'Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl' review - Flying high on woman power
The Janhvi Kapoor led biopic is a 'picture perfect' tale of a girl who dared to dream of flying
'Girls can't even drive a car. Then how will she fly a chopper.' Sweeping statements like these dripping with casual sexism are studded throughout the latest biopic to hit our small screens this week.
Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl is on a mission and every arsenal in the filmmaker's tool kit is used to the hilt to provide a 'dramatised' version of the real life inspiring story of Gunjan Saxena, the Indian Air Force's (IAF) first woman combat aviator.
Subtlety is certainly not debutant director Sharan Sharma's aim here and we can't blame him for it considering Gunjan would have had to battle deeply entrenched patriarchy not just within India's armed forces but in society, as well as in her own family, to give wings to her soaring ambition to fly a plane.
To the makers' credit they never try to cloak young Gunjan's dream to take control of a cockpit as anything other than that. Even the 1999 Kargil War that plays out in the backdrop as the dramatic setting for Flt Lt Gunjan Saxena to showcase her valour and rescue injured army personnel, isn't couched in jingoistic or 'nationalistic' tone. The soundtrack, though takes on a life of its own; the scene where Gunjan skillfully dodges enemy fire as she embarks on a rescue mission, gets into filmy territory, due to the overpowering background score.
Sharma's screenplay is suitably given a Bollywood treatment so there is no doubt this is a story that not just seeks to inspire and encourage but one which aims to fit into the 'pretty film' mould and not the realistic one, like say Panga or Dangal.
Many of the scenes between Gunjan and her dad Lt Col Ashok Kumar Saxena (Pankaj Tripathi) reflect 'picture perfect' father-daughter moments even as her mother (Ayesha Raza Mishra) and brother's initial scepticism and downright derision of Gunjan's dreams come across as nothing but a superficial trope.
Janhvi Kapoor plays Gunjan with a certain wide-eyed innocence that is appealing as a teenager, but becomes a bit jarring in her later years, especially in scenes set within the helicopter. Admittedly she fills out her overalls pretty well, though one can't shake off the feeling there is a certain lack of spiritedness in her portrayal of a strong and empowering woman who is a role model for every little girl with a dream to carve out her own path in the world.
Tripathi is his classic self and skilled enough to fit into his army uniform with as much élan as his kurta-pyjama. The movie sets him up as this uni-dimensional 'poster-dad' - the super supportive, indulgent paternal figure, who will go to any length to fulfil his daughter's dream.
Angad Bedi, as Gunjan's brother, seems to be placed there to mouth chauvinistic dialogues though his deep concern for his sister couched as worry for her safety is no doubt one that many men spout to clip the wings of the women around them.
With its deeply entrenched masculinity - picture pin-ups on the wall and officers with unzipped overalls - the IAF hasn't been given any rosy treatment, and Vineet Kumar Singh as Gunjan's Commanding Officer plays it up with his constant jibes that the Air Force is not equipped to handle women. Interestingly the IAF has objected to its 'negative portrayal' and the 'gender bias' it is shown as displaying in The Kargil Girl.
Overall, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl is an inspiring tale and one which hopefully will embolden many girls to grow wings and soar in a world that is bent upon placing them inside a gilded cage.
When Gunjan's brother questions their dad on how he can encourage her dreams to fly when they should be more worried about her safety, you realise that this has been the male narrative used over the years to hammer down a girl's ambition.
And how ironic that more than 20 years since Gunjan fought the establishment to prove her worth to take control of what had hitherto been seen as a male bastion, women are still disparaged and derided for daring to harbour ambition - be it in the board room or the corridors of life. firstname.lastname@example.org
Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl
Director: Sharan Sharma
Cast: Janhvi Kapoor, Pankaj Tripathi, Angad Bedi, Vineet Kumar Singh
Rating: 3 out of 5
Gunjan Saxena is currently streaming on Netflix