Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl can be watched without a break. Jahnvi Kapoor is better than passable as the flight lieutenant who had to confront sexist prejudices in the Indian Air Force, according to the film. Most importantly, the narrative isn’t jingoistic in tone and treatment, a refreshing quality in a film that takes us to Kargil.
That said, the film is not an honest retelling of Saxena’s real-life story. The disclaimer states, “As this Film is a fictionalised and dramatised version of the life events of Flight Lieutenant Gunjan Saxena set during the time period of late 20th century (i.e. 1984-1999), no scenes should be construed to represent a true or accurate recreation of events that transpired.” A little later, the disclaimer adds, “The Film does not warrant, represent or make any claim, of authenticity or historical correctness of any events and/or incidents projected in this Film.”
Making a film on a person’s career in the Indian Air Force and fictionalising parts of it to project the protagonist as a larger-than-life figure is an invitation to controversy. That Saxena is ridiculed and ignored by her male counterparts in the film emphasises on the presence of gender-based discrimination in the IAF, which is a serious allegation.
How much of the story is true, and how much has been scripted with pure imagination is yet to be clear. That said, the diplomatically worded disclaimer cannot be an acceptable explanation for inserting fictional moments that has besmirched the image of the IAF.
In a letter published on outlookindia.com, Wing Commander (Retd) Namrita Chandi said that she did not face any sort of discrimination during her days with the IAF. She added, ”In fact, men in uniform are true gentlemen and professionals. They go out of their way to make lady officers comfortable and adjust… Never in my entire career span of 15 years have I been disrespected or mistreated.” If one were to trust what the film has to show, the reality as Saxena experienced it was its antithesis.
Meanwhile, Saxena’s coursemate Flight Lieutenant (Retd) Srividya Rajan declared in a social media post, “In the movie, Gunjan Saxena was shown as the only lady pilot to fly in Kargil operations. This is factually incorrect. We were posted together to Udhampur and when the Kargil conflict started, I was the first woman pilot to be sent along with the male counterparts in the first detachment of our unit…”, If this is true, should the film be called a biopic at all?
The Indian Air Force has written to the Censor Board objecting to its depiction in ‘undue negative’ light. The IAF had reportedly requested producer Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions to delete some objectionable sequences. Nothing was done and the film was released without modifications.
Saxena has dismissed those who have been trying to dent her ‘hard-earned reputation’ with ‘nonsensical rants.’ While a response from her was necessary, filmmakers must remember that an institution such as the IAF must be depicted with utmost care and honesty.
Should the story be perceived as the truth, Saxena went through hell because of the attitude of male officers. Such an allegation is unacceptable if other female officers of the same period do not endorse the protagonist’s story with similar horror stories.
Besides, if the film intended to project the protagonist as the first female superstar of the Indian Air Force, her character should have had a different name. And, the film shouldn’t have been a biopic.