Tag Archives: Sara Arjun

Movie Review: Saand Ki Aankh (2019)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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The real-life women who inspired Saand Ki Aankh (“Bull’s Eye“) are extraordinary, but the film about their lives is less so, because the actresses who play them are miscast. That isn’t to say that thirty-somethings Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar are bad in their roles. They’re just not convincing playing women in their sixties.

The main factor that keeps the movie from being immersive is that the “old lady” makeup and hair coloring applied to Pannu and Pednekar throughout looks absurd. It’s impossible not to notice it. Their temporary gray hair dye isn’t applied realistically and seems like something that you’d find at a Halloween store, meant to be sprayed on in the morning and washed out at night (if it hasn’t all flaked off by then). The same dye looks especially bad when painted onto Pednekar’s eyebrows. The texture of their face makeup might be passable for a stage performance, but it doesn’t holdup under the gaze of a movie camera.

Pannu and Pednekar play Prakashi and Chandro Tomar, respectively, two sisters-in-law living in a village in Uttar Pradesh in 1999. Their crowded household is shared by their husbands, children, and grandchildren, and governed by their husband’s older brother, Rattan Singh Tomar (Prakash Jha), along with his own wife and offspring.

All of the other performers in Saand Ki Aankh play characters their own age, with Rattan and his brothers played by younger actors in the film’s few flashbacks. Pannu and Pednekar are the only constants, further drawing attention to the age difference between the actresses and their characters. Given how brief the flashbacks are, there’s no logical explanation for why actresses aged closer to sixty weren’t cast in these roles.

Prakashi and Chandro have toiled for decades on behalf of their family: cooking, cleaning, stacking bricks, and each birthing eight children while their husbands lounge about. When Dr. Yashpal (Vineet Kumar Singh) opens a shooting range, promising government jobs to those who excel, the boys in the Tomar family scoff at the notion of working for a living. But Prakashi and Chandro recognize a chance for their granddaughters to break out of the stifling patriarchal system and chart their own destinies.

Secretly, Chandro brings her granddaughter Shefali (Sara Arjun) to the range, while Prakashi accompanies her daughter Seema (Pritha Bakshi). To encourage the two girls, the older ladies take their turns firing, only to discover that they are naturals. Dr. Yashpal convinces Chandro and Prakashi to enter a shooting tournament for seniors. In order to compete, they have to trick their husbands and brother-in-law into letting them travel to the city — no easy feat since Rattan’s strict rules for women includes veiling their faces even inside the house. The ladies pull off the ruse and win the tournament, starting their careers as clandestine sharpshooters.

For all its faults, Saand Ki Aankh is very clear about who Chandro and Prakashi are and what motivates them. They are housewives, and even after they taste success, they don’t expect more from life. When the husband of a fellow shooter talks about how proud he is of is wife, the sisters-in-law can barely understand how that’s possible. They accept that there is nothing they could accomplish that would make their husbands feel proud of them. They can only meet expectations or face potential violence for failing to do so.

It’s refreshing that, even though the story is inspiring, inspiration was never the goal of the characters. Everything Chandro and Prakashi do is for the betterment of the lives of their daughters and granddaughters.

Saand Ki Aankh‘s structuring is awkward, which is unfortunate, since this is the directorial debut of experienced screenwriter Tushar Hiranandani. Though Hiranandani didn’t write this script (which is credited to Balwinder Singh Janjua), perhaps he could have given it a final polish to reorganize it a bit. The film’s opening sequence — which repeats after about an hour when the story catches up to it chronologically — is overly long and not attention-grabbing enough to warrant a double take. Shefali serves as the off-screen narrator for a few random scenes, so it would’ve made more sense to open with her narration and use it consistently throughout. Trimming at least half-an-hour off the overall runtime would’ve helped, too.

The Tomar sisters-in-law have certainly lived lives worth making into a movie. I just wish this one was a little better.

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Movie Review: Jazbaa (2015)

Jazbaa1 Star (out of 4)

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Jazbaa (“Passion“) is a mess from start to finish. It’s such a trainwreck that it manages to make top stars like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Irrfan Khan look silly.

