Saand Ki Aankh: Brilliant performances, but is this the empowerment we want? 

The biggest victory of Saand Ki Aankh is that we have two leading ladies at the forefront, both of whom are eating off each other’s talents, while maintaining a great balance between shining in their own glory and giving the other equal (or even more) space to have their moments. More than the film, this says a lot about the faith, both, Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar, have in themselves and their craft.

Saand Ki Aankh is a real life story about the Tomar women, Chandro (Bhumi Pednekar) and Prakashi (Taapsee Pannu) learning how to shoot with a gun at the age of 60. The film traces the hardships these sharpshooters have to go through while they’re playing their sport, and even out of it, in their personal lives. At heart this is a film fighting patriarchy, and the men in the house who make it what it is. Chandro and Prakashi wear a ghoonghat at almost all times, except when they’re shooting. And this film is about their struggle through even the everyday basics, where they make sure that after them, none of the other women have to lead the kind of life they’ve lead.

In a scene when Vineet Kumar Singh’s Doctor asks Prakash Jha’s Rattan Singh Tomar if his daughters and granddaughters can learn sharpshooting along with the boys of the house, he says, “Mhaare ghar ki chhoriyaan aage na jaave hai, dusro ke ghar jaave hai.” And this is exactly the kind of scenario the film gives us, almost in its entire running time. Men here treat women as nothing but sexual object, the purpose of which is reproduction, and then taking care of the household. Writer-director Tushar Hiranandani and writer Jagdeep Sidhu create a fascinating world, and bring together two very fine actors to play their leads. And for most of the part, the film works.

Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar have time and again proved that they definitely are two of the finest actors we have in the industry as of now. Pednekar may be a few films too young, but even with her limited filmography, she has always delivered. And she does the same in Saand Ki Aankh. There are moments when she’s on screen, having a moment of her own and it just seems to be the perfect frame. The same for Taapsee Pannu. While Pednekar shines the most in the comical scenes, where she’s trying to learn English, Pannu outdoes everyone in the emotional ones. Having said that, neither of the women eat into each other’s scenes, and that is just beautiful. During the film, I could not help but notice how much of  the Taapsee Pannu from Pink I could see in the Pannu from Saand Ki Aankh. That’s perhaps what the combined power of womanhood does to you – makes you even more powerful.

But, for me, Saand Ki Aankh doesn’t work as a film. While the writing is bumpy, and the editing could have been sharper, it is the casting that just doesn’t fit. It is a “stuck in the wrong film” kinda situation for me. Pannu and Pednekar deliver great performances, don’t get me wrong, but did we actually need these young women to portray 60 year old characters? Are we so short of veteran actresses to play veteran roles? I’m sure we’re not. Off the top of my head, we have Shabana Azmi, Ratna Pathak Shah, Supriya Pathak Kapoor, Seema Pahwa, Neena Gupta among others and each of these women would’ve nailed the parts.

When the Tomar women get famous and a reporter asks Pannu’s Prakashi as to how old is she, she says she doesn’t know. The reporter jokes that no matter how famous they get, women are always skeptical of revealing their age, to which Pednekar’s Chandro replies, “umar batane mein key hai? Par asal mein aurat uss umar ka sahi hisaab na laga sake hai jo usne apne liye jee ho.” It’s a beautiful moment. But isn’t this exact dialogue a joke when we compare it to the casting?

Saand Ki Aankh aims to break barriers, but ends up building more. As I said, it’s a brilliant concept, but the patriarchy that it sets out to fight is a driving force of the film. And I would’ve been very okay with the casting if they had to show a large part of the lives of the Tomar women from their youth, but there was almost nothing. A promotional song cannot define the casting.

All in all, We’re in 2019. What we absolutely do not need today is a facade in the name of empowerment. While Saand Ki Aankh has its heart in the right place, the casting put me off entirely, even though I’m a fan of both the leading ladies. What put me off even more was the prosthetics. Pednekar and Pannu looked like two young women with grey hair and fat double chins, and not really as 60 year olds do.

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