Why The Bollywood Film ‘Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl’ Missed The Mark for Women Empowerment

Female representation in the Bollywood film industry is constantly criticised for casting women in mediocre roles or simply portraying the love interest to the male lead. It is critical to take women seriously on the silver screen, but is it worthy to hoist the flag of feminism if the facts are entirely wrong in the movie? 

From the left, Real life Gunjan Saxena to the right, Actress Jhanvi Kapoor | Photo Credit: New Indian Express

That is what has become of the latest women-lead Bollywood film, Gunjan Saxena : The Kargil Girl.

The Indo-Pakistan armed conflict, also known as ‘The Kargil War’ occurred during 1999 in the Kargil district of Kashmir and elsewhere along the Line of Control. Nearly 450 Indian soldiers lost their life between May and July 1999, the span of the bloody outbreak between the nations. And despite the devastating war itself, Gunjan Saxena happens to be one amongst those many Air Force pilots that are celebrated till date.

But the movie became a case of film-making gone wrong. Gunjan Saxena happened to be the first female combat aviators, gun blazing at the core of the Kargil war. But while you are enjoying the movie for the purity and sparkle in the protagonist Gunjan, played by Indian actress Jhanvi kapoor- we are lost in the battle between empowerment and misinformation.

The plot revolves around a young girl who is fascinated by planes and her only wish you ask? It is to become a pilot. Born into a family of fighters, a supportive and progressive Army-officer father, sarcasm-adorned & protective mother and an over-possessive older brother who joins the armed forces too, Gunjan stops at nothing. And thanks to her father Anup Saxena, played by Actor Pankaj Tripathi who is a cheerleader for his daughter.

Such pure and meaningful bonds are portrayed with grace and thoughtfulness. But the filmmakers lost the essence of the script and tried too hard to push the impression of woman empowerment. To do so, the creators have hurt the sentiments of the Indian Air Force or the IAF.

A still from the movie ‘Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl’ | Photo Credit: Telegraph India

The movie depicts the Air Force officers during the 1990s to be ruthless and disrespectful towards women. In one of the scenes in the movie, Gunjan arrives late for her flight training due to no availability of changing rooms or toilets for women within the academy. After all, she is claimed to be the first woman pilot in combat. The movie indicates the academy to be least concerned about her needs and privacy. Instead we see the superior officer humiliate her for being late and presenting such a petty reason for missing her training in front of a her male-counterparts. To this, the IAF gave an unpleasant nod and were instantly ticked off.

Air Marshal Dhiraj Kukreja, a Retired Air Officer Commanding in Chief of Training Command that happen to have trained the first batch of women pilots in the transport stream during 1994 was just angry and spoke to ShethepeopleTv, “Definitely there were teething problems. Ladies have been in the Air Force earlier as doctors, who hardly used to come to the flying section. If they did come, we didn’t have to prepare special facilities for them in terms of toilets, changing rooms etc.”

Ex-officer Kukreja also openly discussed that the Air Force ensured changing rooms and toilets for women. This was where the segregation ended. The remaining, be it training, crew room or mingling in class. No discrimination prevailed.

Left Srividya Rajan, Right Gunjan Saxena | Photo Credit: India Times

The beauty of biopics is to be liberal in presenting the dirtiest of truths yet safe-guarding what is personal. But dodging the truth is equivalent to promoting a propaganda.

Times were certainly tough back then and it was more essential to bring the truth to the audience. When individuals in power spoke, Srividya Rajan broke her silence too.

It was not just Gunjan Saxena but Srividya Rajan was very much present during the Kargil war and was one amongst the first female aviators of the 1990s. She became a name forgotten amidst the agenda of promoting Gunjan Saxena. Rajan even flew missions way before Gunjan even arrived to the war zone.

Rajan criticised the film at its entirety and stated, ‘Gunjan was neither the first woman to be posted to the Udhampur helicopter base nor the first woman to fly during the Kargil battle of 1999.’

In an interview with Scroll.in, Rajan spoke her heart, “Both of us were posted to Udhampur in 1996 but in the movie, it was shown that she was the only lady pilot posted at the unit,” Rajan wrote in a Facebook post. “Since the two of us were the first lady pilots to be posted to that helicopter unit, we were skeptical about our acceptance in the male-dominated niche area of flying.”

Photo Credit: BBC

Though the women pilots were received by prejudices and preconceived notions, there were many other officers that were mature and supported them thoroughly. The movie flipped the character of all the male officials and portrayed them to be chauvinistic. Rajan even went on to mention that the filmmakers have twisted the facts in the movie.

“However, there were enough officers to support us. We were under strict scrutiny and certain mistakes of ours were met with corrective actions which may have been overlooked had it been done by our male counterparts. We had to work harder than our counterparts to prove ourselves to be at par with them. Some were not happy to share the professional space with us, but the majority accepted and treated us as fellow officers working towards a common goal.”

One of the scene that received lot of praise by the audience seems to upset the Air Force was within the academy classroom when Gunjan’s senior officer mentions to her, “Tum Kamzor ho” (you are weak) and that weakness has no place in the Defence. Ex-officer Kukreja argued that every cadet is selected through a service selection that requires to meet minimum standards of physical fitness, psychological examination and mental toughness. Followed by a year-long training at the Air Force Academy and he claims that any pilot can have an emotional and mental breakdown, it is not subjected to gender.

Photo Credit: Indian Express

What is the takeaway from this movie is that filmmakers who take the oath of creating a blockbuster must not stop at that. The plot of the story must be honest and truthful. Gunjan Saxena : The Kargil Girl had so much potential that got wasted on the grounds of misinformation.

The story would’ve reached and inspired many little kids out there if the movie was pure towards depicting Gunjan Saxena as a strong, independent woman who broke the shackles of the society that merely desired women to remain under the shadows of men. She could’ve been the face of those many women out there, aching to change the imagery of women within the Army. Instead, Gunjan Saxena : The Kargil Girl suffers the punishment for masking the reality.

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