Janhvi Kapoor’s latest release ‘Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl’ seems to have a series of obstacles to overcome besides meeting the likeness of its audience.
After Retired Wing Commander Namrita Chandi, who served in the IAF with Saxena slammed the movie and its makers, another former colleague Sreevidya Rajan has raised questions on the biopic.
The movie is based on the life of IAF officer Gunjan Saxena who reportedly became the first woman pilot to take part in the 1999 Kargil war. It has been produced by Karan Johar's Dharma Productions.
Rajan served as a helicopter pilot in the IAF back in 1999 during the Kargil War.
In an elaborate Facebook post, Rajan said that she was also a lady officer who was posted along with Saxena at Udhampur, and that both have gone through their share of ups and downs in their journey at the Indian Air Force.
Rajan said, “Both of us were posted to Udhampur in 1996 but in the movie, it was shown that she was the only lady pilot posted at the unit. Since the two of us were the first lady pilots to be posted to that helicopter unit, we were sceptical about our acceptance in the male-dominated niche area of flying. We were received with the usual preconceived notions and prejudices from a few colleagues. However, there were enough officers to support us. We were under strict scrutiny and certain mistakes of ours were met with corrective actions which may have been overlooked had it been done by our male counterparts. We had to work harder than our counterparts to prove ourselves to be at par with them. Some were not happy to share the professional space with us but the majority accepted and treated us as fellow officers working towards a common goal.”
Rajan went on to add that the portrayal of Saxena in the film is factually incorrect because she was the first woman pilot, who flew on missions during the Kargil War, even before Gunjan arrived at Srinagar.
She said, “In the movie, Gunjan Saxena was shown as the only lady pilot to fly in Kargil operations. This is factually incorrect. We were posted together to Udhampur and when the Kargil conflict started, I was the first woman pilot to be sent along with the male counterparts in the first detachment of our unit which deployed at Srinagar. I flew missions in the conflict area even before Gunjan's arrival at Srinagar. After a few days of operation, Gunjan Saxena came to Srinagar with the next set of crew. We actively participated in all operations given to us which included casualty evacuation, supply drop, communication sorties, SAR, etc. The heroic acts of the protagonist portrayed in the climax never actually happened and may have been shown as part of cinematic licence.”
Rajan asserted that the filmmakers have distorted the facts to hype the film for publicity. She said that the film sends out a wrong message about lady officers in the IAF. Speaking on why she never claimed being the first pilot before Saxena, Rajan said that it is because of her strong belief in gender equality.
She said, “Gunjan and I were posted together in two stations. Being her coursemate and a good friend, I believe that the filmmakers have twisted the facts given by Gunjan for the sake of publicity. She is a brilliant officer and a thorough professional. She had many achievements during her career which should have been portrayed to inspire the younger generation instead of showing her as a weak and oppressed victim in certain scenes. As the pioneers of women pilots, we were treated with utmost respect and it was our responsibility to live up to the expectations and pave way for future generations. The movie is sending out a wrong message about the lady officers of IAF there by demeaning the prestigious organisation of our country.
“I only wish that since it is a Biopic, Gunjan should have made sure to show the facts and portray IAF in a positive light before giving her approval to air the movie. Though I was the first lady pilot to fly in Kargil, I never claimed it in any forum before this due to my strong belief in gender equality. In Kargil operations, male pilots had flown extensively and faced more hardships than us. But they never got or sought any publicity. We probably were given this fame because of our gender which I do not support. In defence services, there is no disparity between male or female. We are all officers in uniform,” she added.
Retired Wing Commander Namrita Chandi, who served in the IAF with Gunjan Saxena in an open letter published on Outlook, had written: "I myself served as a helicopter pilot and I have never faced the kind of abuse and maltreatment as was portrayed in the movie. In fact, men in uniform are true gentlemen and professionals."
In her letter, the retired IAF pilot slammed Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions for 'peddling lies' and said that her fellow female officers are 'shocked and saddened' over the portrayal of sexism in the air force. Criticizing the 'penny dreadful' story and screenplay writers, she called the film 'monstrous'.
Namrita Chandi also gave a stern advice to actress Janhvi Kapoor and concluded the letter by saying, "Poor Jahnavi Kapoor, she must have come away with a poor and pathetic impression of us women. Lady, let me advice you, please, never again do a film of this kind if you are a proud Indian woman. Stop showcasing Indian professional women and men in such poor light."
Earlier, The IAF wrote a letter to the Censor Board objecting to its "undue negative" portrayal in the movie. The movie was released on streaming platform Netflix on August 12.
According to the official, the letter mentions "concerns related to the movie's portrayal of gender bias as an institutional work culture" at the IAF.
Commenting on the letter by IAF, Gunjan said, "Whenever you are in any kind of environment, there are different kinds of individuals that make up that environment so when there is a major change happening, some of these individuals are ready to accept this change more readily than the others and some take more time to adjust to this change. What is really of importance here is - even though it took time for some individuals to change, those individuals did change, it did happen and in a very positive and right direction."
Saxena also clarified that officers in the IAF never differentiated between male and female trainees.
"Even when we started the flying training, the first lesson that was given to us as lady cadets or trainees was that the aircraft doesn't know and doesn't differentiate whether the person flying it is a male or a female. So the instructors told us that they are not going to differentiate whether it is a lady trainee or a male trainee and they are going to give us the same level of training and will also set the same standards for us and I think that is the reason that when I was performing any of my sorties, I was performing equally well," she said.