Five years after the ambitious Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (DBB, 2015), Dibakar Banerjee returns to the big screen with Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar (SAPF). Exploring the relationship between white-collar worker Sandeep (Parineeti Chopra) and Haryanvi cop Pinky (Arjun Kapoor), SAPF eschews romantic tropes. It explores new territory for a filmmaker who has regularly experimented with genres, in movies such as Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye (2008), Love, Sex Aur Dhokha (2010) and Shanghai (2012). Even as the movie’s already-delayed release has been further deferred due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the 50-year-old explains why the wait hasn’t bothered him too much. Excerpts:
One obvious twist in SAPF is naming the female protagonist Sandeep and the male lead Pinky. Where did you get the title?
The title came from Varun (Grover, co-writer). The character names are mine. I’ve observed that in the north, even burly men have rather feminine nicknames. Women, especially among Sikhs, have male names. So, I was quite kicked by the fact that we could name them this way and talk about gender, without drawing any attention.
What prompted you to make a love story?
DBB didn’t do well in theatres. Adi (producer Aditya Chopra) and I discussed doing something that’s surprising but definitely more accessible to the family audience. Adi suggested a love story. We usually sell adolescent sexual discovery to a hugely repressed youth and call it ‘love’. Mercifully, that’s changing. So, obviously, something new had to be done. We were talking about a relationship between a man and a woman, and, along with that, came issues of gender and class. Then came the idea of two Indias colliding. These Indias exist right next to each other but they could be as different from each other as India and Germany.
SAPF was supposed to release in August 2018. What is it like when a completed film has to wait a long time for release?
Our shoot got pushed when Parineeti Chopra (who plays the female lead) suffered an injury and we finished the shoot in February 2018. I wanted to get the best edit, so I told Adi that the August release won’t be possible. In 2019, the studio (Yash Raj Films) was hoping that other films of Arjun (Kapoor, male lead) would create a favourable buzz, but you lose some, you win some. That’s when we decided that we would either release it at the end of 2019 or early 2020. Everybody is fighting for those 52 weekends, and smaller films like ours, get the short shrift from exhibitors. Distributors have to carefully plan when to present such material. So, we realised that we would rather wait to release it when it has a good window.
How disappointing is it that the release has again been pushed due to the coronavirus outbreak?
Filmmaking teaches you to accept the inevitable. It also teaches you to be patient and to understand that there are things far bigger than your film.
Does the wait get on your nerves?
You are speaking to the director of Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006, which didn’t find a buyer for a couple of years). My first film has trained me in a way that this doesn’t really matter. I did other films (Lust Stories, 2018 and Ghost Stories, 2020) and other things in the meantime. My younger daughter came into my life and I could give her more time. We kept improving SAPF. During the last edit of SAPF we decided that we will do it from Parineeti’s point of view. The Indian film industry is not usually bothered about the female lead. In this film, both the characters are quite interesting.
How has contemporary politics affected you as a filmmaker?
My most overtly political film, Shanghai (2012), was made when the UPA government was in power. Over the last five years, India has witnessed a new political phenomenon. I must say that I had foreseen it. I had said it during the protests at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. and the award wapsi (he returned his National Awards to express his solidarity with FTII students) in 2015.
Is the government suppressing dissent?
Even if it isn’t, it does like to give that impression. It has understood that a large number of middle-class Indians are seduced by the display of naked power. Power is sexy. Even when power crushes you, if you’re stupid enough — which many Indians have shown themselves to be — then you feel wowed. That threatening stance is around us all over. You have to calculate what you have to say (without threatening) your self-preservation.
Can artistes afford to stay silent?
If you want to slowly lose all the liberties that you associate with being human, then, of course, stay apolitical. If you choose to pretend that society goes on without active mental participation from you, then I guess you’ve also forfeited the right to complain about anything that goes wrong with you.
Were you sad when your passion project, DBB, didn’t do well?
You can’t walk into the world of filmmaking with such fragile hearts. I was not heartbroken but disappointed, since I wanted it to do well financially for YRF. Later, however, it became one of the better-performing assets on Amazon Prime video. We realised that there are films which people want to see again and again. There are certain aspects of a film that youngsters want to consume through laptops or mobiles. It’s a changing world. We are also learning. Interestingly, I’m always asked about the second Byomkesh Bakshy movie.
Are you making a sequel?
Of course, at the right time. Films have a way of depending on something called ‘destiny’, which is determined by too many variables. Too many things have to come together for one film to see the light of day. The next Byomkesh Bakshy movie will be very different. In the first, you saw an inexperienced Byomkesh. If the sequel ever gets made, you will see a seasoned Byomkesh, going through troubles that typical Indian middle-class people do.
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