the terrain of North India.
Excerpts from the conversation:
You are having a theatrical release after six years. How does it feel to have Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar come out in cinemas?
It feels like my first film all over again. I have gone back 14 years in time. I am assuming no one knows me, I am assuming I have no past. I am a fresh first-time director and this is my first film.
The film takes you back to North India proper. It can be called your home turf. Were you keen on setting another film in that landscape?
Yes and no. I always wanted to do something which sort of comes from my instincts, from my genuine childhood and my intimate cultural experiences. I was always looking forward to doing something like this because you are operating from your core strength, your instinct, and then you are building on that, so that building can be much higher because you can already have your strengths and your instincts inside you. It just depends on the story that you are dying to make.
There’s an interesting mix of genres in Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar: chase film, love story, even a hint of a family drama with Neena Gupta and Raghubir Yadav. This is a good question, actually. I think the best thrillers are also the best dramas; I think the best dramas have a kind of a plot which is almost like you are chasing something you are chasing the end, the conclusion, you are chasing the character’s success or something like that. I have combined many such genres in all my films because I don’t consider them exclusive of each other.
Hence the different cross-currents in the story?
The core of Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar is an event that leads to a chase and it’s a game of life-or-death.
We have seen films which embellish this aspect and everything else is kind of sent to the background. Our ideas of what is a thrill and a chase are based on our memories of films. We get a thrill out of seeing people defy death or run, but these characters are not going through any kind of a thrilling experience. They are still trying to live and survive and escape death. So when telling a chase story, if you give the characters those histories, idiosyncrasies and life-like qualities then it’s not a chase, it’s life. That’s where I am trying to go.
What did you enjoy most about working with Arjun and Parineeti?
I think their sense of humour. They just kept on laughing through all the problems and all the difficulties, so that was great. I loved Arjun’s mimicry of all the greatest Bollywood stars.
Your early films are admired for their sense of realism and observational humour. How much of that old Dibakar Banerjee is back in Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar?
I have no idea what is meant by my early films. It makes me feel like a director who has done 20-30 films and there are early, middle and late periods. I think I have only started blooming. I am only concerned about Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar that comes out of my life and my head and where the story is and what happened. So life is life.