When individuals attempt to live in dignity by constructing their existence under the veil of deceit and lies, how do we correctly judge their moral stand? With Prithvi Konanur’s third directorial feature — the 2020 Kannada-language film Where is Pinki? — he delves unflinchingly into such an ethical quandary and highlights a sharp divide of contradictions between powerful and downtrodden characters in the city of Bengaluru. Structured as a realistic social drama, the film informs viewers about corruption in contemporary Indian society.
Bindushree (Akshatha Pandavapura) is a working woman and a single mother to an eight-month-old girl named Pinki. After separating from her husband, she lives with a new lover in a small apartment. One morning, as both of them leave for work, Pinki’s caretaker, Sannamma (Gunjalamma), spikes her milk with brandy and lets her cousin Anusuya (Anasu) take the infant to the streets for begging. But due to a careless act by Anusuya, Pinki goes missing and all hell breaks loose. Incidentally, the child’s relatives must walk an extraordinary tightrope while affirming the indefatigable human spirit of survival.
By adopting a fly-on-the-wall approach in Where Is Pinki?, Konanur scrutinizes the lives of the protagonists to make viewers realize that the characters are captives of their circumstances; individuals who try hard to keep their world functioning by covering up its cracks with rigorous efforts. Most of the time, they are unaware of the repercussions of their actions. Konanur, however, paints their imperfections with tenderness that is aptly humanizing. Where Is Pinki? doesn’t use stock scenes to explain a character’s background, allowing the audience to decipher the individuals’ motives and purposes. For example, Bindushree’s character arc contrasts sharply with the childless sweeper Pathu, in order to thematically underline how someone’s financial capability doesn’t necessarily correlate with their parenting skills.
The handheld cinematography by Arjun Raja effectively captures the atmosphere, along with the characters in their most vulnerable moments. Through intense close-ups, viewers witness the ironies of life in the best tradition of cinéma vérité, which as a creative strategy helps Konanur to move fluidly into the complex territory of human intentions, and such microscopic observations provide a compassionate depiction of the human condition. Similarly, the pacing of Where Is Pinki?, created by the editor Shivkumar Swamy, enhances the character emotions and lends a remarkable lucidity to the film. The narrative shuffles between three parallel events — Pathu hiding Pinki in the slum, Sannamma and Anusuya trying to locate the house of the abductor and Bindushree seeking out the whereabouts of the titular child. These events are skillfully interwoven to create momentum, and to raise the tension one knot at a time.
Performance-wise, Pandavapura rises above the script as a tormented mother who will leave no stone unturned to locate her infant; however, it’s the non-professionals of Where Is Pinki? who bring rawness to their roles and deserve a special mention. For instance, when Gunjalamma and Anasu — portraying the roles of Sannamma and Anusuya, respectively — sit on the ground after getting tired from their search and cry profusely, one can empathize with the characters rather then being angry about their culpability; the expressions on the performers’ faces gives an organic feel of regret. In addition, Sangamma delivers a rugged performance with conviction and confidence as an adamant woman, Pathu, who does not want to part away from the infant, despite the repercussions. All these performances clearly indicate the command of a strong directorial hand in achieving the desired emotional reactions from the professional and non-professional cast members.
Overall, Where Is Pinki? captures the various levels of human psychology through a dark tone. In the hands of another director, the film might’ve become a tedious and gloomy melodrama about anguish, defeat and failure within the Indian working-class. But Konanur mitigates the harsh social realism by navigating through the grimy lanes and ghettos of the metropolitan area and lending an ambiguity to the ethics of everyone’s behavior. Where Is Pinki? speaks to the soul with its incessant probes into the human spirit and the degradations brought by unforeseen circumstances.
Dipankar Sarkar (@Dipankar_Tezpur) is a graduate in film editing from the Film and Television Institute of India and currently based in Mumbai. As a freelancer, he frequently contributes to various Indian publications on cinema-related topics.