As I had mentioned in my previous review of Shakuntala Devi, I have always found biopics/historic films to be more entertaining than others as they enable us to relive a moment in time and history. So this week, I was waiting with bated breath for another biopic, this time on a real-life Indian hero. I am talking about India’s first woman Indian Air Force (IAF) officer to go to war and 1999 Kargil War veteran – Gunjan Saxena.
‘Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl’ released on Netflix on August 12th 2020 and follows the life of Gunjan Saxena (Janhvi Kapoor) as well as the challenges she faced while pursuing her dream to become a pilot. Despite being academically blessed, Gunjan thinks about discontinuing her studies to pursue her passion since the minimum requirement to become a pilot is completing the 10th grade. Her decision of discontinuing studies is met with criticism by everyone in her family except her father Anup Saxena (Pankaj Tripathi) who encourages her to pursue her passion. But the rules have changed and Gunjan completes a new set of mandates and finally joins the prestigious IAF in 1994. However, she did not realize that military training wouldn’t be the only challenge she would have to overcome. Gunjan realizes that she will also have to train her mind to look past all the sexist discrimination that would surface within the male-dominated IAF center at Udhampur.
Produced by Dharma Productions and Zee Studios and directed by the debutant director Sharan Sharma, ‘Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl’ is a feel-good inspiration story. With only one feature film release (Dhadak) under her belt, Janhvi Kapoor’s rawness adds authenticity to the character and you could see the vulnerability that Gunjan may have faced in a male-dominated world. However, I also thought the same rawness was slightly misplaced in the scenes where she was put in the pilot’s seat and needed to be strong and in control. If anyone ever wondered about the importance of supporting actors, I would recommend them to watch Pankaj Tripathi’s role as Anup Saxena, which totally stole the show for me. It is often easy to play a well-written character but it is equally difficult to own that character in a manner that leaves a lasting impression. Pankaj Tripathi did just that! From now on whenever the script calls for a perfect father, Pankaj Tripathi‘s name should be on top of that list.
I think it is important to talk a little more about the character of Anup Saxena. Indian cinema has been making many movies around feminism and rightfully so. But most of those movies were made on one end of the spectrum wherein the female protagonist doesn’t receive any support from society. In this film, when Gunjan isn’t receiving any support from her mother, she gets it from her father. This is where patriarchy acts in the right manner. We had a male character who accepts the privilege he has in society and uses that privilege to ensure his daughter reaches her maximum potential while acknowledging his wife’s fear of ‘Log Kya Kahenge’ through humor. This was the narrative that was missing from Indian cinema for a long time and it was refreshing to finally see it. Lastly, I was glad that this film was focussed more on equality and didn’t distract the audience by infusing the patriotic sentiment of the Kargil war.
This film was also in the news for slightly the wrong reasons. First, the portrayal of the IAF as a sexist system was not appreciated by authorities in the Indian Air Force. They even wrote a letter to the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to question their negative portrayal. Also apparently, due to the talks of nepotism, the poster of the film was released without the mention of Karan Johar or Dharma Productions.
Ignoring all the noise around the film, I’ll summarize it by saying ‘Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl’ is a nice film that can be watched by the entire family.
Reviewed by Puneet Ruparel