SHOMA A. CHATTERJI | 3 NOVEMBER, 2019
Saand Ki Aankh - Fragmented Feminism
Saand Ki Aankh is a mainstream film with an unusual storyline
One wonders what stopped Amir Khan from tapping the potential of his Shooter Dadis - Chandru and Prakashi Tomar in a full-length feature film after having presented them in his fabulously famous Satyameva Jayate. Because his name is on the top of any list that marks out uniquely different subjects for feature films. Amir is the first one to bring these two 80+ women into the limelight and these two “Shooter Dadis” have become famous.
The credit therefore, goes to the young Tushar Hiranandani to pick up a subject where the two protagonists are very old women though in this film, the women’s ages have been cut by two decades and brought down to their sixties.
I have used the phrase “fragmented feminism” borrowed directly from the title of the late Meera Kosambi’s biography of the late Anandi Gopal Joshi, the first Indian woman to qualify as a doctor. What does the phrase “fragmented feminism” mean? It means that the patriarchal conditioning of women is so deeply entrenched into their mindsets that they feel compelled to hide even their triumphs for fear that their men will punish them for having won – be this in learning to tailor the clothes of the young ones or winning shooting competitions across the country without break.
Saand Ki Aankh – Hindi for “bull’s eye” narrates the story of a group of village women who spend their entire lives cooking, cleaning, bringing up a train of children of different ages, driving the tractor on the farm, working on the family brick kiln while the men sit in the courtyard gossiping away on their hookahs and shouting orders to the women. Their only business in life is to sire children – hordes of them and to behave with the women as if they are housemaids.
Two of these women, Prakashi Tomar and Chandru Tomar, married to two brothers in the family, grandmothers in 1999 and in their sixties, suddenly discover that they are gifted with the talent of sharp-shooting – hitting the target each time they aim. And off they begin to train clandestinely under the social activist doctor Yashpal and take their daughters along to be trained too.
When they begin to travel to Chandigarh for shooting contests and bring back gold medals, they hide the medals in a big pot and when the pot gets filled, another pot is added to gather the rest! The dexterity of both these aged women seems to be God-gifted and the men in the family are so completely immersed in their imaginary male egos that they never suspect that things have already gone “out of their control.” For every single thing that is brought to his notice, the eldest brother (Prakash Jha) who is also the sarpanch of the village, a know-all and declares, “aisa to hona hee tha” (This had to happen).
The film has many layers that shout out to the men to treat their women like human beings and not child-bearing housemaids while there are layers that underscore how suppressed and oppressed women can rise above the suppression and put their men in the right place.
The film opens with the release of Mother India in 1955 and closes roughly around the end-1990s by which time Prakashi and Chandru are quite old but very strong by virtue of the hard labour they have done all their lives. As their fame grows, relevant pages of newspapers are burnt by the younger ones Shilpa and Shefali who are also training to be shooters so the men remain content in their Lotus Eating lives unaware of the social revolution going on in the inner quarters of the mansion. It is a bit surprising that the men do not get to learn about this but it also points at the stupidity of the men who are fonder of their hookahs than of their women and children.
The three brothers are so emotionally insecure about their women that the eldest one not only throw away the medals their wives have won but the eldest one also tramples on them mercilessly while the wives and daughters and young men and boys watch helplessly. One brother goes and picks up the medals on grounds that they are made of gold but the patriarch is unforgiving and commands them to throw them away.
The ghunghat, or veil plays a dual role in the film. One is its conventional role of covering the women so that their faces remain invisible to the rest of the world, specially men. The other is the ‘freedom’ it gives to the same women to manipulate it as and when to suit their own ends. This dual role gives the ghunghat a character of its own, often being a source of entertainment and fun. The panch’s wife’s face is never seen except in the end because the forced cloistering has turned her into a nervous wreck.
Prakashi refuses to wear trousers for the shooting contest and along with her, Chandru also insists on wearing their lehngas creating a completely new and very conveniently traditional fashion statement. The way they swing one arm gracefully to allow it to rest on their waist while fixing their gun on their target with the other arm is a well-choreographed movement which adds to their changed persona.
The sunglass gifted by the queen of Alwar in Rajasthan becomes a miracle-like toy in their hands as the two women begin to look at the world through those tinted glasses for the first time in their lives. They look up in wonder when they see an airplane in flight dreaming of their daughters realising their dream of flying one day. The simple train rides that take them across India is a wondrous experience for these two women who finally function as an inspiration for the next generation to build upon the foundation they are already laid.
Taapsi Pannu (32) as Prakashi and Bhoomi Pednekar (30) as Chandru are spontaneous and delightful through their performance but their very bad make-up where they look much younger than in their sixties spoils not only their performance but also the film to a certain extent. Their make-up is very inconsistent and artificial and for the most part, their skins, barring a few pencil lines, appear as fresh and as smooth as women who have just had a facial. The concession to their age is only through the grey in their hair. Their body language changes as do their personalities from the timid, ghungat-pulling wives to women who control both their ghunghats and their bodies, but alas! Not their lives!
The two sisters-in-law make knots in their chunnis to make secret promises to themselves or perhaps, to celebrate a secret win as they exchange intelligent smiles at each win. The other girls – dozens of them in the same family, are left to cheer the triumphs of the four women and remain as much in their remote spaces they are born to occupy. The only sign of change is through the four women distanced by age and youth. The sudden change among the men who join in the collective dance in the end is too magical to ring true.
Saand Ki Aankh is just the story of two women who fought through extreme patriarchal barriers to make their own choices based on a true story. But this does not alter the fact that instead of taking pride in their own success, they feel guilty about their success and without complaint, hide their medals in big pots. This is what can be defined as “fragmented feminism.” Sadly, this ideology of “fragmented feminism” has spilled over into the very making and presentation of the entire film.
The songs are really good specially the “Gold” number but they add only to the mainstream compromise. The coach Doctor Yashpal is portrayed and fleshed out extremely well both by the script and by the performance of Vineet Kumar who is as much a victim as are the women he discovers and is not a saviour come to rescue these women. His shooting range is set on fire led by the goons of the Panchayat Head Ratan Singh (Prakash Jha) and he can only watch helplessly, his eyes welled up in tears.
There is a lot of colour in the film set against a village backdrop in Madhya Pradesh adding to the wonderful colours of the women’s lehngas and ghaghras which counters the sadness among the women but adds glamour to an otherwise glamour-free story. The editing is a bit bizarre given the constant changes and fluxes but it does not cut into the smooth flow of time and space.
Saand Ki Aankh is a mainstream film with an unusual storyline based on a really unusual true story. It is inspirational, optimistic and filled with hope. But then why, till the very end, does the film remain silent on what happened to the gold medals the men threw away?
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