Inspirational, tackles patriarchy, but director Tushar Hiranandani’s film pays a fitting tribute to India’s unheralded and oldest shooting stars – Chandro and Prakashi Tomar.
Rating: 4 /5
By Mayur Lookhar
Try holding a wet soap with both hands, and it will eventually slip out of your grip. Conservatism often tends to trigger such an inverse effect. It can never be condoned, but it’s through regression that one often finds the will to fight and seek freedom.
Despite its ignominious reputation of being a conservative community, the Jats from Haryana and neighboring states, have produced many a sporting talent. Given its patriarchal environment, poor sex ratio, achievements by Haryanvi women across any field is held in high esteem. In 2016, Nitesh Tiwari paid tribute to the outstanding talent of the Phogat sisters– wrestlers Geeta and Babita through Dangal. Now we have screenwriter Tushar Hiranandani celebrating the grit and courage of two unheralded Jats from Johri village in Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh.
Saand Ki Aankh (Bullsye) is inspired by the story of Prakashi and Chandro Tomar, two of the oldest sharpshooters in the world. Fondly called as Shooting dadis (Shooting grandmothers), the sister-in-laws took to the sport when they were in their sixties.
Hiranandani’s Saand Ki Aankh though is not about the individual glory of Chandro and Prakashi. The sexagenarians gain bigger respect for selflessly shooting down their aspirations to inspire the younger women in their house.
Chandro (Bhumi Pednekar) and Prakashi (Taapsee Pannu) never harboured any dream. It was purely by default that the ladies discovered their natural talent. They pursue the sport for the inspiring the younger women Seema (Prakashi’s daughter) and Shefali (Chandro’s daughter).
Dr.Yashpal (Vineet Kumar Singh), the local coach convinces the ladies that pursuing the sport would help the teens in their populous house get jobs. The biggest roadblock to these dreams is Rattan Singh (Prakash Jha), the patriarch of the Tomar family and his brothers Bhanwar Singh (Kuldeep Sareen) and Jai Singh (Pawan Chopra). Bhanwar is married to Chandro, while Jai Singh is Prakashi’s husband.
Without being overtly preachy, Saand Ki Aankh takes on patriarchy. Unlike Veere Di Wedding (2018), the feminism here is not misplaced. The rural ladies are simply fighting for their basic human rights – respect. Screenwriter Balwinder Singh Janjua doesn’t get too drawn by the social injustice, but he cleverly focuses more on the inspirational journey of Chandro and Prakashi. Jagdeep Sidhu’s fine dialogues are a feature of the engrossing screenplay.
As great as he is, a Mahavir Singh Phogat (former wrestler) still imposed his dreams upon his daughters – Geeta and Babita. Chandro and Prakashi haven’t imposed anything. They simply don’t want their young ones to live the suppressed lives they got accustomed to. Leading by example is the norm, but paving the way through sacrifice is more exemplary. World over, sports films generally celebrate individual glory, but seldom do one hail a sacrifice. That’s what separates Saand Ki Aankh from the rest.
The film’s makers came in for criticism for picking two tricenarians to play sexagenarian characters. Kangana Ranaut, who had turned down the film, had recommended veterans like Neena Gupta, Shabana Azmi, Jaya Bachchan for the two roles. Ranaut and her sister Rangoli hammered their opinions more so to take pot shots at Taapsee Pannu. In an ideal sense, a horses for courses policy is more safe but many a young actors have played aged characters with aplomb. Anupam Kher was just 28 when he played a 60-year-old in his first film Saaransh (1984).
All talk of sexism is purely bullshit, more fittingly saand (bull) shit here. The more pertinent question that needed to be raised was has the make -up artiste done a convincing job? It can be argued that Pednekar and Pannu could have done with better prosthetic. However, does a success of a film hinge purely on the physical appearance? What good is prosthetic if the performance lacks soul.
