“Saand Ki Aankh”… This incredible true-life story is crudely told but affecting nonetheless

Posted on October 29, 2019


The film isn’t interested in psychology. It’s more about big moments, like a “mass” movie. It is, actually, a “mass” movie — a Salman Khan movie, but with two sixty-plus heroines…

Spoilers ahead…

Tushar Hiranandani is the writer behind films as varied in tone as Ek Villain and the Masti installments. Whatever your opinion on these films is, some respect must be accorded to a man as comfortable with bloodbaths as boob jokes. Still, it’s a bit of a shock to see the film that becomes the lynchpin of his directorial debut, Saand Ki Aankh. It’s… Mother India. It’s about women ploughing fields and raising wastrel sons and picking up a gun, when needed. It’s also about heroines greying their hair and playing older characters. We may not have the Raj Kumar character losing his arms, but the men in this movie are similarly incapacitated. All they do is sit around and gossip, drawing long breaths on hookahs, while keeping a tight leash on their women. (Unlike the Raj Kumar character, they are not “ashamed” about living off their wives’ wages.)

These snatches from Mother India are grafted onto a story right out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Sixty-something Chandro (played by Bhumi Pednekar) and Prakashi Tomar (Taapsee Pannu) — they are married to siblings — discover a talent for sharpshooting. It’s incredulous for a number a reasons, beginning with the fact that they’re at an age where vision usually diminishes. (Neither wears glasses). But more amazingly, they’re from a deeply conservative household where they cannot even show their faces. When a newly married Prakashi is told that she has to choose a veil colour that’s not red or blue, she’s dumbstruck. And then she sees why. Because the colour is how you know which woman is which brother’s wife. (There are three brothers in all; the oldest is played by Prakash Jha.)

This is a horrible situation, but these women themselves don’t see it as especially horrible. After their first time at the shooting range, run by Yashpal (Vineet Kumar Singh), his assistant panics that if the sarpanch gets to know they are teaching women to shoot, “hawa pani band kar dega.” The ever-optimistic Yashpal smiles and replies, philosophically, “Hawa ka rukh badal gaya.” True enough, there’s a strong breeze now, and the crops behind him are swaying. If you haven’t guessed already, this scene (and these lines) tell us that this is a film with a broad tone and broader sentimentality. Like Mother India, yes — but with a laugh track.

The best thing about Saand Ki Aankh is that — save for the stray line about the sacrifices a woman has to make — it has little time for self-pity, or for grandstanding. Chandro and Prakashi don’t take up shooting because they want to fight patriarchy. They have, in fact, a lot of patriarchy ingrained in them. When they see a man celebrate his wife’s achievements, they are filled with contempt. What kind of ‘mard’ does this? They go to shoot because they hear this may help the younger women in the family get jobs. And also because they begin to enjoy it, like a kid reaching for a forbidden cookie jar. Advait Nemlekar’s jaunty score is so determined to drill this mood home, it sounds like something you’d play behind a clown in a circus.

There’s no doubt Saand Ki Aankh is a crude film. When the Prakash Jha character learns that Prakashi has tailored a pair of pants for one of the girl children in the family, he not only breaks the sewing machine but also sets the pants on fire. Had this film been made fifty years ago, he’d have had to have been played by Lalita Pawar and Manorama. The staging is flat — a comic bit about vasectomy during the Emergency is so chaotically shot that you feel for the editor, trying to put it together. Balwinder Singh Janjua’s screenplay (the dialogues are by Jagdeep Sidhu) is content with fleshing out Chandro and Prakashi. Yashpal, for instance, has no personal life, nor do we see any other students in his shooting range. He seems to have been dropped on this earth solely to teach these women to shoot. 

But Saand Ki Aankh has a big, corny heart that powers through it all. The film isn’t interested in psychology. It’s more about big moments, like a “mass” movie. It is, actually, a “mass” movie — a Salman Khan movie, but with two sixty-plus heroines, who make an entry in the kind of slow-motion shot reserved for hero entries. I’m not entirely sure this subversion was intended, but this tone, this flavour, is what makes Saand Ki Aankh so much fun. Every competition Chandro and Prakashi take part in is a rouser (and more so because in the back of your head, you’re thinking: these absurd things on screen are actually from a true story).

It’s impossible not to feel for Chandro and Prakashi, and despite the iffy makeup, both Bhumi and Taapsee manage to sell these loud, quirky, colourful characters. The scene where they are asked for an autograph is the kind of “high” you wish more writers would give us. You could add the “finger bowl” moment. The moment involving the eldest brother’s wife, who decides she has had enough. Or the moment of sisterhood in the end, when we see Chandro and Prakashi complete each other in ways that aren’t immediately apparent. The “Taj Mahal” speech sounded clunky when it appeared, but when we get an echo (a variation) at the end, it hits home. I misted up many times. I would have liked a classier film, but as far as the emotional beats go, Saand Ki Aankh is mostly on target.

Copyright ©2019 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi