Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 31 May 2020

Movie review: 'Saand Ki Aankh' hits enough targets that I can almost ignore the casting issue

There are heartwarming moments, and some great acting: but older actors really should have been cast

Saand Ki Aankh is another gem from creative sharpshooter Anurag Kashyap (however the director has turned into producer for this film).

The director is Tushar Hiranandani, and under his eye, Saand Ki Aankh has thoughtfully brought to life the true, inspiring tales of Chandro Tomar and Prakashi Tomar. These two women picked up the sport of shooting in their 60s, as grandmothers in the village of Johri in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

The Tomars got into the sport in 1999 and, at ages 87 and 82 now, they remain the world's oldest shooters in the sport, with more than 100 medals between them at the national level.

The two could likely have won international laurels, too, had they not faced restrictions because of their conservative families and community.

As a movie, Saand Ki Aankh had to show the intensity of the challenges they faced while also plotting their successes and milestones on shooting ranges. Shouldering the burden of doing the characters justice are Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu as Chandro and Prakashi respectively.

The two actors had their own challenges to face, as it was questioned why young actresses were cast to play older women, necessitating the use of 'ageing' makeup and the like.

Pannu reminded The National that the screenplay shows the two protagonists' young lives as well, and that's why they were cast by Gautam Kishinchandani. But after watching the film, I really feel that this wasn't necessary.

I get the fact the filmmakers wanted to bring out the human story of the two Shooter grandmothers, as they are affectionately called. But focusing on their younger years so much comes at the cost of not getting into their achievements.

We don't see much of the nuance around types of shooting categories and their passing down of experience to the younger generation, especially Prakashi's daughter Seema Tomar - the next sport shooter in the family.

Focusing on the emotional rather than the sporting moments is the usual pitfall for sports-related films. Soorma last year was another example.

Pannu, a common factor in both films, gets a much bigger play in this film about women empowerment than she did in Soorma. However, it is Pednekar who really shines in this film: she's sharper when it comes to attention to detail for things such as mannerisms and movements. Because, ultimately, the role demands more than just ageing makeup. She walks the talk and seems to somehow embody an older woman.

But the powerful dialogue, the heart-wrenching scenes among the female characters and the wonderful depictions of the grandmothers getting to grips with modern life add so much to the film that I am almost willing to ignore the casting/age mismatch.

A scene where they are invited by a queen and a fellow shooting competitor to a palatial house is a particular highlight. That queen is played by Nikhat Khan, elder sister of Aamir Khan who is refreshing in her debut role.

Vineet Singh as coach Yashpal impresses, although his character had potential for more given his talent and the coach's importance in the lives of the Tomars. Prakash Jha, an acclaimed director himself, is decent as the patriarchal head of the Tomar household.

But to be a successful film, SKA needed to remain focused on the target characters of the two sister-in-laws. In shooting parlance there are 10 rounds in which to hit as many bulls-eye as one can. I think SKA hit seven out of 10 of these marks, so I give it 3.5 stars out of five.

Updated: October 26, 2019 11:02 AM

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