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Gunjan Saxena’s Story Proves Once Again That A Feminist Father Is Key For A Woman’s Empowerment

Posted: August 14, 2020

Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl is not a war film. It is a heart-warming story of a father who stood by his daughter like a rock as she manoeuvred her way through the labyrinths of life.

During one of the crucial scenes in Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, a daughter wants to give up on her dreams to tread the path that most girls chose back then. A visibly disheartened father says to her, “I want to give you the wings to fly and you are asking me to cut those wings.”

I was watching the movie with my father and couldn’t help but think that every girl deserves a father like hers, and like mine.

Beginning to dream

The movie dives straight into the point without much ado as we are introduced to the little Gunjan Saxena who is enamoured by the world of ‘flying’ after she gets a peek into an airline’s cockpit. This opens the doors to her dreams and she knows right then what she wants to become when she grows up.

But patriarchy strikes soon enough as she is told off by her elder brother for harbouring such dreams because ‘girls don’t become pilots’.

It was interesting to see that it’s the father who gives it back to his son calmly but firmly, bringing forth the fact that a parent cannot always ensure bringing up kids with a certain mindset. The society more often than not does have a countervailing effect as the son’s response shows, and it is a constant struggle of going back and forth with open and difficult conversations.

Translating into film

Thereafter, the movie takes you along the journey of this awe-inspiring girl with incredible grit, uninhibited visions and astounding valour. The screenplay by Nikhil Mehrotra and Sharan Sharma is top-notch which makes each moment, each second in the proceedings count. Every emotion here is powerfully depicted with subtlety and a comfortable familiarity. From expressing her apprehensions about joining the Air Force only because she wants to become a pilot to later putting Nation above everything else on the call of duty, Gunjan Saxena’s patriotism has its own journey of discovery that is gradual and unassuming.

The writers focus on effective, candid story-telling instead of trying to push buttons for effect. The eyes and actions do more of the talking, leaving no room for over-the-top dialogues or in-your-face scenes. This is a remarkable feat achieved by the cast and crew because when you are dealing with a subject like this, you are walking a slippery slope and there is always a risk of stumbling down to the route of drawing on the archetypal filmy tropes.

As much a father-daughter film as the story of a girl’s journey

It is important to clarify that Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl is not a war film. It is a heart-warming story of a father who stood by his daughter like a rock as she manoeuvred her way through the labyrinths of life. It is a story of a girl who smashed every stereotype that came in the way of her ambition setting a remarkable example for millions of other girls in the process. The get-up-and-go attitude in her and the transformation is what makes it special. Of course, what she created is monumental history but what you get to see is what she is made of which makes this a respectful and authentic biopic.

Most of my favourite scenes from the movie are from the Air Force Station where the character of Gunjan is posed with challenges aplenty, some of them being as basic as not finding a washroom for ladies simply because there was never a need to have one before this, skillfully conveying to the audience that she was a pioneer in many ways.

The rawness of being a newbie

Janhvi Kapoor is raw and this works in her favour. She aces some scenes while falling short in some. Her best comes out with the excellent Pankaj Tripathi who has played the role of a supportive father to perfection. Not a note lost here, not a beat missed there. Her befuddlement, passion, yearning, defeat and victory are all his too giving us a unique blend of his refined, seasoned portrayal and her tenderness. She also beautifully brings out the quiet pain and frustration at not being able to go on helicopter sorties because no one wants to risk their lives when she is at the helm of flying the helicopter. She is snubbed by her colleagues and we also get to hear the very relatable line – “Girls can’t drive cars, how would she fly the helicopter correctly”.

Not much has changed, sigh! I was watching her expressions closely during the climax when she is back to base post her mission and is given an ovation from her colleagues. It takes a while for it to sink in because she is not used to it and she goes from being confused to displaying a look of ‘humble pride’ and well-deserved sense of achievement on her face. Janhvi undoubtedly nailed this!

However, a handful of powerfully written scenes do not hit as hard because of her underwhelming dialogue delivery.

There is a fantastic scene in which she confronts the men at the Air Force Station and shows them a mirror by pointing out that their problem is nothing else but just the fact that they fear this ‘Madam’ is out there to become a ‘Sir’.

There would be a multitude of women who would identify with this even today. This was such a telling moment in the narrative but was let down by the performance in my honest opinion. Nonetheless, Janhvi Kapoor does rise up to the responsibility of doing justice to the titular role and deserves a thumbs up. Not once did I feel that I am watching her and not the real Gunjan Saxena.

Well made, but could have been better

A pat on the back to the casting department for getting brilliant and apt supporting actors on board, all of whom successfully get into the skin of their characters. I particularly was impressed by Angad Bedi who essays the role of her brother and Manav Vij who plays the stern and disciplinarian Commanding Officer spotting the fire and talent in her and backing her through the training.

My only bone of contention with the movie is that there is no mention of her being awarded the honour of Shaurya Chakra. This is a revered achievement in her journey and should have been highlighted. Also, while I am not sure of the fictional elements in the movie, I must admit that at points it seemed somewhat extreme that absolutely no one at the Air Force station was nice or at the least cordial to her. In addition to this, I don’t know whether it was the medium of OTT or an inadequacy in the cinematography but somehow the aerial shots in the penultimate scenes when she is on the forefront at the Kargil War seemed insipid and lacked the requisite grandeur.

In summary, if I have to put it in a sentence, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl soars, both literally and figuratively. It will inspire every girl to become an “Aasmaan ki pari” and others to be an ally as she takes the flight towards her dreams. A befitting tribute to a real-life wonder indeed!

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