Saand Ki Aankh fame Tomar sisters: Create an identity beyond chula, chaukha
In their first-ever in-depth interview, the Tomar sisters, whose biopic will be out soon, speak about how they shot bull's eye at first attempt, how they were mocked and overcame all odds
I was surviving on four hours of sleep and strong black coffee while making the cumbersome journey to a Malad hotel for this interview. But it was well worth the effort. Welcomed by the bounciest 80-year-old I could ever come across, the meeting was, in every way, an uplifting one. Prakashi Tomar, one half of the Shooter Dadi duo touted as the world's oldest sharpshooters, greeted us with the cheeriest namaste.
"I had gone to enrol my granddaughter for a sharp shooting class at a local range. It is there that I learnt the magic of shooting; how to load a gun, and shoot. One day on a whim, I wanted to try it out, and I hit the bull's eye with the first shot," starts off Prakashi with an unmistakeable beam on her face.
The story of Prakashi and sister-in-law Chandro Tomar — touted as the world's oldest women sharpshooters — is surreal. The muses of Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar's upcoming film, Saandh Ki Aankh, picked up the ropes of shooting effortlessly. It came to them naturally. "Having worked on farms, we were physically strong. We would grind gehu by hand in a chakki. Our wrist and arms were stronger than we knew," Prakashi says.
The duo shot to fame following an episode of Satyamev Jayate, after being invited by host Aamir Khan. After that, interview offers kept pouring in for the unlikely shooters. Chandro, who is ailing from a broken hip injury sustained two weeks ago, tells us over a phone call, "People would laugh at us. We were two old hags who had taken to a sport that is not even [popular] in our part of the world. Local women would mock us saying we are preparing for [the] Kargil [war]. But we found support in our children. Our sons have been our pillars of strength. They supported us emotionally, as well as with monetary requirements." Did they find support in their husbands? "No. Not a single day."
Chandro Tomar and Prakashi Tomar
Travelling from Uttar Pradesh to Delhi and then Chennai, the sisters were evidently worn out by the tournaments. "Most of our contemporaries were significantly younger than us. It was awkward, but we didn't encounter a single mean remark. We would always chat up a storm with people. Monetarily, though, it was draining. We had to purchase rifles and bullets, and also spend on our practice. There was no support from local or sports authorities. I recall, Rahul Gandhi sent us two rifles, which helped us win many matches. We practically made it on our own," says Prakashi.
Our chat is infused with many spirited moments as they take us through their journey of breaking the shackles of patriarchy. "We didn't give a damn about the world. We went from tournament to tournament, winning medals. Life before 60 and after 60 didn't seem much different, apart from the fact that we were able to find our own [voice]. It is important to create your identity beyond chula and chaukha. We've taught our girls the same, and today [Prakashi's] granddaughter is a professional shooter and an inspector in the Haryana police force," Chandro says.
Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar at the film's trailer launch. Pics/ Sayyed Sameer Abedi
They claim that the world could have deterred them, had it not been for their sense of self-assurance. "We were 60, and physically worn out. But, will-power is bigger than anything else. We willed to do more than what we were expected to, which is to have a family, raise kids and perform household chores. Age is a number; the strength of your spirit is what matters," adds Chandro.
Ask them if parting with their story was a tough call, and Chandro say, "We had never thought that our life story would inspire a movie." Prakashi adds, "We lapped up the idea when it came our way. The filming took place in our village, Jauri. The cast and crew of the film were protected by us. Even now, we face opposition from locals because we are forward-thinking individuals. [After watching us], girls from the village actively started pursuing athletics, shooting and education."
Pannu, who plays Prakashi, was the first to come aboard the film. She was later joined by Pednekar, who essays Chandro. "The girls stayed with us in our huts, and became our own. They didn't behave like actresses who couldn't manage themselves. They were solid girls; living on their own terms. Every day, there were requests of dishes that they want to eat — shahi paneer, matar paneer, dal subzi. The girls and the crew ate with us," says Chandro.
The shooter dadis hope that the film puts the spotlight on the fate of athletes in India. As far as they are concerned, they've already deciphered how to do their bit for athletes like them.
"We want to start a shooting range. There's a plot in Meerut that we have shortlisted, and we need sponsors and government support to go ahead. We hope this film enables us to get that. We aim to be coaches and train young girls so that they may have the opportunity to realise their dreams. We are often invited by teachers in local schools. We want to tell young girls that the world is their playground. Times have changed; in this era, girls are better than the boys," Chandro signs off.
No. of tournaments the sisters have won since 1999
Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu attended the trailer launch of their upcoming film, Saand Ki Aankh. Bhumi donned white and pink crop top and white trousers. She aced her look with her multicoloured embroidered jacket. Taapsee also upped the antic by wearing a multicoloured printed top and blue checkered trousers. All Pictures/Yogen Shah
Based in the heartland of Uttar Pradesh, Saand Ki Aankh revolves around the Chandro (Taapsee Pannu) and Prakashi (Bhumi) who take up shooting at the age of 50 to encourage their daughters towards a bright future. Despite all odds, they won 352 medals each in the course of their veteran professional life as shooters.
Interacting with the media at the trailer launch, Taapsee said, "I always wanted to do a film where two heroines have equal roles. When I heard the narration, I had tears in my eyes and within 10 seconds, I said yes to the film. I feel Chandro and Prakashi Tomar are a big inspiration to the people of our country."
Pednekar also jumped at the idea of playing a sexagenarian with conviction, when she is half the age in reality. Speaking at an earlier interview, she had said, "These two women are given incredible recognitions around the world, but no one knows how they had to fight their family and society to bring about a positive change for women in their male-dominated community. As an artist, you hope that you get a film like this in your career and I'm fortunate to have this in my bag."
The upcoming film seems to be close to the hearts of the two leading ladies. They have been quite active in sharing insights into the film. The actors wrapped up shooting for the film two months ago in April.
The duo was joined by real-life sharpshooters Chandro and Prakashi at the trailer launch. The film is helmed by debutant director Tushar Hiranandani. In an interview, the director said that he had the story of Chandro and Prakashi Tomar for the past four years. "I saw them on Aamir Khan's Satyamev Jayate. I had tears in my eyes when Chandro dadi said 'Tann buddha hota hai, mann buddha nahi hota hai'. I told Nidhi [Parmar, producer wife] that I will tell their story to the world."
"I have attempted every genre and I've enjoyed writing them all. As for Saand Ki Aankh, it wasn't an easy film to make. The casting was an insurmountable challenge. Taapsee and Bhumi were the only two actors who had the balls to say yes to this film," he added.
Saand Ki Aankh is produced by Anurag Kashyap, Reliance Entertainment and Nidhi Parmar. The film is slated to release on October 25. We wish the team best of luck.
Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu launched the trailer of their upcoming flick Saand Ki Aankh along with the Tomar Sisters at a popular mall in Malad, Mumbai. We have pictures
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Taapsee Pannu dedicates Saand Ki Aankh to her mother