Beyond Bollywood: On feisty grannies
Saand Ki Aankh is an important, feminist Bollywood film, but it has many disappointing conflicts at heart
The real-life story of the Shooter Dadis—Chandro and Prakashi Tomar, from Johri village, Uttar Pradesh, who learnt to be sharp-shooters in their mid-60s and have won over 30 national championships, now well into their 80s— is pure gold. You’d have to be a chump to muff a film inspired by them, but Saand ki Aankh (SKA, Bull’s Eye), manages this feat. SKA, starring Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu, is the debut feature of Tushar Hiranandani (writer, Grand Masti, Housefull 2 etc). A feminist film for a Diwali release, like they have a Salman Bhai film for Eid release? That’s pretty cool for 2019.
SKA is an important, feminist Bollywood film, but it has many disappointing conflicts at heart. The central irony of two women who have wielded guns for 20 years, but whose life continues mostly in ghunghat sat home, mercilessly bullied by the male patriarchs, is scarcely explored at all. It’s mainly broad brush-strokes and lacks the conviction of, say, Dangal, which was also based on the real-life female wrestler Phogat sisters in regressive Jat-land, but crackled with the changing family power equation.
Then, of course, the choice of younger, 30-ish actresses, Bhumi Pendnekar and Taapsee Pannu, to play older actresses in their 60s, is disappointing. For a film claiming to champion the accomplishments of older women, it had its eye firmly on Diwali release material, gifted older actresses be damned. There is no dearth of them, including Neena Gupta, Shabana Azmi, Seema Biswas, Ratna Pathak Shah, Supriya Pathak, Surekha Sikri and Soni Razdan. Pednekar and Pannu are accomplished actresses who certainly do their best under powdered wigs and latex wrinkles, but it is not convincing enough. Still, the film’s heart is in the right place, so we cheer the dadis.
Amitabh Bachchan, 77, has had a range of exciting roles as he has aged, including Paa (youngster with progeria), Pink (lawyer defending women implicated in a crime), Piku (on an eccentric father-devoted daughter relationship). Far fewer meaty roles are written for older women, but they include Aandhi, Godmother, Badhaai Ho and Kapoor & Sons. Kislay’s Aise Hee, Just Like That, which won the Busan Film Festival’s New Currents Award Special Mention and Mumbai Film Festival’s Film Critics Guild Award, is a remarkable debut, a finely observed film about a grandmother, the ageing, newly-widowed Mrs Sharma (Mohini Sharma), in small-town India, who learns to finally live for herself. She visits the salon and orders an air-conditioner,as her patriarchal adult son explodes. Likewise, Bollywood rarely addresses older women’s desires, but notable exceptions include Amit Sharma’s Badhaai Ho, Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under my Burkha and Sanjoy Nag’s Yours Truly.
It is challenging for older actresses to get interesting parts in regional Indian cinemas, but the more interesting ones include Ramya Krishnan who played Sivagami in Baahubali (Telugu), as well as a porn actress in Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Super Deluxe (Tamil).
Savithri Sreedharan played a delightful mother in Sudani From Nigeria (Malayalam), while Uttara Baokar struggled to hold her family together in Vaastupurush (Marathi). In Rima Das’ Bulbul Can Sing (Assamese), the grieving mother of a teenage girl who has just died, still tells her daughter’s friend to follow her heart and lead the life she wants.
Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at email@example.com
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