Dreams Of Flying:
A little girl is given a brief glimpse of an airplane cockpit, and grows up with a passion for flying. For a girl from a middle-class family, it is an unusual career choice—who ever heard of a female pilot her brother says, girls can only be stewardesses– which is why Gunjan Saxena’s story has a simple message wrapped in it—nothing can (or should) come in the way of a dream.
Gunjan (Janhvi Kapoor) has an extraordinarily supportive father (Pankaj Tripathi), who punishes her brother when he makes fun of his sister’s aspiration, and later, stands up to his wife (Ayesha Raza Mishra), and son (Angad Bedi), when they try to ground her.
Sharan Sharma has made a somewhat sanitized, but mostly effective film, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, about a real-life heroine. She was one of the first women to join the Indian Air Force, and be sent on active duty during the Kargil War in 1999.
Predictably, the most interesting section is the one in which she has to put up with the rampant misogyny of her male colleagues when she is posted to Udampur. From men refusing to salute her to avoiding going on sorties with her, they give her a tough time. There is also the problem of the lack of female toilets and changing rooms in the predominantly male territory. It does seem unlikely that the real Gunjan did not have put up with worse sexual harassment, than just having to listen to Choli ke peechhay kind of songs blaring from the bar, but the film keeps the ugliness out. Fed-up of being taunted for “weakness,” she says, “I have fly a plane, not carry it!”
She gives up and goes home, willing to “settle down” like her friend who abandoned her failed acting career in Mumbai. The scene that follows, with her father berating her for accepting defeat is the most powerful, and well written in the film.
It is already known, that Gunjan Saxena excelled at her work and was awarded a Shaurya Chakra. She and the other pioneering female IAF pilots made it possible for more women to fly, and hopefully get better treatment.
The film avoids the mandatory romantic track, which audiences expect from a film that is released in the theatres. On a streaming platform, thankfully, it is possible to drop some mainstream crowd pleasing tricks. The father is such a positive force in Gunjan’s life, and Pankaj Tripathi plays him with endearing warmth; one wonders why the mother is portrayed as such a backward dimwit. Janhvi Kapoor looks enthusiastic and does the conventional scenes of anger and hurt well, but where nuance is required—stress, fear, doubt—she falters.
Gunjan Saxena, is a watchable film, and inspiring too; what is sad is that a film needs to be made showing an Indian woman having to struggle with such blatant gender discrimination– not the fault of the film, but of a society that needs a lot of growing up to do.