Gunjan Saxena The Kargil Girl
Starring Janhvi Kapoor, Pankaj Tripathi, Angad Bedi
Directed by Sharan Sharma
The fierce nepotism debate ends right here. Young Janhvi Kapoor spits that golden spoon out of her (privileged) mouth and throws herself into playing India’s first female airforce pilot with the fierce dedication of a one-armed wrestler hurling the opponent to the ground by dint of sheer dedication.
Throughout this wonderfully articulate and engaging film, Jhanvi’s Gunjan Saxena wrestles with male prejudice. Repeatedly being forced to arm-wrestle a fellow-soldier so that her smirking superior may feel… well…superior! There is quiet determination on those melancholic eyes of Sridevi’s daughter (yes, can’t get any more privileged than that) when she enters a smoky room with men dancing to Choli ke peeche kya hai.
When Janhvi Kapoor has to show her Gunjan Saxena wading obstinately through masculine claims to superiority she does it without self-congratulation.
“You can’t find the ladies toilet because there isn’t one,” the aforementioned smirking superior (played with habitual fluency by Vineet Kumar) tells Gunjan. Her stricken bewildered look reminded me of Octavia Spencer in Hidden Figures, except that there’s nothing hidden about the biases Gunjan encounters in her journey to achieving her dream of flying high.
Some of the gender bias, she finds at home in her over-protective brother (Angad Bedi) who keeps reminding his kid sister that he can’t be around to cover her back all the time. It doesn’t strike him that Gunjan doesn’t need to be looked after.
More than a film about a woman breaking into a male domain, Gunjan Saxena is about the far-ranging ramifications of male entitlement. Of course there is Gunjan’s father to prove every allegation of male prejudice wrong. As played by the brilliant Pankaj Tripathi the father is progressive without trying to be. He trains his daughter into self-sufficient glory. But he also brings up the question of whether woman can make their dreams come true without any male assistance at all.
This goes for the film as well. It makes its point about a girl breaking into a male domain without shattering any glass ceilings. The transformative spirit animates the inner soul of the plot without standing back to be congratulated. The direction by first-timer Sharan Sharma is equanimous and unwilling to forfeit its composure for cheap thrills.
Miraculously the scenes of jets flying across the battle line do not run amok. The CGs are aesthetically done. Manush Nandan’s camera isn’t looking for ways to prettify the frames. The beauty of the scenes lies in the eyes of the beholder, in this case us. I only wish the narrative had avoided those intermittent songs in the background. This film didn’t need them. It creates a world beautiful in its imperfections.
How I missed the applause in a movie theatre when Gunjan Saxena strides across the screen all ready to pilot her destiny into the orbit.