“Saand Ki Aankh”s trailer promises an inspiring take that deserves to be narrated. It is about two old women sharpshooters Chandro and Prakashi Tomar who aced at shooting during their 70s and broke stereotypes on womanhood and age. However, the movie just ended up becoming yet another sad example of how Bollywood still gets its wrong when it comes to the depiction of women and women empowerment. The story itself is about two determined women who didn’t let age or stereotypes become an obstacle to achieve their dreams. But, the filmmakers made both age and stereotypes as obstacles by casting two younger actresses. Painful… painful irony.
This faced obvious scrutiny from critics who slammed the filmmakers for casting younger actresses and resorting to ageism. This debate escalated when Neena Gupta and Soni Razdan spoke about the ageism behind this film. Taapsee Pannu responded to the whole controversy in her tweet, asking why was Aamir Khan not questioned for playing a college student in his 40s and why Nargis Dutt was not questioned when she played Sunil Dutt’s mother. This response of hers was nothing short of whataboutery and it is really sad to see that from her.
Taapsee has played roles of powerful and badass women on the screen in “Naam Shabana”,
“Pink”, “Badla”, “Mulk” and “Mission Mangal”. She has been vocal about obvious sexism in the industry notably when she criticised director Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s comments where he said that “it is not real love if couples don’t get to slap each other”. Personally, I want Taapsee to continue playing powerful women on-screen and help raise expectations on gender. I’d say the same thing when it comes to Bhumi. But, both Taapsee and Bhumi are part of an industry that provides women with a shelf life and circumstances become difficult once they cross 35 years of age; all this when male counterparts continue getting good roles even in their 50s.
We are already criticising stars like Akshay Kumar, Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan for acting next to actresses half their age. Several filmmakers like Karan Johar and Shah Rukh Khan have openly said that younger actresses mean better business. So, in an industry that only sees young, thin and fair women as better scope for revenue generation, I don’t expect any better in terms of representation and inclusion. As long as this stereotyping is perpetuated, it will be ingrained in both audience and filmmaker’s minds.
For a long time, it was believed that women can’t generate revenue at the box office but we have seen the difference with “Kahaani”, “Queen”, “Piku”, “Raazi”, “Hichki”, and “Neerja”, “Veere Di Wedding”. Good films with good content will get the required audience. We have seen powerful performances by an older woman like Neena Gupta in “Badhai Ho” and Ratna Pathak in “Lipstick Under My Burkha”. So, why not give the opportunity to other people? Personally, I think Neena Gupta or Shaban Azmi or Ratna Pathak would have killed it in that role. I also another tweet by a former Bombay times editor who said that “By the #SaandKiAankh debate- old people shud play old people. A paraplegic should’ve done Anusha’s role in Zero. A dwarf should’ve played SRK’s role. A Sikh man should’ve done Kesari. A badminton player should do the Saina Nehwal biopic & an acid victim shud do Chhapaak.”
Imagine us not getting to see a phenomenal actor named Peter Dinklage, if a non-dwarf actor was chosen as Tyrion Lannister. The actor who played Walter White’s son in “Breaking Bad”, R J Mitte has cerebral palsy in real life. Actress Milicent Symmonds, who played the deaf girl in ‘A Quiet Place’, is deaf in real life. In Hollywood, earlier films had white men paint their skin black to show African American characters. The same thing is being in Indian films, notably in Malayalam film “Odiyan”, where Prakash Raj skin was darkened or most female characters whose skin was greased to make them darker as opposed to casting a darker actress.
Hollywood would deem this practice as racist which would even cost a person their career. Even then, Hollywood has faced this “whitewashing” phenomenon. Women, at the peak of misogyny and patriarchy in the industrial age, were not permitted to act in films and men dressed as women to play their roles. Imagine all the actresses who wouldn’t have existed if this practice continued.
So, why not? A dwarf could have played SRK’s character in “Zero”, a person with cerebral palsy could have done Anushka’s role in “Zero” or an acid attack survivor could have been given the opportunity to do “Chhapaak”. Neena Gupta openly said that just like how most families deem old women as worthless beings, old actresses are also deemed worthless. But she hoped that at least a character that is close to her age will come to her.
Actress Soni Razdan also expressed the same sentiment. This could have been a great opportunity because roles are rarely written for older women as the main character. Taapsee’s response only reminded me of the old school whataboutery (an incident that took place decades ago) that is raised in a debate intended to neutralise a serious debate regarding current issues. I guess both men and women in Bollywood should understand elitism and privilege, which itself has a long way to go.