Saand Ki Aanth **
Dir: Tushar Hiranandani. With: Taapsee Pannu, Bhumi Pednekar, Prakash Jha, Vineet Kumar Singh. 134 mins. Cert: 12A
This would-be crowdpleasing Hindi project (title translation: Bullseye) drew fire over on home turf upon the announcement its subjects Chandro and Prakashi Tomar – real-life sisters-in-law who took up a successful competitive shooting career in their sixties – would be played by the altogether dewy-skinned pair of 32-year-old Taapsee Pannu and 30-year-old Bhumi Pednekar.
Viewed in the context of the film – easily the sunniest, least challenging feature to which maverick producer Anurag Kashyap has yet put his name – the casting seems unlikely to generate further outrage. It makes editorial sense, in a movie aiming for a mild form of social commentary, to retain the services of two versatile actresses as greying, latex-wrinkled fixed points as the world changes around them.
The real issue, as it can be within the biopic, is predictability: every scene, emotional beat and plot progression comes to feel entirely preordained. Writer Balwinder Singh Janiya and director Tushar Hiranandani know exactly the pushover crowd they’re targeting and shoot directly for them, rarely if ever disrupting the air of hand-me-down history.
The Tomars start out veiled on the sidelines, attending to their husbands’ washing and a growing army of children; it takes an unmarried doctor with a self-built rifle range (Vineet Kumar Singh, from Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz) to spring them from drudgery and coax out their talents, chiefly an all-conquering calm focus cultivated over many decades in their chaotic household.
Thereafter, with directorial newcomer Hiranandani failing to find much in the way of dramatic shape or rhythm, we’re offered one montage after another – albeit montages that boast the novelty of seeing women with silver-flecked hair being put through their paces – alternated with competition sequences that go much the way we expect.
Pannu and Pednekar fashion a bond you could easily cheer for, all sly sisterly looks that cut through long stretches of generally indifferent writing, and some attractive location work gives it the bare minimum of sweep. Still, it feels like a waste of rich narrative possibilities, as mechanically feelgood as those two dozen Britflicks that have cast Dames Dench, Smith et al. as old dears who shoot from the lip.
Saand Ki Aankh is now playing in cinemas nationwide.