Rating: Three and a half stars
Saand Ki Aankh is inspired by two real life heroines—Chandro and Prakashi Tomar—who defied the deeply entrenched patriarchy of their Uttar Pradesh village, to become shooting champions. They also opened doors for other women to take up the sport, including, Seema Tomar from their family, who reached international level.
The story is considerably simplified to iron out any subtlety or nuance, and the audience is directed when to laugh, when to cry and where to applaud. However, the fact that a film with a feminist subject has been directed by Tushar Hiranandani, erstwhile writer of puerile comedies, is in itself symptomatic of the winds of change the film wants to capture (there is a scene in which the wind literally blows through the fields and a character comments on it). It may be calculating to the degree that silent, veiled women suddenly speak out to gob smack the men who have subjugated them, presumably with violence, and leave them looking helpless; it is also feel good for just that reason. The men who snigger when the old women participate in a shooting competition and say things like “guns are meant for male hands” have their smirks wiped off their faces when the Tomar ladies defeat them.
The husbands of Chandro (Bhumi Pednakar) and Prakashi (Taapsee Pannu) are under the thumb of their vile older brother Rattan Singh (Prakash Jha), who keeps the women trapped behind the ghunghat, but with typical patriarchal hypocrisy, has no qualms making them slog in the fields and brick kiln to live off their labour. The women also do the housework and produce endless children, but are not allowed to step out of the village or spend their own earnings. Even when they watch a film, their faces have to be covered. The veil over the face of Rattan Singh’s wife is not lifted even in the women’s quarters.
A doctor, Yashpal (Vineet Kumar Singh), sets up a shooting range in the village, because the men are always brandishing guns; if they train and win tournaments, they are promised jobs. The boys, think it is a waste of time, but the Tomar grannies (bad and inconsistent make-up to age them) are naturals at it, and see it as a way to encourage their daughters (Sara Arjun and Pritha Bakshi) to compete, win and get the opportunities the older women were deprived of.
It is a bit unconvincing how they manage to conceal their wins and medals—does nobody in the village get a newspaper or watch TV?—but the strong sisterhood of the Tomar women is heartwarming, as nobody snitches.
Chandro and Prakashi get the encouragement of their coach and his assistant, and when needed, the support of a son, but they fight their own battles when the time arises. This is the best part of the film, which is as entertaining as it is inspiring. The producers make no bones about making it in the commercial mould for a mass audience, hence there is the deft mix of comedy and drama and no real ugliness, plus the controversial decision to cast young actresses to play double their age. Both of them play their parts with sincerity and conviction—it is wonderful to watch the affection between the two women, and the grace with which they do a small dance-like movement before they shoot. The film may be shouting out its message, but in most parts of the country, it needs to be heard.