Saand Ki Aankh Movie Review: Cutesy sports drama that runs out of steam
Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar’s film benefits from the mainstream treatment, but not for long
Gold smugglers have been varyingly portrayed in Hindi cinema, from the comic to the nefarious. In Saand Ki Aankh, director Tushar Hiranandani gives us ‘gold medal’ smugglers. That too, female gold medal smugglers in their 60s, living out their dreams from the small Uttar Pradesh village of Johri. The nexus they run — which involves the smirking silence of all the women in the household — is far more intricate than their glories at the shooting range, or the promised breakout in the end. Early on in the film, there’s a mention of Don, and Anurag Kashyap — patron saint of modern Hindi crime films — is a producer on this joint. All of which explains the gingery verve of Tushar’s directorial debut, a sports drama that’s ultimately a gangster film at heart.
Cast: Bhumi Pednekar, Taapsee Pannu
Director: Tushar Hiranandani
After passing out of college, Dr Yashpal (Viineet Kumar Singh) opens a modest shooting range in Johri. He invites the children of the village, girls and boys, for tryouts. The idea is twofold: First, a career in sports secures government employment. Second, this is the late 90s, a time of gurgling gun violence in Uttar Pradesh. By persuading local younglings to channel their aggression into sport, Yashpal hopes to bring about a change. A change he does incite — but on the other end of the age spectrum.
Chandro and Prakashi Tomar — sexagenarians played by Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu — turn up at the range, first to chaperon their daughters and granddaughters but later as full-blooded shooters themselves. I was thoroughly engrossed in the film so far. There’s ample ingenuity in the way the dadis hoodwink the sarpanch (Prakash Jha), who happens to be the Tomar patriarch, and sneak out. But once they get around to Chandigarh and win their first Inter-state veterans’ competition, the film begins to cool off. The perceptive detailing (Emergency, sterilization, Chandro mispronouncing ‘congrats’ as ‘congress’), is replaced by mock conflicts and dull gags (Chandro mispronouncing ‘fork’ as you know what).
There’s some explanation for this. Tushar — whose writing career has spawned such classics as Masti, Double Dhamaal, and Half Girlfriend — surely knows his terrain. His directorial effort isn’t crass or disrespectful, but often runs out of great ideas to offer, thereby jeopardising its empowerment-heavy theme. For all the slow-building menace of Prakash Jha’s performance, you get a resolution that’s cheaply-bought and unearned. For all the snappiness of the dadis, you see them drinking off a wash bowl at a party. This isn’t to suggest that biopics cannot have fun, but there are better ways to tickle the audience than speeding up the playback or settling for puns.
Yet, there are times Saand Ki Aankh truly benefits from mainstream technique. The opening song Jhunna Jhunna is a bittersweet takedown of rural patriarchy, where men smoke zarda (spiced tobacco) while women lay bricks and make babies. Akshay Kumar — an actor often accused of co-opting on female empowerment — earns a mention, but only in a joke. A sewing machine is dragged out and crushed in one scene, and the camera duly follows the handwheel coming off and landing at Prakshi’s feet. The dialogues (by Tushar and Balwinder Singh Janjua) are high-flown, yet neatly beveled with a rustic twang.
The casting of Bhumi and Taapsee as elderly characters has drawn controversy. You can see the intent in the make-up design — just about wrinkled to suggest seniority, yet flimsy enough to guarantee star recognition. More inspired is the presence of Viineet Kumar Singh as Dr Yashpal, a character who soaks up all the tension without ever intruding on a scene. I wish the film had the same composure as him, simply observing (and steering along) a real-life story instead of loading it up with fireworks.
Saand Ki Aankh celebrates the spirit and spunk of the shooter dadis. Unlike your usual Bollywood biopic, it makes little mention of country or national glory. When Seema Tomar, daughter of Prakashi Tomar, returns home from an international victory, there’s no Tricolour being flown — just a private, sun-washed exchange between mother and child. Tushar certainly has the eye for poignant detail. I wish he had the grip.