It’s really difficult to be a woman, in a man’s world. Recently I read an account of a female leader in an MNC where she had described in detail, how in order to shatter the glass ceiling, she had to ‘man up’. See, even the terms of equality are also defined in the man’s way. Feminism or not, there is still a sharp difference between the way men are treated at the workplace, in comparison to the women. If women struggle more at work, it’s because of the men. Men cannot see them as equal thus any woman scaling the top in the ranks worries them. If things are a tad better now, just think about the time twenty years ago! The Indian Air Force pilot, Gunjan Saxena had to overcome several hurdles to become the only woman pilot to have served in the 1999 Kargil War. This is her story and perhaps an eye-opener to several other girls there, who dream of the impossible.

Though it’s a film set during the events of 1999 Kargil War, the film primarily focusses on the problems that women have to face every day at the workplace. In a little ode to the ‘Hidden Figures’ (2016), Gunjan misses out a number of sorties due to lack of a female changing room at the base and the lack of apathy about it from a fellow officer. Even if she makes it up with her ingenuity, the snubbing from her colleagues makes it more difficult for her. In an eventful day, when she’s about to lead the briefing for a mission, in a very distasteful way, she’s reminded of her weakness, of being a woman. If one tries to co-relate this with the everyday apathy that women face at the workplace, everything just falls in place. Gunjan’s true test of character begins at the Udhampur base. The only female pilot, among several other male pilots, she realises that there’s a certain air of discomfort around her. A toxic masculinity breeding among other colleagues of her, powered by one of the leaders, forces Gunjan on the backfoot. Without offending the IAF, in a rather subtle way, the director, writer Sharan Sharma and co-writer Nikhil Mehrotra show the audience how the women struggle every day reaching to the bar of success, which’s keeps on raising, in an unfair way.

If the film highlights the struggles that Gunjan had to face during her tenure, it also focuses on the men, who help Gunjan achieve her dreams. Gunjan’s father, played by a fantastic Pankaj Tripathi, becomes her rock of Gibraltar. In a particularly moving scene, when Gunjan talks about leaving the IAF due to her ever-growing dissent, her father explains to her why women haven’t been able to be successful as men, using the kitchen as an allegory. At the IAF, one of her top-ranking officers realises that Gunjan is faring badly in the mission due to the lack of opportunities and not due to her inability. He takes it upon himself to train her and takes her through one of the most gruelling sortie sessions. A determined Gunjan makes the most of it as she soars through her training. Here, one must observe that it’s the lack of chances which enforces failure on the women and not the ‘so-called’ weaknesses that a patriarchal society wants to portray.

Janhvi Kapoor makes her character believable, through her earnest performance. Pankaj Tripathi is one of the best actors that we have today and he proves it again. In one particular scene, during a conversation between his son and himself, over a drink, he realises that his son is also the part of the mindset that he’s trying to fight through. The way he tackles it is a scene to be observed. His scenes with Janhvi are the best of the lot, especially the one when he gives his daughter actor Rekha’s example to lose weight. Angad Bedi as Gunjan’s brother Anshu does well. He plays the brother who feels that he means well for his sister, whereas in reality, he’s also part of the problem. Vineet Singh and Manav Vij play the two commanding officer under whose tutelage Gunjan works in IAF. Two officers of different mindset towards women, both actors perform admirably. The highlights of the film are the aerial shots as Gunjan trains and later in action, shot by Manush Nandan. Nitin Baid’s razor-sharp editing keeps the film crisp, at runtime of under 2 hours. Amit Trivedi’s music is soulful with ‘Bharat Ki Beti’ being the pick among the tracks, sung by Arijit Singh.

Watch ‘Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl’ for its unique take on feminism. A must watch for times like these. Now streaming on Netflix worldwide. Running time = 1 hours 52 minutes, Parental Guidance = Universal for family viewing.


The Cinemawala Rating: 3/5

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