In this world of woke culture and gender politics, is it ever OK to show a woman being slapped?
In Bollywood actor Arjun Kapoor’s new Hindi film ‘Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar’, directed by Indian National Award-winning filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee, his troubled small-town cop character is seen slapping his terrified co-star Parineeti Chopra in the back seat of his car while waving a gun at her face.
She pleads with him saying she’s pregnant and the trailer cuts to her character walking out of a corporate boardroom.
While many may wonder if that scene glorifies violence against women, its lead actor Kapoor believes that the particular shot was a poignant moment in a film that explores class warfare. In this noir thriller, Kapoor plays a Haryanvi cop who believes he lives on the fringes of society and that his lowly existence is unremarkable.
“I think violence, though unfortunate, is a part of society and plays out in many different moments in people’s lives. You may say, ‘I am not a violent person,’ but when you are pushed over the edge then you may react. In Pinky’s case, he’s a cop and violence comes as his second nature. For him, what you perceive as violence, is just a regular way of him roughing up somebody to get answers,” said Kapoor in an exclusive interview with Gulf News.
While the jury is still out on whether films should tone down violence against women, its lead actor believes that the scene was a crucial clue to his character’s psyche.
The actor made his acting debut in 2012 with Chopra in the highly engaging star-crossed romance ‘Ishaqzaade’ about honour killings and clan wars. He says his latest character Pinky is the embodiment of a man who’s being chewed up by a society and a system that dictates that men have to be masculine to be assertive.
Kapoor — who spent three months preparing with his director Banerjee for his career-altering role — believes that ‘Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar’, produced by Yash Raj Films, is a portrait of modern India.
Excerpts from our interview as we speak about pushing boundaries as an actor, gender politics and more ...
What should we know about your new film ‘Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar’?
It is a film that has somewhere been important to me in my journey as an artist and as an actor. When you do a lot of work and when you start young, you tend to forget the people or the kind of work you look forward to doing also as an actor. Dibakar sir was very high on my list when I started as an actor.
So, when Aditya Chopra signed me on as an actor, he asked me to write down a list of 10 directors that I aspire to work with. Dibakar sir was on my wishlist. I wrote that list for Aditya sir back then but forgot about it and moved on in my life. I never imagined that in five or six years into my career, I would get to collaborate with Dibakar sir. For me, this film is a personal achievement because I got the opportunity to work with this filmmaker.
As a film, ‘SAPF’ brought out a different dynamic in me, because he has a different way of processing and preparing you for a role. The film deals with what India is today. The aspiration to be successful, the aspiration to achieve, and what about those people who are stuck in the middle who are not able to succeed on their own.
It touches upon those people who feel it’s normal to be irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. It deals with Sandeep [Parineeti Chopra], who is a very ambitious girl, and Pinky [Kapoor], who’s not your archetypal patriarchal male. He pretends to be that toxic male and my character has many subliminal layers. When you watch this film, it’s also is an engaging thriller. But eventually, it’s a character study of modern India.
There’s another scene in the trailer in which your character is described as somebody who’s immensely dispensable and interchangeable. And that line stuck with us making us sad that this is the portrait of our Modern India …
Exactly! And, Pinky is stuck in a situation where his relevance is as good as his irrelevance in which him being alive or dead doesn’t make a difference to anyone in particular. So, we explore the psyche of a man who is not living that dream? If India is called a country of dreams, what’s the psyche behind a person who is constantly chasing that dream? Pinky is that guy whose dreams are constantly crushed by the society around him.
The movie also explores this gender construct that a man should be a certain way and a woman should be a certain way. It is very interesting to play a character that is not very expressive because society has conditioned him to be that way. But he has got a lot going on in his mind and his eyes. That’s what Dibakar always wanted. He wanted that inner conflict to be visible in the way he behaves around people. Pinky is always judging people, but he is never articulating it because that is not what his upbringing is.
