Film Review Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl
By Sunita Vijay
A nine-year old girl expresses her wish to be a pilot as she is fascinated by the idea of being over the clouds. Her aspiration receives a disheartening reply from her brother, ‘Ladkiyaan pilot nahin banti’, a direct statement that defines the permissible do’s and don’ts for a girl to make choices. Sharan Sharma’s direction and Nikhil’s writing convey this message without any dramatization, making us aware how difficult it was for the first IAF woman pilot, Gunjan Saxena, to choose a career she was passionate about in the male dominated society that clearly demarcates ‘no-entry zones’ for women.
Gunjan’s dream to soar in the sky was given wings by her father (Pankaj Tripathi) who stood like rock in every moment. Her father unconditionally supports her to be one, neither raising a fuss at home nor angrily confronting the family members. Her mother disapproves of the idea, her chauvinist brother persuades her to change her mind, viewing the practical realities, but Tripathi tactfully helps her achieve her aim while maintaining a cool demeanour.
The road to her goal was tough, as a dialogue underlined the mindset, ‘agar Air Force join karna hai, toh fauji banker dikhao, varna ghar jaakar belan chalao’. Gunjan not only had to fight an emotional battle of gender divide at home but a professional battle of existence in the IAF Academy (as depicted in the movie), where at every step it was a struggle for the first woman officer amidst a bunch of male colleagues, subordinates and trainers, carrying the age old ‘male’ superior mentality. With no one to talk to, all-men late night parties, no female toilet and changing room, it was a torment. The humiliation she received brings a lump in the throat. She decides to quit but her father motivates her, convinces her to break the shackles and un-cage herself.
The film has portrayed an adorable father-daughter bond. Tripathi comes as a surprise in the role of an army officer. He nowhere underplays nor is pompous; lending his heart and soul as a low-key, sweet tongued, supportive, motivational figure in his daughter’s life. He scores maximum points. All the daughters would wish to have a father like him. As a devoted father, he prepares Gunjan for a flight in the turbulent ‘societal’ skies, aligning her wings; propelling her to never give up. Pankaj Tripathi makes his part more effectual. He handles all her age-related doubts, fear, inhibitions and feelings with an utmost cool mind.
Vineet Kumar Singh, senior at the Academy, oozes with prejudice against Gunjan, denying her the rightful opportunities she deserved as a pilot. Manav Vij recognises the potential of Gunjan, takes her under his wings and trains her personally. Even in limited screen space, he leaves his mark convincingly. Gunjan’s mother (Ayesha Raza Mishra) is caring yet sceptical of her daughter’s wish to choose a non-conventional profession. She is assuasive, nowhere overstepping blatantly or hindering her path, just creating a mere verbal annoyance. Angad Bedi, Gunjan’s brother and an army officer, is caring yet mildly sexist. In the climax scene, he salutes her and says, ‘Jai Hind, Officer Saxena’ clearly conveying his acceptance that girls are no less than boys in any field. We wanted to see more of him; still in his small role, he remains an amiable brother, concerned about his sister’s safety and well -being.
Janhvi Kapoor’s role required more agility in terms of the enthusiasm she was needed to display in her character. Nevertheless, her exasperated expression fits well with the kind of treatment she receives at the Udhampur Air Force Station. Only once is she made to vent her aggression, when the enervating circumstances force her to step out of her room at night and let the boys know her true feelings. In a few words, she attempts to remove their apprehensions on her outstanding performance as a combat pilot.
Although the movie’s title, ‘The Kargil Girl’, makes us expect war scenes but Nikhil’s story is meant to highlight the struggles in Gunjan’s path as the first combat woman pilot who played a crucial role in evacuating the injured during Kargil war. It chooses to shun dramatisation and remains genuine. The film maintains focus on human interactions, gender views and biases while providing a couple of impressive aerial shots amidst valleys and over the river.
The music could have amplified the effect of emotions and inertia this film required. Like, in the first shot, a young IAF woman pilot is shown running towards the chopper diligently attending to duty’s call. It required a thrilling background score to fill the air with zeal and gravitas that the scene demanded to enhance the effect. Maybe the solemnity of the protagonist is being maintained from beginning to the end portraying her as a girl who is settled in all situations. The film is gripping, narrative seamless and cinematography unpretentious, to create a natural impact and it succeeds.
Gunjan’s story needs to be heard as a highly inspirational tale to derive strength in fighting all odds and remain unhesitant in pursuing a career that one is passionate about and that makes all the difference.