Everyone loves a good underdog tale and that adoration shoots up if it’s a story with women taking centre stage, Bollywood’s most marginalised.
‘Saand Ki Aankh’ (Bullseye) — the dramatised story of real-life champion sharpshooters Chandro Tomar and Prakashi Tomar who blossom in their 60s, played earnestly by Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu — isn’t always bang on target, but it still manages to tear your defences down.
The movie opens to show the lives of two resilient sisters-in-law in rural Uttar Pradesh, for whom repression and submissiveness is a way of life.
At one point, Chandro breaks down and resentfully compares her bleak existence to their livestock. Just like those animals, their lives are defined by their laborious work in the fields, tonnes of household chores and their reproductive abilities.
Director Tushar Hiranandani manages to communicate their pathos, but there are times when it gets overly dramatic; the casualty is subtlety. Every battle at breaking gender barriers is bludgeoned into us and it’s impossible for our hearts to bleed every single time.
Some dramatic scenes seem impossibly contrived and staged. But it’s the emotionally-charged exchanges between the two grannies as they wind down at night that stirs you.
The two spunky women wonder how their regressive husbands would react if they ever find out that their wives were winning sharpshooting competitions on the sly — “by breaking your bones,” says one wryly. The ease with which they normalise systemic abuse and toxic masculinity jolts you. Their reality is bleak, but they don’t let it break them. It’s a sobering thought and the movie would have benefited hugely from knowing when to stop pulling at our empathetic thread.
Some scenes are blatantly overdramatic — like the multiple references to the grannies being mocked at by the audience at the sharpshooting contest. Yes, we get it, they are an unlikely candidates in their oversized shirts, veil and guns acing a shooting contest, but driving home the same point gets tedious.
“It’s not a fancy competition, oldies,” was a succinct barb, but they kept going.
There were also scenes that were also interjected — such as the portion where the grannies take on a couple of young men in a train who harass their nieces — that just didn’t seem organic.
While Pannu and Pednekar give it their all, their ageing through prosthetics and grey hair is distracting. But what keeps it afloat is that it’s a tale of sisterhood and these sisters-in-law join hands to shatter the proverbial glass ceiling. Their camaraderie and spirited nature is palpable, but one does wonder if the roles would be more searing if played by women aged closer to 60 than the actors who are in their early 30s.
Actor-director Prakash Jha, as the domineering patriarch and village chief, is misogynistic through and through. His pettiness and ingrained sexism is executed with a cheeky morbidity. The other men, husbands of Chandro and Prakashi, are silent spectators and do their bit to communicate their own meekness. The movie would have benefited heavily from some slick editing. Certain twists seem highly unnecessary.
There’s no doubt that it’s Pannu and Pednekar’s show all the way. While their sturdy shoulders can carry the burden, the demands of the character — especially in terms of physicality — seemed to overwhelm them. It isn’t easy to look 60 at 30 and the strain shows. But they still manage to make their performances stick.
Film: ‘Saand Ki Aankh’
Director: Tushar Hiranandani
Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Bhumi Pednekar, Prakash Jha
Stars: 3 out of 5