There was another scene in the trailer that intrigued me. Your character slaps Chopra’s character in your car’s back seat. You were brutal and it seemed like you were normalising violence against women… Did you have concerns about that slapping scene and how did your director ask you to stage it?
I think violence, though unfortunate, is a part of society and plays out in many different moments in people’s lives. You may say, ‘I am not a violent person,’ but when you are pushed then you may react. In Pinky’s case, he’s a cop and violence comes as his second nature.
For him, what you perceive as violence, is just a regular way of him roughing up somebody to get answers. In that particular sequence, he wants answers for why those [expletive] people are chasing her? … He’s asking her a question about what the hell is happening in her life and wants answers. He’s not addressing that move as ‘violence’ because he is stronger than that and he can be more brutal. In fact, in his head, she’s a woman, and feels he’s just slapping her. I agree with you that it’s [slapping a woman] is normalised in that shot but that’s what Dibakar sir is all about.
He makes you — in one shot — realise that my character finds it absolutely normal and not a big deal. We have worked hard on making that scene come alive. We are happy about that because that scene encapsulates what Pinky is. He is told to be masculine and is constantly conditioned by the society which tells you that it’s OK to do that to a woman to get answers from her. He believes in his head that he’s not being brutal to the woman here.
That’s interesting because several movies deal with toxic male behaviour towards women and actors are often blasted for glorifying violence against women. As an actor, how challenging was it to play that scene that could have a backlash?
To be honest, the violence was never the defining factor behind my character because that scene underlies the cultural thought process that makes him slap a woman for an answer. I am not like that in real life but at the same time, I did realise that we are highlighting a man’s thought process here. It takes a lot of time for that to change. If you are against that thought process dictated by your society, you are shunned. And, if you don’t blend in you are shunned and if you blend in too much there is a problem. Society gives birth to all sorts of people.
And when I did a film like ‘SAPF’, that’s what excited me. Here’s a story of a person whom you would have missed. My character is not your typical movie heroes and heroines. I represent that man who stands on the sidelines who can go unnoticed for long. And perhaps, you were never meant to notice someone like Pinky. In our film, we explore the psyche behind Pinky and Sandeep and what pushes them beyond the edge. Sometimes, society can take a lot from you and push you off the edge because you realise you are so interchangeable and dispensable. We are just a number in a larger set-up.
And, with a name like ‘Pinky’ for a troubled cop, your on-screen parents never gave you a chance to survive high school. From the title, it was wrongly assumed that you were Sandeep, a more masculine sounding name …
Dibakar has grown up in that kind of a world where nicknames are normal. Men have female nicknames and females have masculine nicknames. And when he wrote the back story for Pinky, we spoke a lot about why his mother called him Pinky. I cannot reveal the reasons now, but the irony cannot be missed in this film. We even decided to make Pinky wear a pink shirt in this film. And that begs the question: do men wear pink? Dibakar’s films questions the social and gender constructs in the most nuanced manner and make you believe that ‘ladke pink pehen sakte hai’ [Boys can wear pink too].
Pink or not, you are not a lovable character in this film …
At the outset, let me tell you there are no redeeming qualities in Pinky. You may have to look hard for any quality in him that may appeal to you. But Pinky is not looking for redemption. The system has designed him in such a way that he’s not to look for validation or redemption. He’s conditioned to be a certain way and he’s not in a popularity contest. He’s on the cusp of being the most disliked person and he’s frustrated that he’s stuck with a woman who’s above his social strata. Pinky resents her for what she is and what she stands for. He resents her for putting him in a situation. This is all about the privileged vs the underprivileged. A privileged person might look at Pinky and think he’s a troublemaker who’s up to no good. But Pinky looks at those people from his pond with disdain.
“His process takes you to spaces and places that you didn’t sign up for as a human being, let alone as an actor. He was clear when we signed the contract that we will prep for three months for this role. So, I prepped for 90 days before I shot it over 45 days,” said Kapoor on working with a Bollywood legend like Dibakar Banerjee.
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‘Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar’ releases in UAE cinemas on March 18.