Saand Ki Aankh cast: Taapsee Pannu, Bhumi Pednekar, Vineet Kumar Singh, Prakash Jha, Shaad Randhawa
Saand Ki Aankh director: Tushar Hiranandani
Saand Ki Aankh rating: 2 stars
Saand Ki Aankh is based on the believe-it-or-faint real-life story of two sixty-plus Jat women, Chandro and Prakashi Tomar, who broke out of a cloistered life, and became award-winning sharpshooters.
In the film, the elderly women are played by two thirty-somethings buried under layers of prosthetics, and that, right there, is the problem. Both Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar give the roles their all in the just-right costuming — shapeless collared shirts and skirts, veiled faces, heavy accents. So is their spirited, late-to-it but ultimately unwavering defiance of patriarchy, which is, of course, applause worthy, and the central force of the film.
But their body language is wrong. Their faces are made old by latex, but their hands and necks are young. Crucially, at no point do they make us suspend disbelief.
In the sprawling Tomar homestead, the men lounge on ‘khaats’ and nurse their hookas all day long. That’s what Jat males do. The dictatorial head of the family, Ratan Singh Tomar (Jha), goes about trampling upon the faintest signs of rebellion from his women folk, and the other men meekly fall in line. The women are to be found slaving in the fields, reaping and sowing and stacking bricks, or in the kitchen, and staying still long enough at night to get impregnated: that unending, back-breaking cycle is captured in a spot-on manner. As is the camaraderie of the women, who are each others’ support, in and out of their long ‘ghoongats’.
When we see them on a winning spree as they line up to shoot true and accurate, you clap for the Tomar dadis: both Bhumi and Taapsee execute this portion with such good cheer that for a while you are willing to forget the fakery. You also raise a hurrah for the only man who believes in them: Vineet Kumar Singh (excellent) as the coach-mentor who takes them to the other side, accompanying them to their various competitions in the country, as they pile up medal upon medal.
The plot would have us believe that they go about this enterprise for a few years without anyone in the village, or the men in the family who keep such a sharp eye on all comings and goings, twigging on. Really? It’s all done in a comic-book style engineered to make you smile. You do, but the disbelief, never far away, comes roaring back.
Why would a Bollywood film, especially one which declares itself pro-women, do this kind of disservice to its cause? Are there no women closer to the age of the Tomar ladies? How about the pool of Shabana Azmi, Neena Gupta, Deepti Naval, Seema Bhargava, Ratna Pathak Shah? You can just see them inhabiting and lifting these parts. In the company of Jha, who chomps on his role with crackling relish, and two other leathery, weathered gents, Taapsee and Bhumi, both actors working hard at pushing boundaries in Bollywood, look out of place.
The end credits leave us with images of the real Tomar dadis who look their age, wizened faces, toothy smiles, and all, and instantly everything becomes real.