In the words of Maya Angelou, “The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise.”
‘Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl’, the new Netflix Original film, is a biopic inspired by the moving tale of flight lieutenant Gunjan Saxena, the first woman to have gone to the warzone during the 1999 Kargil War, at the age of 24. Not only did Saxena help the Indian Air Force execute key rescue and surveillance operations, she also redefined gender roles for women at the workplace. As stated in the film, the Indian Air Force currently has over 1625 women officers serving the country.
Directed by debutant Sharan Sharma, the film is a no-nonsense, on-point retelling of Gunjan’s journey from being a young girl in Lucknow who aspired to fly a plane and then went on to fly the Cheetah helicopters to the warzone, while addressing rampant sexism within the running time of two hours.
Written by Sharma and Nikhil Mehrotra (Dangal, Chhichhore, Panga fame), the film is honest to its subject and avoids exploitation of unnecessary jingoism to drive the point. With additional dialogues penned by Hussain Dalal, the film deploys subtlety to hold important conversations within the family that eventually shape perspectives of the society. ‘Plane ladka udaiye ya ladki, donon ko pilot hi bolte hain’ (Whether a man flies the plane or a woman, they both are pilots), mouthed by an excellent Pankaj Tripathi playing Gunjan’s father, is spoken with such calmness, that it prompts you to think. Edited by Nitin Baid, there is no trace of dramatization despite creative liberties undertaken. Based in the 90s, the film gets its production design by Aditya Kanwar and costume design by Samidha Wangnoo, appropriate to the time period. Shot by Manush Nandan, the war portions have been spectacularly filmed by Vikram Dahiya with stunt and aerial co-ordination by international stuntman Marc Wolff (Mission Impossible: Fallout, Skyfall, Star Wars: The Force Awakens). John Stewart Eduri’s background score adds heft to the narrative but Amit Trivedi’s music serves lesser purpose apart from ‘Dori Tutt Gaiyaan’, effectively sung by Rekha Bhardwaj.
The performances are the binding glue that hold the film together. If the trailer misled you to question the credentials of the casting of Janhvi Kapoor for the titular role, be rest assured that you’ll be proved wrong. The young actor brings a child-like wonder to her and essays the role with the right amount of vulnerability and sincerity, you’d almost believe that she is indeed the right choice for the part. In ‘Dhadak’, she showed promise. In ‘Gunjan…’, you’ll see her growth as an actor. Supporting her with his stellar presence is the ever-so wonderful Tripathi as Retired Colonel Anup Saxena. If his patriarch act in ‘Bareilly Ki Barfi’ won you over, you’d want to reach out and give him a hug after watching ‘Gunjan..’. He is tranquil to such an extent that even a moment of anger in a crucial scene is enacted with composure. It’s a winning love story of a father who believed and gave wings to his daughter’s dreams. Ayesha Raza Mishra as mother Kirti Saxena and Angad Bedi as brother Anshuman Saxena aren’t particularly likeable characters owing to their conditioning but they prompt empathy. Manav Vij is towering as the Commanding Officer Gautam Sinha. My only complaint is with the under-utilising of the very earnest and talented Vineet Kumar Singh as Flight Commander Dileep Singh.
‘Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl’ starts an important dialogue on how our flawed notions about gender roles and patriotism are the biggest hindrances towards the interests of a nation. It also shows that it’s not necessary to worship and put inspiring heroes on a pedestal but instead look at them as human beings who err and evolve through the course of their actions.
Don’t let the hate and venom being spewed on social media clout your judgement towards a good film and dismiss its credentials. This isn’t a film made merely by surnames but a project mounted by the efforts of over 200 people whose livelihoods are now endangered in the wake of a global pandemic.
‘Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl’ streams on Netflix from August 12, 2020 onwards.