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Gunjan Saxena has a practical take on patriotism, says Sharan Sharma

The first-time filmmaker shared his thoughts on adding equality and nationalism to his features.

Our Correspondent

Ever since its release in August, Sharan Sharma’s biopic Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl (2020) has been in the news for its portrayal of sexism in the armed forces and the journey of the trailblazing titular Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot. The feature, starring Janhvi Kapoor, made a quiet but emphatic statement about gender and patriotism.

The writer-director had a virtual conversation with fellow Netflix filmmakers Neeraj Udhwani, Anvita Dutt and Honey Trehan about filmmaking in the digital age, where they spoke about the challenges they faced in their projects.

Sharma discussed how he presented the male characters in the biopic where each one had their own outlook on life.

“The male characters in the film are different kinds of people with different thoughts, be it the father [played by Pankaj Tripathi] who didn’t see gender as an issue,” the director said. “He had a simple and clear outlook on life for both his children. We had a commanding officer who is this man who stands for fairness. If you are good, you will be rewarded; if you are bad, you will be punished.”

The other two characters in the film, Gunjan’s brother Anshuman (Angad Bedi) and her commanding officer Dileep Singh (Viineet Kumar) represent a different mindset, one that does not believe things should be the same for men and women.

“Coming from the brother’s point of view,” Sharma explained, “I was really drawn into the real story of these two kids who were raised in the same household, in which for the daughter, for Gunjan ma’am, gender was a non-issue. It’s about believing every word her father ingrained in her and living life with those principles.

Angad Bedi (left) and Janhvi Kapoor with Pankaj Tripathi in a scene from the film

“And her brother, because he interacted with his friends [and saw the way] the daughters in other houses were being raised, kind of always somewhere doubted the father’s thoughts, saying 'I think he is being a bit outrageous in his thinking. The real world is not like this',” he continued.

That was why, though the siblings came from the same background and had the same parents, they went on to hold different opinions on gender and ability.

In the conversation, it was pointed out that the drama had an evolved perspective on patriotism, especially seen in the scene where Kapoor’s character speaks of her inner conflict where her love for flying is measured with love for the nation in the air force.

Sharma discussed how that scene came to be, as initially he had imagined more overt scenes of patriotism in the film, in which obvious elements like the Indian flag and the air force uniform were involved. However, when he discussed it with the real Gunjan, she gave him a clearer picture.

“She said, ‘Sharan, just understand. I had a dream of flying. The air force instils in you the idea of duty. You are serving a duty and here our duty is to the country. So the better I am as a pilot, the better I’m going to be in my duty, the better I’m going to be to serve my country',” the director recalled.

Janhvi Kapoor as Gunjan Saxena

This stuck with Sharma and during a meeting with co-writer Nikhil Mehrotra and editor Nitin Baid, they reworked and removed the initial cliched scenes of patriotism. “It is not the only opinion on patriotism, let me put it that way," he explained. "It is one opinion which resonated with Gunjan ma’am, and me and the team that tried to communicate it. I thought it was a very practical take on the importance of loving your country and how you can love your country. Your actions can communicate your love.”

Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl is now being streamed on Netflix. Catch the full conversation featuring Sharma and filmmakers Anvita Dutt, Neeraj Udhwani and Honey Trehan below.

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