I thought Pinky Memsaab was going to be an uplifting film about women's empowerment and sisterhood. After all it has two solid female leads and it's been written and directed by a woman, Shazia Ali Khan.
But I was wrong. I should've picked up on it when the team described Kiran Malik's character Mehr in two words: "beautiful socialite", but more on that later.
Pinky Memsaab introduces us to its main leads in a foot chase; Mehr running after her former maid Pinky (Hajra Yamin) on some deserted streets of Dubai.
In a flashback we're taken back three years to Punjab when Pinky is preparing to leave her village to fly off to Dubai to work for Mehr. Once there, Pinky struggles to adjust to her new home. It's when Mehr trains Pinky and educates her that the two women form a kinship.
Pinky quickly settles in and creates a familial bond with the household members, including Mehr's husband Hassan (Adnan Jaffer), her son Ahad, the chauffeur Santosh (Sunny Hinduja) and Filipino maid Grace. On the other hand, Mehr's estranged relationship with her family only adds to her professional struggles and ends up making her feeling resentful towards Pinky for having found her way into her family's heart.
And thus begins a journey of self discovery for Pinky and her memsaab. But does it?
Pinky Memsaab manages to humanise its characters without pointing blame at any one
The film could've easily slipped Mehr into the "failed" mother/wife trope; after all, she's erratic, quarrels with her husband, neglects her child and can't seem to get her career back on track, the ultimate ugly duckling for desi aunties.
However, Pinky Memsaab reserves such judgement and instead presents the audience with a character who bares her vulnerabilities and desperately tries to latch on to something we all do when everything seems to be falling apart: hope. And there's a glimmer of promise that she may find her way by the end of the film.
Similarly, we're introduced to Pinky, a shy, naive girl when she lands in Dubai, but as the film progresses we see her aspire to be like her memsaab, going so far as to emulate her by holding an unlit cigarette in front of a mirror. Mehr is neither demonised by being placed in contrast against Pinky, nor is Pinky depicted as a 'holier than thou' character in the film. Both in their own space complement each other and the dichotomy of both their worlds is harmonious.
The film fails its female leads
Two women, one removed from her world and the other trying to find herself in the whirlwind Dubai life, come together under one roof and form an unlikely friendship. Making of an empowering film, right? Wrong.
In a society where women may share a stronger relationship with their maids than family members, I was hoping to witness a growing bond between Pinky and Mehr, an evolving of their relationship as well as their own selves as the film touts to show "both fight against preconceived notions and unspoken class barriers to discover who they truly are." However, the film is unsuccessful in doing this.
It was heartwarming to see Pinky and Mehr share the screen in a positive space during the former’s makeover, however, that's the only time we see them develop. After they have a falling out and each goes her own way there isn't much expansion of their characters, neither when they're together nor individually.
The two characters had potential, given the brilliant acting chops displayed by Kiran and Hajra, but Mehr is reduced to a woman wallowing in self-pity rather than someone who creates her own narrative and Pinky goes from being an active character to a passive one.
It's not like director/writer Shazia missed the plot altogether, we see Hassan's character flesh out from being a neglectful husband and father to coming full circle and we're glad Adnan Jaffer got his role down to the T, but the writer fails to pay as much attention to the growth of her female characters.
The film suffers due to a fragmented storyline
Probably the biggest flaw in the film is that the storyline lacks flow and momentum. It can largely be attributed to the choppy editing, but it also reflected on the introduction of side characters and their sudden disappearance from the plot. This disposal of characters prevented the audience from connecting with anyone other than the leads, and consequently causes the storyline to suffer.
For instance, one of the important characters in the film, Mehr's father, is mentioned a couple of times and there are obvious hints of a strained relationship between the father and daughter; however, we're not introduced to him till much later in the film but by then it's too late to form a connection with him and grasp the tension between the two.
Likewise, Ashir, a friend of the couple's, appears out of the blue for one scene, creates havoc between Mehr and Hassan and then vanishes entirely.
One character which has depth and sadly isn't explored at all is Kulsoom Api, she's the only female in the film who's resolute and firm. Unfortunately she's superfluous in the storyline and completely wasted.
When I went to watch Pinky Memsaab I had hoped to see a film about women who are a reflection of society and at the same time break stereotypes about our gender, but it only reinforced those through Mehr's 'fake' friends and memsaab's jealousy towards Pinky.
In a world where women are pitted against each other, Pinky Memsaab could've easily called out the society's internalised sexism and although it was close to achieving it, it fell short.