Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl is a newly released Bollywood drama focusing on the real-life story of Gunjan Saxena. Saxena is the first female pilot of India to fly during combat for the Indian Air Force. The movie has received a lot of criticism due to the casting of the lead actress: Janhvi Kapoor and its portrayal of the IAF. It’s Imdb reviews stand at 5.3 and the general reception for the movie doesn’t seem too good.
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LET ME BE CLEAR, I AGREE.
I agree that the lead actress lacks the vigor and depth demanded by the character. I agree that the portrayal of IAF could easily have been exaggerated and I also agree that the movie undermines nationalist sentiments. All these are 100% true and I completely understand that you may feel that way.
BUT, AND IT’S A BIG BUT
You cannot judge a movie solely based on the performance of a single actor. Yes, it’s true that a lousy lead can ruin a movie but I don’t think that’s the case here. While Janhvi lags behind in her acting skills, they are nowhere enough to ruin the entire movie. I think the prejudice comes from the Sushant Singh controversy and not just Janhvi’s performance as an actor. If you were to look objectively, you’d find that Janhvi could have been better, but isn’t THAT bad either.
Does the movie undermine nationalist sentiments? Yes. Is nationalism the core of idea of the movie? NO. The movie is about how a woman struggles to take on a traditionally “male job” in Indian society. It’s a simple story about the dreams of a girl, not a bizarre manifesto on the glory of India. You cannot rate a movie based on the lack of a sentiment that is completely irrelevant to what its plot intends to show.
SO, WHAT IS THE POINT OF THE MOVIE?
The movie primarily focuses on two things: patriarchy and how it affects people, and society’s suppression of people’s dream.
The movie makes a firm stand on patriarchy. The story revolves around the innumerable struggles Gunjan faces that she never should have faced simply because she was a girl. You see her brother bashing her aspiration and ability right from the beginning. Her brother finally accepting her for what she can accomplish at the end leaves an impact the movie clearly wishes to make.
At the IAF too she faces insurmountable difficulties just because she isn’t a guy. At the climax, the entire nation expects people to “protect” her. She is continuously told by men around her that she is “out of place” so to say. This is uniquely shown in the movie (and in Saxena’s life) because to an outsider’s eye, she has all the rights she should have. She had the chance to enter the air force, to study, she had every conventional opportunity. But simply having rights isn’t enough to abolish women suppression. Until and unless there is societal acceptance, patriarchy will persist, no matter the addition in opportunities. The movie does a great job of showing us that. The ending is a series of applause by her male counterpart— a symbol that she has beaten the system.
Dare to dream, and respect dreamers
Gunjan’s family, Gunjan’s friends, Gunjan’s relatives, everyone tells her that she can’t achieve her dreams. Her mom thinks she should study, her brother makes it a point to show her she can’t be a pilot, her colleagues repeatedly condescend her. He father however, is a stark contrast. He remains supportive of her no matter what.
An important turning point of the movie is the loss of support from Gunjan’s father when she says she wants to settle down. The father has never been upset with her, ever. But when she tries to follow her friends Mannu’s footsteps, her father’s expression for the first time in the movie, is of disappointment. In the brink of giving up, she pushes through.
This depicts an important lesson for both dreamers and people who surround them. The support of Gunjan’s father and the loss of it when she strayed away from her dreams was as important as Gunjan’s perseverance to make her who she became. Dare to dream, and respect dreamers.
The movie is by no means a cinematic marvel. The story could have been more gripping, the acting could have been better and there could be more realism. But in the end, we don’t watch Bollywood for the vigor and splendor in screenplay. We watch Bollywood because of its ability to shows depth in “lame” stories; how small things affect normal people. As the crew applauds Gunjan, we see that even at the face of the entire world standing against her, she has beaten the system. I think the movie does what Bollywood does best: show meaning in simple stories.
Watch Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl on Netflix here.
Read our La casa de Papel review here