Pednekar and Pannu shut the sexism debate with their stellar act. The former is two years younger than Pannu, but she’s made a career out of playing rural women. Chandro’s the oldest and perhaps the finest performance by Pednekar. Compared to Pannu, Pednekar looks more convincing as the 60 plus granny. Not quite wrinkle free, but Pednekar’s face has more wear and tear than Pannu. The experience of playing earthy characters helps Pednekar gain a tiny edge over Pannu. And the Sonchiriya (2019) actress chips in with another virtuoso performance. Her command over Haryanvi, the body language, expressions is simply impeccable. Add to it her natural wit, especially her Haryanvi-accented English, Chandro hits you like a cool character.
She may not quite look the part, but Pannu delivers a thoroughly convincing performance. Pannu doesn’t let the age gap between Pawan Chopra and her hinder her performance. Like Pedenkar, she, too has tremendous command over the language. Credit to dialect coach Sunita Sharma.
It’s the camaraderie between the sister-in-laws that is the hallmark of Saand Ki Aankh. Such bonhomie is rare in Indian household. They are the pillars of strength for all women in the Tomar family. Chandro’s older to Prakashi, and often the one to lead the way for Prakashi. Her natural wit, dare helps them though through tricky situations. The Mother India (1957) in Chandro comes alive when she threatens her to kill her son if he dares to reveal their secrets.
Chandro and Prakashi are invited by the Alwar royals, unaware that they are the chief guests of the evening. The poor humble ladies drink their finger bowls, mistaking them for lemon juice. The royals and their elite guests are not embarrassed but they show true class when they, too, emulate their chief guests. Chandro and Prakashi light up the screen with quite a few such innocent yet powerful moments. It’s their bonhomie, their banter that makes them fit be called Dadi Cool (Cool Granny)
Pannu and Pednekar are relentless, but the supporting cast, too, throws their weight in. Prakash Jha is simply flawless in his domineering avatar. Rattan Singh Tomar rules the family with an iron fist, threatening the women to never cross the misplaced cultural lines of decency. His wife Bimla (Kavita Vaid) has never opened her pallu (stole) in the family’s presence. She wouldn’t dare to ever question Rattan. The young women in the Tomar house are even scared of his shadow. (The brides are recognised by the color of their pallu). Rattan’s younger brothers, too. are intimidated by him and are happy to toe his line. Being the head of the Panchayat only, helps Rattan extend his clout.
The hypocrisy of the men is exposed is when in a village film screening, they blast the women for watching an intimate scene. A young Rattan (Yogendra Vikram Singh) throws a lecture on morality before ordering the ladies to leave the tent. However, next moment, the lusty men are giggling watching the same content.
Teen artistes Sara Arjun, Pritha Bakshi, Himanshu Sharma, who plays the grandson, hold their own in front of the more accomplished cast. While Chandro and Prakashi lead the fight against patriarchy, it’s the breaking of shackles by the meek Bimla that truly shakes you. Take a bow, Kavita Vaid.
Cast him in a heinous role and you’d still love Vineet Kumar Singh. The Mukkabaaz (2017) actor is much admired for his innocent looks and he tops it up with his limitless talent. Singh brings his humility to Dr.Yashpal. He takes great risks, endures a personal loss yet goes all the way to back the Tomars. His role as coach is understated, as Yashpal is happy to live under the shadow of the shooting Tomars. The Tomars are natural, and he just lets them express themselves.
There’s not a single dull moment, credit to the fine editing by Devendra Murdeshwar. The background score is reserved for relevant scenes. Murdeshwar lets the hearty and emotional family conversations flow naturally not clubbing them with unnecessary dramatic background score. Composer Vishal Mishra’s music is very relevant playing to the film’s theme and respective situation nicely. The Baby Gold, Udta Teetar tracks stand out here.
The heavy Haryanvi may be tricky for non-Haryanvis to decipher, but credit to the director for sticking to the film’s roots and not comprising in the name of simplifying for commercial interests.
Saand Ki Aankh scores on most creative, and technical fronts, but it’s the inspirational journey of the Shooting dadis, their natural talent but more importantly their selfless attitude that makes Saand Ki Aankh an absolute winner. Follow your dreams. Just break the shackles and take the patriarchal saand by the horns.