In Johri village, Uttar Pradesh in 1999, three wives of the Tomar men are perpetually veiled. They are identifiable to the male stronghold primarily by the colour of their veils. Bimla, the eldest is red and Chandro (Bhumi Pednekar), the middle one, is blue. So when the youngest wife Prakashi (Taapsee Pannu), comes to her new home, she must choose her own colour.
Tushar Hiranandani directs the scene of the colour coding with a light hand. This scene illustrates the subtext – that this is life, happening to women who do not have the right to question the status quo. Patriarchy, chauvinism and discrimination are endemic in this feudal family. The men sit around smoking hookah and treat the women as a workforce by day and a baby-making factory by night.
When a shooting range is set up in the village, Chandro envisages a ticket for her granddaughter Shefali (Sara Arjun) and Prakashi sees a way for her daughter Seema (Pritha Bakshi) to break out of the cycle of inequity. In doing so, the older women discover their own latent talents as formidable sharpshooters. But they can do so clandestinely. Family patriarch Rattan Singh Tomar (Prakash Jha) rules with an iron fist so it takes all their ingenuity for the 60-year-old versions to find excuses to travel out of their village to compete across India.
Pannu and Pednekar are wonderful and spunky and embrace their parts even though their body language and posture is variable. Bakshi and Arjun provide admirable support.
Much screen-time is taken revisiting village life and women’s bonding in the back room, which slows down the narrative. There’s also a troublesome scene of an elegant soiree where the women from Johri village are portrayed as fresh-of-the-boat simpletons drinking finger bowl water and chasing flickering lights cast by a mirror ball.
One cannot ignore that younger, commercially bankable actresses have been aged up to play 60-year-olds (the make up design is rather inconsistent and unconvincing) while the older men are played by, well, older men.
But these are small niggles. Among a slew of biopics, past and present, Saand Ki Aankh stands apart because it doesn’t just celebrate the achievement of two individuals. Chandro and Prakashi Tomar didn’t just spiritedly take up sharpshooting at 60. What distinguishes them is how they inspired a younger generation to break out of patterns of suppression and, along the way, impacted the attitude of the men too.