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Gunjan Saxena review: Janhvi Kapoor shines in this inspiring biopic

Release Date: 12 Aug 2020 / Rated: U / 01hr 52min


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Suyog Zore

Writer-director Sharan Sharma shows us, without melodrama, Gunjan Saxena's struggle as she combats the misogynistic and patriarchal mindset in the military.

The story of Gunjan Saxena, who made history by becoming the first Indian woman air force pilot to fly into a combat zone during the Kargil war in 1999 at the age of 24, is an inspiring one.

It is the story of an underdog who took on the system and proved her worth. It has all the ingredients needed to be turned into an inspiring biopic.

Filmmaker Sharan Sharma understood this well and has delivered a realistic biopic that also works as a gripping drama.

Sharma, who has written the film with Nikhil Mehrotra, takes a simple approach as he chronicles Gunjan's journey from her early days, when she wanted to become a commercial pilot, to her struggle to enter the Indian Air Force (IAF) and, later, her encounters with sexism and misogyny in the force. She has to work twice as hard as her male counterparts who still ridicule her.

The film is divided into three stages of Gunjan's life — her initial struggle to become a pilot, her training at an airbase, and her heroic efforts in the Kargil war. All three stages have different tones.

The second stage, which begins after Gunjan is recruited in the air force and joins the Udhampur air base, makes the most impact. This is where Gunjan has to confront some fundamental problems, from the lack of a separate toilet and changing room for women to the constant sexist treatment meted out by colleagues and seniors.

There are many roadblocks in Gunjan's path. Her male chauvinistic senior, played brilliantly by Viineet Kumar, is just one of them. Vineet Kumar, whose role is credited as an extended cameo, has some important scenes in the film. In one, he asks Kapoor’s Gunjan to arm-wrestle a male cadet, then declares, “We are here to fight for the country, not to give equal opportunity”, attempting to justify his behaviour.

Another such character is Angad Bedi’s Anshuman, Saxena’s overprotective brother. Though he is not openly sexist, he constantly undermines his sister and keeps telling her the air force is no place for a woman. Though he claims he cares for Gunjan deeply, the film never gives you a clear idea about his intentions.

Not all the men are misogynists, though. There are at least two who help Gunjan achieve her dream — her doting and supportive father Anup Saxena (Pankaj Tripathi) and her commanding officer (Manav Vij), who is strict but one of the rare men on the base who puts credibility over gender.

It's so good to see Pankaj Tripathi play a positive character. He portrays the father with a lot of restraint and brings the required depth to the character.  He helps Gunjan work towards her dream of becoming a pilot from a young age and realize it. The little touches, like Tripathi's pregnant pauses, make the scenes that much more powerful.

Janhvi Kapoor has improved remarkably from her debut film Dhadak (2018). She delivers a nuanced performance here. From exuberant teenager to strong-minded assertive young woman, Kapoor portrays beautifully the gradual progression of her character.

Another aspect of the film that is impressive is the way the director has treated the parts involving the conflict with Pakistan, which is the reason for the film's existence. Sharma does not give in to the temptation to make it overtly nationalistic. There are no dramatic speeches about patriotism. Sharma keeps his focus throughout on the underdog drama in the backdrop of a war.

In fact, in one scene, a worried Gunjan asks her father whether she is suited to become an air force pilot because her desire to join the IAF does not stem from patriotism. It is simply the logical outcome of her desire to be a pilot. And Anup Saxena, a retired military man himself, tells her that what matters is how passionate she is towards her job. Because the better she is at it, the better she will serve the country.

Netflix is now streaming Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl

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