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Johri was known for atta chakkis, now it's famous because of us: 'Saand Ki Aankh' Shooter Dadis

PTI     September 20, 2019

By Radhika Sharma Johri (UP), Sep 20 (PTI) It's a story as filmy as it can get. Two women from Baghpat’s Johri village pick up shooting at a local Rifle Club in their 60s, become famous, earn room full of trophies and are now the subject of a Bollywood movie -- "Saand Ki Aankh". In 1999, Chandro, then in her 60s, started shooting by chance when her granddaughter Shefali wanted to learn how to shoot at Johri Rifle Club. Being an all-boys club, Shefali confided in her grandmother and said she was scared to go all alone. "I told her ‘I’m with you’, no need to get scared,” the 87-year-old recalls, as she lies on the bed with a fracture in her left leg. At the range when Shefali could not load the pistol, Chandro helped her with the pellets, took her position, set eyes of the prize and it was a perfect 10 - 'Bullseye' or "Saand Ki Aankh" as the term is garnering popularity, courtesy the Diwali release, starring Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu. The boys and Farooq Pathan, the club coach, were surprised with her skill and suggested she train to become a shooter, which she did. "I knew I wouldn’t get permission from the house. But when the children encouraged me, I sort of developed a penchant for shooting,”Chandro told PTI in an interview. Her day would now begin at 4am after she was done with her house chores. "I'd go into the fields to practice with a jug of water and take aim, fearing whether I’d be caught,” she recalled. Two weeks later, Prakashi, now 82, followed her sister-in-law to the range. “She didn’t tell me,” Chandro said with a crinkly smile, adding, “Then I went to the range, along with my granddaughters, Ruby and Preeti. My daughter Seema also joined later on.” While Seema became the first Indian woman to win a shotgun silver at the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Cup, Ruby and Preeti are international shooters. Prakashi observed for four days. “One day, Seema asked me to try. I hit the target.” Coach pushed her to train as well, saying people will say something or the other, take it in your stride and aim for the highest peak. She started practicing too. “The daughters-in-law took care of the house. We finished what we had to do and got started,” she said. Kaushal Devi, Prakashi’s daughter-in-law, is a homemaker and she said an actor from Meerut was brought in to play her role in the Tushar Hiranandani-directed film. “Whatever the actor did was very good. Everyone has done great work. I’m happy,” the 53-year-old said with a dimpled smile. Johri was already famous for atta chakki and the village now attracts shooters from across the country. “Chakkis are made here in Johri and go to different parts of the country, even go to Delhi. Shooting range got famous because of us,” Prakashi said, looking at Chandro who fell asleep in the middle of the conversation. Since 1999, the duo have competed in and won 25 national championships throughout India. Chandro won a gold medal at the Veteran Shooting Championship conducted in Chennai. In 2000, Prakashi emerged the first woman to win a UP State gold medal in the veteran category, besting a deputy superintendent of police. Bhumi, who plays Chandro, and Taapsee, who plays Prakashi, are still in touch with the octogenarians. “Both lived in this house for two months. They were so friendly. They used to sweetly demand us to prepare food for them and we would heartily oblige. “Sometimes it was 'mutter paneer' with one dry vegetable, kadi-chawal, chutney and homemade butter. They keep calling us. I asked Taapsee when she’d be coming next and she said ‘Dadi, I’ll tell you soon and let you know what I want to eat’,” Prakashi said. Near their houses are boards with their names as ‘Shooter Dadi’, which reads ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Khilao, Beti Padhaao’. The ‘khilao’ – let them play – was their addition to one of the central government’s pet initiatives. “A girl should be happy, be it in her father’s house or husband’s house,” Prakashi said. “A daughter can do anything. Age is not a factor. ‘Lagan kare insaan, sahayata kare bhagwan’,” Chandro said, waking up. “We are trying to make our children ‘dhakad’ like that song from Aamir Khan’s film (‘Dangal’) till our last breath,” she added. What changed for their village? "Children left the path of wrong – crime and unemployment. They started training for shooting, playing and studying,” Chandro said. Coach Arvind Tomar, a former national shooter, who runs Youth Shooting Sports Academy on Meerut-Barout Road in nearby Binouli, said the film has renewed interest about the village. “Eighty-eight kids from the academy got into the Army since 2006. The crime rate reduced, children are aiming for internationals and Olympics. Thanks to Dadis (grandmothers), girls have started coming out and delivering results,” Arvind said. A national aspirant, Ritu, 16, has been training at the range for two months now. “I get a lot of confidence from the story of the Dadis,” she said. Prakashi believes their lives are ‘saphal’ (complete) with the film. Age-related ailments and illness may have stopped the daring duo from shooting but they said they can show how it’s done when they are invited for inauguration ceremonies. They are content with life but hope for help from the government to open a range in Meerut so that children from impoverished background can learn shooting. "So many of them don’t even get the pellets to practice, how will they manage a pistol or the fees of an academy?” asked Prakashi. PTI RDS BK BK

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