Disclaimer: The following post contains spoilers from Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl.
Plane ladka chalaye ya ladki, dono ko pilot hi bolte hain.
A father gives this advice to his daughter, after she has already been mocked by her brother for dreaming of a position inside the cockpit and not outside of it. And that, in my opinion, forms the crux of Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl.
It's not just a biopic on Flight Lieutenant Gunjan Saxena, though her achievements are certainly impressive enough. But rather, it's a story of a father and daughter, who together, smash through patriarchy to establish that ability and not gender should determine a person's place in the world.
Directed by Sharan Sharma, and starring Janhvi Kapoor in the lead role, here's why the film deserves a watch:
1. Pankaj Tripathi's effortless performance as a progressive father.
Honestly, for me, Pankaj Tripathi is reason enough to watch a film. And with Gunjan Saxena, he proves, yet again, why that's an entirely justifiable reason.
Har kirdaar humse kuch na kuch le jaata hai, magar iss kirdaar se maine kuch liya hai. Ek soch.— पंकज त्रिपाठी (@TripathiiPankaj) August 7, 2020
Dekhiye #GunjanSaxena: The Kargil Girl, premiering August 12, sirf @NetflixIndia pe.@DharmaMovies @ZeeStudios_ @apoorvamehta18 #Janhvi @Imangadbedi @vineetkumar_s @manavvij786 @R pic.twitter.com/N4CtI5KMtB
Through his role, Pankaj Tripathi joins the league of 'reel fathers' who stepped up to carve an equal world for their daughter, even when society consistently enabled an imbalance of power.
He truly is the wing beneath Gunjan's wings, fuelling the fire of her ambitions, fighting against society, and even his own family, to give flight to her dreams.
However, apart from his interactions with his daughter, the moments that stand out are where he calls out his son's patriarchal beliefs that to 'protect' women means clipping their wings.
2. A gripping tale of courage, feminism, and determination.
The time the film is set in, women were relegated to fixed roles, and rarely, if ever, was a woman 'allowed' to break the norm. And yet, Gunjan Saxena defied the norms and carved a space for herself in a field that, at the time, was notorious for being 'male-dominated'.
Despite the acute physical challenges and casual sexism that she encountered, Gunjan proved her ability as a pilot to the extent that she was charged with leading recce and rescue missions in the Kargil War - becoming the first woman IAF officer to go to war.
3. A glimpse into the sacrifice of army families.
The film offers small but significant moments that allow the audience to catch a glimpse of the sacrifice that army families undertake, by sending their loved ones to fight for the country - even if it means living with the constant fear that they may be killed in action.
4. A flawed, albeit honest and relatable sibling relationship, that gives a glimpse into how patriarchy's insidious effects.
What films like Thappad and Gunjan Saxena get right about patriarchy is that it's never just about the obvious mistreatment of women, but also about the obscure ways in which women are put down.
In this instance, Gunan's brother genuinely, without any malicious intent, believes that he is protecting his sister by not allowing her to venture into IAF.
Despite being brought up by a progressive father, he never registers the fact that he has no right to 'allow' or disallow his sister. It's a clever way of questioning the skewed power dynamics that exist in our society, and the influence that a patriarchal society can have on an individual.
Movies have often painted brothers as 'saviors' of their sister, and most people fail to see the flaw in this ideology. Thus, Gunjan Saxena deserves all the credit for showcasing both, what sibling relationships look like, and what they ideally should be like.
5. An able supporting cast.
Even though Jahnvi Kapoor's performance shows a marked improvement from her first film, co-actors Manav Vij and Vineet Kumar Singh tower over her.
Manav Vij, who has a series of impressive performances under his belt, nails the role of a fair but tough-as-nails commanding officer. Vineet Kumar Singh, who has been earning a loyal fan base since GoW, once again proves his mettle as the perceived 'antagonist'.
Gunjan Saxena is not a perfect or pathbreaking film. However, even when it sticks to cliches, a pleasing background score and honest performances elevate the story that seems to have been tailor-made for the silver screen.
After all, Gunjan Saxena took to the skies at a time when women were expected to do little more than 'settle down'. And, in doing so, she smashed through the glass ceiling to show that for women chasing their dreams, only the sky is the limit. For that reason alone, the film deserves a watch.
All images provided by Netflix, unless specified otherwise.