Director Tushar Hiranandani makes his story-telling intent clear as the Johri village (Uttar Pradesh state) daylight soon into his opening sequences, deploying fast motion technique to show the expanding Tomar family tree, as offspring upon offspring is added by the fertile (co) sister in-law duo of Chandro (Bhumi Pednekar) and Prakashi (Tapsee Pannu), impregnated at regular intervals by their husbands Bhanwan Singh (Kuldeep Sareen) and Jai Singh (Pawan Chopra). With big brother Rattan Singh played by Prakash Jha—whose wife remains for the most part inside her ghoonghat (headscarf)—the upper masculine order, hookah smoking trio is complete. The men lounge around all day shooting the breeze and barking orders, while the women splat cow dung cakes, plough and harvest fields, cook, clean, and basically do everything else. Including, of course, bearing children.
This is in itself is a troubling system and set up, but director Hiranandani with writer Balwinder Singh Janjua keeps it light and almost comic-like, as if trepidatious of taking a long, unforgiving look at how women are put through the grind, instead transferring this hesitation into an almost slapstick jumpiness in his scenes. Enter Dr. Yashpal (Vineet Kumar Singh) who wants to set up a shooting range in the village and is trying to recruit girls as well—getting selected at the national level will ensure they get jobs and independence. Just the kind of thang Rattan Singh finds despicable and is ready to pick up his gun for. Whether and when he’ll actually shoot it is something we need to wait for until after the interval. In the interim, Chandro and Prakashi accompany their daughters—employing techniques of rural stealth of course—to the good doctor’s range, and discover, much to his awe and surprise and their blasé shrug, that they can pop a Saand Ki Aaankh (Bull’s Eye) to the target.
Based on the true story of the Tomar sharpshooters, who, at the ages of over 60, got into the shooting range and rapidly cross-haired their way to fame and renown, achieved something no women had so far: open the pathways for the next generation of daughters into the so-far male-dominated world of shooting, and that too from the boondocks. This arc is what Hiranandani ostensibly set out to cover, but his treatment of what ought to have been a tough-as-nails story is more in the fluff mode, less the gravitas. Which is why, even as the movie breezes its way through your popcorn box, it doesn’t really rustle your feelings. It’s good fun, but that wasn’t how it was in real life, surely?
The director initiates the Mother India motif to portray his leads as the fount of motherly love and accommodative wives, ready to also pick up the gun if it comes to defending their next-gen or point the gun to their own offspring and hookah-halves; but even this is half-baked, when it ought to have been raw. The emotional heft, when it arrives, is much too late in Saand Ki Aankh. We have to get through their sojourns of secret shooting sessions, attending competitions in other states using spiritual leader excuses, winning medals, all the while accompanied by an Akshay Kumar-manic family lad, and them running their circles around him. This includes a digressive party at a Mewar royalty’s palace that’s as predictable as a 70s spectacle where the village bumpkin hero makes a royal fool of self in front of the upper echelon. There’s a nice touch of how the queen (Nikhat Khan) sticks to the time-tested tradition of guests of honor, but that’s about it in an other-wise cringe-worthy etiquette-versus-bumpkin call out.
It’s when the director actually decides to stand still and become an observer, soak in the emotional roiling of his ladies, that the movie works beautifully. That it comes much, much later in the movie is a tragic misuse of the hard-hitting possibilities that lay in front of Hiranandani. But when it does is when Bhumi Pednekar and Tapsee Pannu rise above everything else—above the superb Vineet Kumar Singh who reins you in with a quiet, fly-on-the-wall act, above the terrific splenetic act by Prakash Jha, above the script, and much much above the risible prosthetics (Pallavi K. Shroff) and make up that they’re made to do with: the wigs are uneven, the facial packs slapped on them border on a Masti-series (that Hiranandani wrote) like lightness that the initial track suffers from. Minus the world-weariness, you’re not sure if you’re supposed to take any of it seriously. (Whence the debate: for a movie that’s a shout-out for women’s status, ought it to have taken actors closer to the age of the characters that are portrayed? That’s a specious argument, and does disservice to both the leading ladies. With digital de-aging now a technological reality, it’s the reverse I’d want to see as well in a project, though.)
Which is a tragedy, truly. For, even as Pednekar and Pannu take charge of their roles and shooting with a graceful movement arc of their left hands that come to rest on their hips, even as their characters win the battle for their younger generation, the movie glosses over the biggest ongoing war in our societal setup: the women may have hit the bull’s eye, but it’s the men who continue to enjoy the sunny side up of life.Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.
Saand Ki Aankh is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years)
Saand Ki Aankh
Director Tushar Hiranandani Time 2h 26min
Writer Balwinder Singh Janjua
Stars Tapsee Pannu, Bhoomi Pednekar, Vineet Kumar Singh, Prakash Jha
Genres Biography, Drama