Saand Ki Aankh (Bull’s Eye)
Taapsee Pannu, Bhumi Pednekar, Vineet Kumar Singh
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… may have benefited from a more authentic female gaze.
What are the chances of two illiterate grandmothers becoming internationally recognised sharpshooters? What if those grandmothers came from the same extended family in rural, patriarchal India? You might say this is the stuff of Bollywood, but the surprise is – these people exist. The real Chandro Tomar and sister-in-law Prakashi Tomar make a celebratory cameo appearance in Tushar Hiranandani’s light biopic. There is a disclaimer though, emphasising the fictitious nature of the film’s content.
In Hindi commercial cinema, substantial roles for aging female actors – apart from those of the self-sacrificing mother and grandmother, have been rare. Times are changing and since the beginning of the 21st century, roles for women are being redefined as ‘women’s empowerment’ films have gained momentum. Among them there have been biopics about Indian sportswomen – the boxer Mary Kom (self-titled 2014 film), and the wrestling Phogat sisters (Dangal, 2016). Neither of these films dealt with the double-barreled problem of ageism and sexism. Saand Ki Aankh is endowed with ripe material but its storytelling falters, becoming predictable and failing to develop its subordinate characters.
This is Hiranandani’s debut as director; his previous experience was writing comedies and mass entertainers. The screenplay by Balwinder Singh Janjua works to a template that audiences are familiar with. Dramatic, insurmountable stand-offs are followed by rhetorical bursts and an all too quick and convenient resolution.
The few instances of detail and nuance are highlights here, such as the story of Prakashi’s sewing machine, how it came to her, its uses and emotional ‘demise’; Chandro and Prakashi’s ritual of tying knots in their head scarves to celebrate their secret victories. However, the film may have benefited from a more authentic female gaze.
The selection of the leading actors was initially puzzling. Taapsee Pannu (Prakashi) and Bhumi Pednekar (Chandro) are in their thirties but play 60-year olds. There was a flashback to their younger selves, but admittedly the actors give impressive, heart-felt performances in their elderly roles. Had the makeup been more convincing, and if you ignore Taapsee Pannu with her portrayals of sophisticated young urbanites, then disbelief could have been fully suspended.
Although the bond between Chandro and Prakashi is well established, the remaining characters are flat and stereotypical. The husbands are lazy and entitled, the doctor who establishes the village shooting range (Vineet Kumar Singh) is liberal and considerate, the male shooting competitors are derisive and surly….. Problems arise when the Tomar daughters are given similarly shallow treatment since they are extensions of the women’s desire for fulfilment. The film seems to be angling for an intergenerational subplot which isn’t fully realised.
Shooting competitions come and go in a bit of a blur. The stakes are not varied or delineated clearly enough to make for nail-biting tension.
Of course, the sharpshooting dadis (grandmothers) are to be admired. It is also great that 86-year-old veteran playback singer Asha Bhosle performs the most reflective song in the film. Her voice alone is enough to invoke the passage of time, soul and age. If only elements of the screenplay had been so impactful.