Synopsis – Both over the age of 60, Chandro Tomar and Prakashi Tomar inspire other women in India when they demonstrate their expert sharpshooting skills.
My Take – While India achieved Independence 72 years ago, and with time its citizens have been progressing in nearly every possible field and sector in the world, the sad truth remains that the woman of the country still continue to be oppressed from making any form of progress, especially in rural India.
Here, the woman continue to have no say in their own household, and are conditioned to fit in this mold of misogyny right from birth. However, amid this setting two fierce women, namely Chandro Tomar and Prakash Tomar, hailing from Johri village, in Uttar Pradesh, rose up at the age of 60, to strive against such patriarchy.
Their inspiring journey paved the way for the women of their village, and particularly their family, to raise their voice against misogyny of every form and strive to do something to make a living, other than giving birth to babies, working in the kitchen and farms. This film, backed by Anurag Kashyap, written by Balwinder Singh Janjua and directed by Tushar Hiranandani, aims to pay tribute to these two extraordinarily wonderful women, and most importantly, to their womanhood and sisterhood.
While a story-line based upon oppressed women breaking free of the shackles imposed by their misogynist husbands for the sake of their granddaughters might sounds like a recipe for tears, the film, despite an overlong second half, also manages to be an absolute delight.
While tears are guaranteed, this it never compromises on the fun element. While the film has hit some controversy regarding the casting of Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar in roles twice their actual age, the two here prove once again why they are considered as one of the best actresses working today.
The story follows Prakashi (Taapsee Pannu) and Chandro (Bhumi Pednekar), two woman belonging to the village of Johri, where the women are expected to do everything conventional and of bog-standard like procreating, cleaning, cooking and being in the service of men. Whereas, the men just relax in their signature khaat and smoke hookah.
Decades later, things begin to change when Dr. Yashpal (Vineet Kumar), a local who after years in Delhi returns to open a shooting range, with a firm believe that by participating in the upcoming competitions, anyone can score government jobs and go far in life, especially if they’re good.
While the boys of the village remain uninterested and would rather while away their time, Chandro’s grand-daughter Shefali (Sara Arjun), shows a keen interest to learn, so Chandro secretly takes her one day, and discovers that she herself is a skilled marks-woman. Soon, Prakashi’s daughter Seema (Pritha Bakshi) also decides to join in, leading to Prakashi also finding out that she too possess the skill to hit the bullseye.
With Yashpal supporting them, the two decide that if for nothing else but the sake of their granddaughter and daughter, they will become shooting champions, so that their girls find the courage to break free and make their own lives.
But to do so they have to carry everything clandestinely, away from the sights of their husbands and especially, Rattan Singh Tomar (Prakash Jha), the family patriarch and the village Sarpanch who rules their lives with an iron fist. Hence it takes all their ingenuity for the 60-year-old woman to find excuses to travel out of their village to compete across India, and earn the nicknames ‘Shooter Dadis’.
The film is at once a stirring biopic, a sensitive female-centric film, a telling feminist statement, an emotional family drama, and a rousing underdog story. Among a slew of biopics, this one stands apart because it doesn’t just celebrate the achievement of two individuals, but also distinguishes them in how they inspired a younger generation to break out of patterns of suppression and, along the way, impacted the attitude of the men too. Director Tushar Hiranandani, in his debut, along with writer Balwinder Singh Janjua juice this incredible true story down to its last refreshing drop.
There are scenes that leave you enthralled at their sheer improbability, inspired by the hurdles they overcome, and touched by the solidarity shown for each other by the female characters. One scene in particular, which highlights the deep-rooted patriarchy, is the one where the women are assigned a particular color to keep their face covered so that the husband can differentiate between them.
Bimla, the eldest is red, Chandro, the middle one, is blue, and when the youngest wife Prakashi comes to her new home, she gets to choose her own color. Here, Tushar Hiranandani directs the scene of the color coding with a light hand. This scene illustrates the subtext – that this is life, happening to women who do not have the right to question the status quo.
Patriarchy, chauvinism and discrimination are endemic in this feudal family. The men sit around smoking hookah and treat the women as a workforce by day and a baby-making factory by night.
The film also has a perfect balance of emotions. While the struggle of the women to make a place in the man’s world will provoke your thoughts, their actions will leave you in splits. The scenes of solidarity and friendship among the female characters, the humor and sharp, thoughtful writing and cinematography do much to mitigate the film’s flaws.
Thankfully, the orthodox thinking and sexism does not vanish all of a sudden, instead it is slowly challenged. The older woman’ first struggle is to free themselves, and then they continue fighting for their daughters.
But the film moves forward in the most tepid and convoluted manner. There are unnecessarily long sequences that are inconsequential. For instance the sequence where both Chandro and Prakashi are surprised when they are handed sunglasses or they meet a royal family from Rajasthan are stretched unnecessarily adding on its 130 odd minutes. The lack of nuance and the loud background score accompanying some of the rousing speeches end up dampening the overall impact.
Even the makeup used here is a little disappointed. While Taapsee and Bhumi are given good makeovers to look over 60, at times they look their real age with brown hair and almost wrinkle free faces.
Nevertheless, the women don’t disappoint, as both Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu, are wonderful. While Pednekar is pitch perfect in her mannerisms, body language, and voice modulation while also tugging at our heartstrings with her dialogue delivery and expressions, on the other hand, Pannu, emboldened with the more outspoken role of the two, brings the fire and fight she’s been known to embody most of her roles with, and walks away with some applause-worthy moments. Also, the solidarity between the two actors is so effortless that they seem like real life sisters-in-law.
In supporting roles, Vineet Kumar Singh continues to excel with his growing filmography, while director/actor Prakash Jha, is a revelation as the Tomar family patriarch. Young actresses, Sara Arjun and Pritha Bakshi are quite amazing in their roles. Shaad Randhawa, Kuldeep Sareen, Pawan Chopra, Himanshu Sharma, and Navneet Srivastava are also likable. On the whole, ‘Saand Ki Aankh’ is a compelling biopic that deserves a watch for its inspiring narrative and powerful performances.
Directed – Tushar Hiranandani
Rated – PG
Run Time – 130 minutes