Chandro, 87, and Prakashi, 82, are role models for the younger generation. Image Credit: Nilima Pathak

Biopics being the flavour of the season in Bollywood, Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu will soon be seen as Chandro Tomar and Prakashi Tomar, respectively, in the biopic Saand Ki Aankh.

It is the story of the world’s oldest sharpshooters, who took up the sport when they were in their late 60s. Chandro, 87, and Prakashi, 82, belong to Johri village in Baghpat district, Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India. Johri has been made famous the world over, not only by shooter dadis (grandmothers), but also by three generations of women shooters, who inspired by the two octogenarian women, have won numerous medals at both national and international levels.

The Tomars have also won scores of medals, awards and trophies, yet despite the recognition and adulation, they continue to spend their lives working in the fields and tending to cattle. But their dedication towards the sport is not lost and they still compete to win new titles.

Hitting the bullseye

Interestingly, both grandmothers hit the bullseye in their very first attempt at shooting, which is why the movie is aptly titled ‘Saand Ki Aankh’ (‘Bull’s Eye’).

Taapsee Pannu with Chandro Tomar at the latter's house in Johri village. Image Credit: Supplied

Chandro informs, “The movie is about the spirit of the women. It’s not a sports biopic, but involves how we faced hardships and overcame the hurdles that came our way.”

It was not easy for them to enter the man’s domain in a village with conservative mindsets, as women were restricted to household work. With both of them passionate about the sport (beginning in 1998-99), they would practice at home.

“The only difference was that we would hold a jug full of water or a heavy stone to keep our hand steady, as if we were holding a gun,” Chandro laughs.

Prakashi too faced resistance. “My husband was very unhappy with the newfound love in my life. Even the villagers would make fun of us. But that did not discourage us. Soon, we began participating in competitions,” Prakashi divulges.

Saying it with grace

The grey-haired matrons became a much-talked-about subject in and around the village. But instead of rebelling and justifying their move, very calmly silenced their opponents by winning laurels in 2001. While Chandro became the star of the 67th Rural Olympics at Qila Raipur in Punjab, Prakashi lifted a gold medal at the air pistol event in the veteran group of the National Shooting Championships in Chennai.

The achievements did not go unnoticed, as they were covered extensively in the media. “Imagine, thereafter, the villagers began imploring us to practice more,” Chandro reveals. “We continued to win district and state honours and now the cabinets in our households brim with trophies and scores of medals adorn the walls,” she adds.

The women had started a silent revolution in the village and it was not long when villagers began sending their children, especially girls, to become shooters.

How stars reacted?

Lauded for their incredible performances as actresses, both Pednekar and Pannu’s affability with the grandmothers reveals the love and warmth the elderly women bestowed upon their younger counterparts. Chandro and Prakashi have been present at the film’s shoot that wrapped up on April 30.

While shooting for the real-life drama, Pednekar reportedly said, “I have delivered something good. ‘Saand Ki Aankh’ is the biggest gamble of my career until now and I cannot wait to see how the audience reacts to it.”

Chandro Tomar Real age: 87 — Reel age: 29 (played by Bhumi Pednekar) and Prakashi Tomar Real age: 82 — Reel age: 31 (played by Tapsee Pannu) Image Credit: Supplied

Pannu, who learnt to ride a tractor for the movie, mentioned, “It is a visually fascinating machine and you feel you are riding a huge beast.”

“Hugely enthused by the lives of the grandmothers, Taapsee, in fact, stayed at Chandro’s house in Johri village for two-and-a-half months, even after the summer had set in. She would relax on the cot and venture into the kitchen if she required anything,” informs Sumit Rathi, Chandro’s grandson-in-law.

(A computer engineer by profession, Rathi is married to Chandro’s granddaughter Shefali and has been the one to facilitate things when the women were first approached by director Anurag Kashyap’s team in 2015).

Rathi adds, “While the two actresses were moved by the stories the grandmothers related about their lives, they also made efforts to learn the Haryanvi language. Saand Ki Aankh is an inspiring story that was waiting to be told. The movie is an adaptation of rural life of the grandmothers. It is very courageous of Bhumi and Taapsee to have opted for the roles. For, it required immense physical and mental strength to portray the outstanding women.”

The actresses learnt to look after the cattle and made cow-dung cakes that are used as fuel in villages. They also worked in the fields, tending to the crops and operating the threshing machine.

Role models

Asked how difficult it was to shoot in Johri, since the villagers would be in awe of the stars, Rathi responded, “The grandmothers are much-respected figures in and around Johri. It’s an achievement for a biopic to be made on illustrious women who are role models for women shooters.”

Baghpat district has been notorious for female infanticide and gun-toting villagers and the crime rate in the area used to be very high at one time. But with their dedication and perseverance, the elderly women have been instrumental in transforming the lives of the youth.

“The villagers were upbeat, yet resilient. In fact, while the talks were on with the filmmakers, I had suggested that the entire village should benefit out of the movie. The production team was very supportive and understanding and the villagers were very content with the outcome, as 60-70 per cent of the movie was shot in Johri,” Rathi explains.

Parts of the movie have also been shot at Partapur Railway Station and Dronacharya Shooting Range in Modipuram’s Palhera village in Meerut district, Uttar Pradesh.

‘Saand Ki Aankh’ marks the directorial debut of Tushar Hiranandani, who has earlier written for Masti’ and the ‘ABCD’ franchise. The film is produced by Anurag Kashyap.

The beginning

Chandro’s granddaughter Shefali was 11 years old when she sought admission to train at the shooting range in Johri village. Shefali persuaded her 67-year-old grandmother to accompany her. One day, while at the site, when Shefali could not load the pistol, Chandro held it and fired a shot. It hit the target! While the trainer was about to tell the old lady to keep the gun back, he witnessed the shot and was shocked. Instead, he asked her to practice shooting. Soon, Chandro’s sister-in-law Prakashi, 62, also joined in, when her daughter Seema enrolled for training, but felt shy and hesitant to go alone. Together, the grandmothers started their shooting spell.

— ‘Saand Ki Aankh’ is scheduled to release in October during Diwali this year.

Did you know?
The producers had approached 15 senior actresses in the age bracket of 55-60 for the role, with the belief that the portrayal would be more convincing. However, they declined, as they either did not want to be seen in an unglamorous role or were not ready for the physical preparation that the film demanded. Even younger actresses had the same concerns. In the past, when young, Nargis had played the role of an elderly woman in Mother India (1957) and Anupam Kher in Saaransh (1984).