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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl Movie Review – Flying Dreams Soar Above Patriarchy

Netflix is set to release Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, directed by Sharan Sharma, which streams on the service on August 12, 2020.

Inspired by true events, the film takes you on Gunjan Saxena’s journey through family, dreams and determination, as she became India’s first female Air Force officer to fly in a combat zone during the 1999 Kargil War.

Capturing the essence of her life, the biographical case is an ode to her dedication towards achieving her dreams.

The film promises to present the life of Saxena (played by Janhvi Kapoor), who stood up against all odds and emerged victorious with her unparalleled courage and sheer determination. 

It showcases the story of all the obstacles that she had to face through the course of her journey – be it going against the will of her brother (played by Angad Bedi) serving in the army or facing discrimination from her peers, to the challenges of the battlefield. 

The theme of patriarchy is pretty much prevalent throughout the film and is addressed a lot too, in a balanced and subtle manner.

Scenes of Gunjan’s male colleagues dancing to ‘Choli Ke Peeche’, ostracising and depriving her of opportunity due to the fragile egos are quite eye-opening and thought-provoking.

At the same time, we also get to witness a heartwarming father-daughter narrative, in which the paternal figure motivates her to live her dreams and break free from the regressive expectations of society.

Gunjan Saxena‘s story is iconic and quite novel for Hindi cinema. However, the overall execution is not as impressive.

Majority of the film spends good time in building up Saxena’s dream and her challenges in fulfilling them.

From the extensive training to setbacks, that initial aspect is covered well and at that point, it prepared us as viewers to take us on Gunjan’s journey.

We on many occasions witness her excitement and joy for flying, but not once do we get to understand her inner insecurities, fears or apprehensions.

Instead of the misogynistic men being her hurdles, one would’ve preferred to see her complexities and how she overcame that.

Even though it has a war backdrop, the movie attempts to show ‘The Kargil Girl’… But not enough to justify this title.

As such, the main crux of the film (which is the 1999 Kargil War portion), is rushed and shows a very minimal display of her warfare abilities.

In the credits, we get to know about so many fantastic achievements of the real hero but yet a movie – which is dedicated to her – highlights very few of these.

Without indulging in the ‘conflict’ of two neighbouring countries, the movie could’ve quite easily exhibited Gunjan’s grit and bravery during the battle.

This would’ve not honoured her accomplishments, but it would’ve made her journey more wholesome in which we as viewers would’ve been able to resonate with.

The issue is that the film ends at its most crucial part.

Janhvi Kapoor essays the role at hand well. She portrays the starry-eyed, innocent and flight ambitious girl too convincingly.

Since the film shows that the air force career was the last resort to fulfil her ambitions, Kapoor lives up to this character graph well.

But by the time her character becomes stronger, the movies concludes and we do not get to observe her gradual valour. Nonetheless, there is definitely a spark in Janhvi.

Also, perhaps Hindi cinema should not whitewash the achievements of courageous and path-breaking women just to meet the criteria of making ‘female-centric’ cinema.

Cinema is a great platform to exhibit such fantastic, lesser-known triumphs that can be enjoyed in posterity (like Mother India). Let’s hope these precious opportunities are used well, henceforth.

Pankaj Tripathi, as always, a phenomenal actor. He immerses himself in every role he undertakes and that eventually captures our attention.

Seeing him as the supportive and forward-thinking father is just so endearing. The way he optimistically stands by his daughter is exemplary. Tripathi’s performance definitely stands out and how. 

Angad Bedi is a very capable actor who has always impressed us with his work.

However, in this movie, he gets very minute ability and again that is due to the one-dimensional writing of his character.

Playing the brother of Gunjan, we see him simply expressing chauvinistic views and scepticism over his sister’s success story.

Surely, there must’ve been many more emotions that could’ve been explored – about his wishes, why was he so unsure of his sister’s dream? 

Viineet Kumar is another incredible artist. He earlier played a supportive coach for the shooter Dadis in Saand Ki Aankh and now we see him as an anti-woman Air Force Officer. 

Only an actor like Viineet can flawlessly essay both contrasting roles and with whatever part he is given, he leaves an impact.

Overall, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl is a film which works in parts.

The representation woman empowerment is great and so is the positive father-daughter relationship.

But it leaves us yearning to get taken on the journey of India’s first female air-force pilot in combat. I feel incomplete but yet proud of ‘The Kargil Girl’.

⭐⭐⭐ (3/5 stars)

Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl streams on Netflix on 12th August.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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