BOTTOM LINE: Attempts To Fly High But Falters Mid-Soar
|Platform: Netflix||Genre: Biopic Drama|
What Is the Story About?
Netflix’s latest direct to digital movie, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, is a dramatised biopic of Indian Air Force combat pilot Gunjan Saxena. The real life Gunjan Saxena made history when she became the first female Indian Air Force officer to fly into live combat zones in the midst of a full blown war, namely, the Kargil War of 1999.
Gunjan Saxena, made under the banner of Dharma Productions, and directed by debutant Sharan Sharma, focuses on the period in Gunjan Saxena’s (Jahnvi Kapoor) life between 1984 to 1999. It chronicles her journey from being little Gunju for her parents, to Flight Lieutenant Gunjan Saxena ‘The Kargil Girl’ for the world. It captures, in stark and unadorned detail, the blatantly discriminatory and misogynistic hurdles she had to surmount, both at home and outside, before she could take the defining flight to history.
Jahnvi Kapoor is well cast in the role of Gunjan Saxena. Her wide-eyed innocent look perfectly compliments the bewilderment that is writ large on her face when she first faces the overt misogyny prevalent in the armed forces. Her lack of filmy artifice makes it entirely believable when she scores small, hard-won victories, and exults in them – like swinging across on a rope and making it to the other side. Jahnvi Kapoor has put in a commendable performance as Gunjan Saxena. If there is one thing it lacks, it is a bit of fire and feistiness, akin to her mom’s – something that’ll come maybe, as she gains in experience.
Pankaj Tripathi is superbly low-key as Gunjan Saxena’s supportive bedrock of a father, retired armyman, Lt. Colonel Anup Saxena. He quietly anchors the show, holding it together with his firm, restrained act. His measured dialogue delivery is in sharp contrast with the over-the-top hamming deployed by screen fathers while delivering life-altering dialogues. His “pinjara tod ke ud” lines may not become as famous as “Ja Simran, jee le apni zindagi”, from another Karan Johar film. But it is as brilliant a performance in its own subtle way.
The rest of the cast is equally good in their brief roles. Vineet Kumar Singh nails the misogyny and meanness perfectly, as Gunjan’s resentful and condescending senior, Fight commander officer Dileep Singh. Manav Vij is good as Commanding officer Gautam Sinha, who mentors Gunjan on her way to becoming a fearless combat pilot. Ayesha Raza Mishra is delightful as Gunjan’s domineering and perpetually vexed mother. However, if there’s one casting we couldn’t agree with, it is of Angad Bedi. He deserves better than the cardboard role he’s been given in Gunjan Saxena. He’s wasted in the part of Gunjan’s sexist though well-meaning elder brother.
The movie begins with a magnificent aerial shot of the combat zone (shot in Georgia) – a breathtakingly beautiful valley surrounded by rolling hills, with a river snaking down its middle. The fragile pristineness is shattered by gunshots and armed conflict that takes place in the verdant greens of the valley. We then get a brief look at Jahnvi Kapoor as Gunjan Saxena, before the narrative shifts into flashback mode.
The first quarter of the movie sets up Gunjan’s dream of flying high into the sky as a little girl. The sequence is highly problematic. No flight attendant in her right mind will allow a kid to enter the cockpit of a flight mid-air. And no commercial pilot steering a plane full of passengers will allow said kid to handle controls. But that’s exactly what happens in Gunjan Saxena. And that’s what sows the seed of ambition to fly a plane in little Gunjan.
Of course, that is easier said than done, especially in the Lucknow of the eighties – Gunjan’s hometown. All hell breaks loose when she pronounces her wish to be a pilot. Everyone and their uncle has an opinion and a suggestion for the Saxena family, mostly along the lines of, “don’t give so much leeway to girls”.
Her mother wishes only for Gunjan to settle down – a euphemism for getting married, having babies and enjoying domestic bliss. Even big brother Anshuman thinks girls cannot fly planes — they can only be flight attendants at the most.
It is heartwarming, then, to behold Gunjan being spurred on by an uber-supportive father. Pankaj Tripathi’s father is what every young girl with stars in her eyes deserves in our country, but few are lucky enough to get. In a blink-and-miss moment, it is invigorating when Papa Saxena tells Gunjan that she will make her parents proud, and then adds ‘tum dono’, to include big brother Anshuman Saxena in the praise — more as an afterthought. The tiny scene speaks volumes, and is a welcome role reversal of sorts.
Home hurdles shrugged off, Gunjan faces greater obstacles next – first to be accepted as a trainee in the Indian Air Force; and then the crushing misogyny in the first base she’s assigned to – Udhampur. These are the best scenes in the movie by far. It is a rousing portrayal of what she has to face to hold her own in a base full of male officers — colleagues are wary of going on sorties with her, ‘lest she start crying in the cockpit’. Seniors look upon her with condescension. And juniors don’t want to salute her. All of it, only coz she is what she is – a woman. Several scenes move and inspire – when she fashions a makeshift changing room for herself so that she doesn’t miss her sorties all because of a lack of changing room to change into her overalls; when Dileep Singh belittles her after an exaggerated arm-wrestling sequence, and she gives an impassioned reply to it several minutes later. These, and several others make this the best portion of the movie.
The final quarter, the live combat sequences, which should have been the crowning glory of the film, is curiously unimpressive. It lacks the flourish needed to take a movie from being an also-ran to a memorable cinematic experience. It is an outright disappointment, in fact. It is also executed in a distinctly hurried manner. The dangerous mission is over and done with, before the gravity of the situation begins to even sink in.
All said and done, Gunjan Saxena is a movie that takes off well but loses steam midway.
Music and Other Departments?
The music of Gunjan Saxena, by Amit Trivedi, is pleasing to the ear, but average, when you consider his past body of work. It falls far short of memorable. The cinematography by Manush Nandan is stunning. It transforms an average movie into a grand one, albeit merely in looks.
The production values are above average. Not as lavish as Dharma Productions movies are wont to be, but good, nevertheless.
Pankaj Tripathi’s performance
Several uplifting sequences
Simplistic narration of a decidedly significant story
Did I Enjoy It?
Yes, though some parts could’ve been better
Will You Recommend It?
Yes, as a one-time watch
Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl Review by Binged Bureau
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