From the very beginning, it’s obvious that something is off with Jazbaa. It just looks wrong. Director Sanjay Gupta is obsessed with putting filters on the camera, so every shot is a sickly green or yellow, with the occasional merciful blue. The grotesque palette makes Irrfan appear in urgent need of hospitalization.

That’s when you can actually see him clearly. Gupta also likes to play with lighting, to stupid effect. A group of cops sit around a dark conference table, light illuminating only their cheeks or chins. Their eyes and mouths — the parts of the face that actually convey meaning — are in shadow.

Although the plot has promise, Gupta mucks it up as well. Aishwarya plays Anu Verma, a successful defense lawyer who is happy to make evidence disappear if it will help her win. She’s also a single mom with an elementary-school-aged daughter, Sanaya (Sara Arjun). Anu’s best friend, Yohaan (Irrfan), is a corrupt but highly decorated cop who’s facing suspension.

At Sports Day at Sanaya’s school, Anu crosses the finish line first in the mother-daughter relay. But when she turns to celebrate with Sanaya, the girl has vanished.

Anu — who is standing in a crowd of people — calls for her daughter for all of five seconds before her eyes fill with tears and she starts shrieking her head off. Why does she immediately assume that something has gone horribly wrong? It’s almost like Anu knows she’s in a movie. The fact that Sanaya actually is missing doesn’t justify her overreaction.

A kidnapper calls, demanding that Anu free a rapist/murderer from death row in exchange for Sanaya’s safety. Anu enlists suspended Yohaan to help her, even though he’s the man who put the rapist behind bars in the first place.

All this happens in frantic fashion. Within the first fifteen minutes, Anu leads the cops on a high-speed car chase, even though we’ve hardly had time to get to know her, her daughter, or Yohaan. Gupta expects the audience to invest in the characters simply because they are there, not because they have earned our sympathy or affection.

Gupta’s obsession with using camera techniques for their own sake — rather than for the sake of the story — reaches its absurd apex in courtroom scenes. Every single shot is peppered with numerous micro-movements of the camera: up, down, in, out. It makes no sense. It’s as though Gupta is deliberately trying to distract us from the acting.

That may be a good thing, because the acting is bad. Aishwarya screams and sobs and pounds her fists on the ground. Irrfan throws a tantrum, kicking over barrels like a frustrated baseball player taking out a Gatorade cooler in the dugout. While sitting in a car with Anu, Yohaan emphasizes a point by breaking her passenger window with his elbow. It’s so stupid, it’s sublime.

The inspiration for Irrfan Khan’s character?

Chandan Roy Sanyal — who plays the rapist, Niyaz — is the hammiest of the hams, cackling as though he’s a villain from the 1960s Batman TV show. He’s nearly outdone by Sam, the rape victim’s old boyfriend who is now crazy from having taken too much “angel dust.” Don’t do drugs, kids.

The anti-drug message is secondary to the real moral behind Jazbaa. The screen fades to black as the movie ends, and sad piano music plays as Indian rape statistics appear on screen. The note ends not with a call for an end to rape or greater aid for victims, but for speedier executions of those convicted of rape (a death penalty offense in India).

The problem with the message is that the plot of the very movie that precedes it cautions against such haste. During the course of their investigation, Anu and Yohaan uncover enough evidence to suggest that the crime that got Niyaz thrown behind bars didn’t proceed the way the original prosecutor concluded it did.

Regardless of the fate of the fictional character Niyaz, Jazbaa presents a case in which a potentially innocent man is sentenced to death. The movie then ends with a note encouraging speedier executions, thus limiting the opportunities for a person wrongly convicted to overturn his or her own death sentence. Even if one agrees with the sentiment at the end of the film, it doesn’t follow logically from the actual events of the film.

Rather than trying to make a moral point, Gupta needs to focus on telling a good story. He fails to do that, getting hung up on distracting camera techniques and overacting that puts soap operas to shame. Jazbaa is a disaster.

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