On Thursday, India is celebrating its 89th Air Force Day 2020, which marks the day the IAF was established in 1932. On this occasion, let's look at how a film inspired by Air Force woman pilot Gunjan Saxena landed itself hot water.
Jhanvi Kapoor's film 'Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl', which released on August 12, drew mixed reactions from the movie enthusiasts, with some appreciating the movie for the deliverance, while some disappointed with the outcome.
Bankrolled by Karan Johar's Dharma Productions. the film was directed by Sharan Sharma and also starred Pankaj Triptahi, Vineet Kumar Singh, Angad Bedi, and Manav Vij in pivotal roles.
The film based on Air Force woman pilot Gunjan Saxena, however, received criticism from the Indian Air Force and its former officers for the gender bias portrayed in the film.
Apart from the emotion, patriotic spirit and drama, the one thing that was highlighted in the narrative of the movie was how casual sexism can play a big role in chipping one's dream, and fuel the whole gender divide.
On the day of its release on Netflix, the Indian Air Force (IAF) had written to the Central Board of Film Certification complaining against its 'undue negative portrayal' in the movie.
The Air Force in its letter to the censor board, Netflix and Dharma Productions, had stated that as per initial understanding, "Dharma Productions had agreed to represent Indian Air Force (IAF) with authenticity and make all efforts to ensure that the film helps to inspire the next generation of IAF officers. "
However, when the trailer of the movie was released recently, it was observed that "certain scenes and dialogues in the movie and its trailer, which was forwarded to this office for viewing, have been found to portray the IAF in an undue negative light."
The letter written by the IAF and accessed by ANI, read "In the aim to glorify the screen character of 'Ex-Fit Lt Gunjan Saxena', M/s Dharma Productions presented some situations that are misleading and portray an inappropriate work culture especially against women in the IAF."
Just a day after the Indian Air Force (IAF) raised objection over the presentation of gender bias in the film, 'Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl', former IAF pilot Gunjan Saxena, on whose life the film was based, had opened up about her experience at the Air Force as compared to what had been portrayed in the commercial film. She said she had the support of fellow officers, supervisors, and commanding officers.
When IANS asked Saxena how she perceived all such sequences, she had said: "Indian Air Force is at the core and the heart of this film. It is the very training of the Indian Air Force and the strong ethos of the Indian Air Force, which really gave me the courage to do all those extraordinary things that I could. And not only me, I think it is the strong values and rich culture of the air force that is really the driving force behind all the women officers from all the different branches of the Indian Air Force who have served or are still serving in this organisation."
"Yes, as a commercial movie or as a work of fiction, this film has creatively tried to capture my story or my journey. But what cannot be denied is that even in this film the doors did open and opportunities were given," added Saxena.
After Gunjan Saxena's statement, National Commission of Women (NCW) chairperson Rekha Sharma had asked the makers of the biopic to discontinue its screening.
"If that is so, the film maker must apologize and discontinue the screening. Why showing something which is portraying our own forces in bad light specially when it's not true," Sharma said in a tweet.
Amid the controversy, Retired Wing Commander Namrita Chandi, who served in the IAF with Gunjan Saxena, had penned down an open letter criticizing the film.
Namrita Chandi, in an open letter published on Outlook, wrote: "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 had 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 had called the film 'monstrous'.
Namrita Chandi had also given 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."
Ashok Chhibbar, former Deputy Commandant of IAF Academy had also slammed the film and tweeted, "#GunjanSaxenaTheKargilGirl What a pack of lies! The film does disservice to the Indian Air Force and even more to Gunjan Saxena and other women officers. As Dy Comdt of AFA I have trained the young ladies with no gender bias. Dharma Productions is a blot on the Nation."
After Chandi, another former colleague of Saxena, Sreevidya Rajan had raised questions on the biopic.
In an elaborate Facebook post, Rajan who served as a helicopter pilot in the IAF back in 1999 during the Kargil War, 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 skeptical 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.”
She had also said 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.
After Retired Wing Commander Namrita Chandi and Flight Lieutenant Srividya Rajan, Retired Air Officer Commanding in Chief of Training Command, Air Marshal Dhiraj Kukreja had said that the dialogues in the film were offensive and no one would use such language in the Air Force.
In an exclusive interview with shethepeople, Air Marshal Dhiraj Kukrea, who has trained the batch of women pilots at Yelahanka Air Force base in 1994, said that there was no discrimination between men and women. He said that the movie which was supposed to be an inspiration to girls to join IAF was now planting a seed of doubt as "they may think that girls have to go through such kind of training or face such kind of humiliation."
Speaking about the dialogues in the film's trailer, he said, "So there was no cultural difference to worry about. The men, being from different strata of society, as compared to the officers, were so well adjusted, that there was never ever a complaint from either a lady officer that ‘so and so is not listening to me or obeying my instructions’ or from an airman, who turned around and said, ‘kar lo kya karte ho, main nahi karunga.’ There was never an incident like this, not just in Yelahanka or when I took over as the Commandant of the Air Force Academy."
(With inputs from Agencies)