You don’t need the stats to believe that as soon as a big studio money comes in, female actors become secondary. For the longest time, it felt like we constantly saw women of incredible talent playing wives and girlfriends in thankless parts of big-budget films.
It started to change with 2014’s Queen, an unabashedly feminist film featuring Kangana Ranaut. It finally felt like we would get to see more women who are unrepentant, flawed and wilful, and above all, strong rather than just carbon copies of male actors.
But unfortunately, when women succeed with as brilliant films as Queen, English Vinglish or Lipstick Under My Burkha, which don’t really cater to male fantasy, they aren’t showered with much opportunities.
So it was definitely an achievement of sorts when a film like Saand Ki Aankh, released during the festive season of Diwali, which has long been dominated by the Khans’ releases, got the attention it deserved. The film, which poses the ultimate threat to patriarchy and complete elimination of dependence on a male saviour, tells the story of the world's oldest women sharpshooters Chandro and Prakashi Tomar.
Hailing from conservative families from Uttar Pradesh, Chandro and Prakashi first picked up a gun really late in life and went on to become national shooting champions, thereby paving the way for young women in their village.
In the film, actresses Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu earnestly embrace Chandro and Prakashi, the two sexagenarian women, who, trapped by unfulfilling relationships and the confines of domestic life expected of them, leave their husbands behind and set out on their mission to become who they truly want to be.
Saand Ki Aankh, even as directed and written by men (Tushar Hiranandani and Balwinder Singh Janjua, respectively), beautifully talks about women’s talents and relationships in a world defined by men. It is a film where the complexity and human sensibility of the female characters is layered and multidimensional. Saand Ki Aankh’s feminist voice lies under the fact that it isn’t about “women can do anything men can do”— it’s about women can do whatever the hell they want to do.
"Most of the time what happens is if there's a two-female film either it's got one male actor they're fighting for or the females have got multiple male actors paired opposite. It's not led by those two females primarily. Saand Ki Aankh is one of those rare cases where we don't have any male star heading the star cast. It's only between Bhumi and me,” Taapsee had earlier told News18.
There are so many moments in the film that act as painful evidences of centuries-old oppression against women that they continue to face. One such is where a man taunts at Chandro and Prakashi, “Aurat Chahe kisi bhi mukaam pe pahunch jaaye par apni sahi umar btaane se katraati hai... (Women are always hesitant about revealing their age irrespective of how successful they become),” and Chandro responds to him, saying, “Aisa na hai... Sahi umar batane mein kay hai par asal mein aurat uss umar ka sahi hisaab naa laga sake hai jo usne apne liye jiye ho (There’s nothing like that. It’s no big deal to reveal the real age but women actually couldn’t count the years of her life that she has lived for herself).
It’s this heartbreaking line that travels the length of their time on the run and into today.
It’s 2019 and women are still being silenced, dismissed, slut-shamed and gaslighted. So as a woman, when I watch these two fearless ladies taking charge of their own lives so unapologetically, it gives me a sense of pride, and most importantly, the hope that soon my tribe will take the reins in society, too. Moreover, Chandro and Prakashi are the embodiment of true women empowerment that show us what liberation looks like in a man’s world.
But every film has its flaws and this one is no exception. It would have nailed the hammer on the head had it have women artistes in their 60s playing the lead roles. Because that very aspect of the film dilutes its whole message and somewhere makes it slight superficial. But having said that, one can’t help but spot and appreciate what seems to be a feminist vision in Saand Ki Aaankh.
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