Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl Hindi Movie Review
Writer Nikhil Mehrotra and writer-director Sharan Sharma team up to tell this awe-inspiring story of an IAF pilot with gumption in "Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl". This is a movie that marries its big, bold ideas with action that defines character. The film is based on the life of Gunjan Saxena, an IAF pilot who played a big part in the 1999 Kargil War.
The movie starts with the image of many Indian soldiers trudging along the Kargil Valley. A few of the soldiers are shot by the enemy, and this entails the introduction of our leading girl, Jhanvi Kapoor's Saxena who is called on to the scene. Then, we are cut back to the early days of Gunjan (Riva Arora) and her brother Anshuman Saxena (Aaryan Arora).
A young Gunjan tells her brother that she wants to sit next to the window seat of a flight to see the clouds, but he turns a deaf ear to her plea. A while later, she says she wants to be a pilot, and her brother teases by saying that girls do not become one. Soon, we realize that this is the movie's running theme, of a girl who seeks to free herself off the shackles of society.
The plot takes a more potent turn when Gunjan joins the Air Force following the constant persuasion of her father, Anup Saxena played by Pankaj Tripathi. Gunjan's brother, a grown-up Anshuman, played by Angad Bedi, keeps prompting her to not join the organisation by warning her of the gender bias in the world outside. It turns out she faces more than just gender discrimination in the IAF. In one harrowing scene, a senior officer in the Indian Air Force forces Gunjan to prove her mettle by beating a male colleague in elbow wrestling. He then declares, "The Army is not for the weak".
I felt so angry at watching it and more such scenes that play out as more of a critique of the IAF. I also felt sad at the state of affairs in this country, where a girl's ambitions are viewed as secondary to a man's and her dignity is questioned time and again. I also considered stopping the movie right midway through and calling my IAF officer friend to know whether there exists gender discrimination in the organization. The IAF, for one, has taken exception to these scenes, stating that they show the organization in poor light. But wait before you judge Mehrotra and Sharma's tale prematurely.
Just go with the flow, for the latter half of this Netflix film set in the Kargil Valley is rip-roaring, to say the least. This is where Gunjan Saxena's bold themes are elevated by kinetic action, where the movie soars both cinematically and metaphorically. Manush Nandan's cinematography makes the tension in the border palpable enough, and it has an authentic feel to it. The Kargil portions may appear straight out of a Hollywood film like Mission: Impossible - Fallout, but the beauty of the action sequences is that these give more insight into Gunjan, the Kargil girl.
For a biopic, Sharan Sharma's film has such an economy of both dialogues and action. We are told and shown only the details that need to be revealed and displayed, which is so rare for a Hindi film based on a real-life story. This prudence is also in the characterization and the dialogues. Take the father-daughter scenes for instance.
In an early scene, Gunjan asks whether her ambition of becoming a pilot is at odds with her patriotism. A calm and demure Tripathy tells his daughter to show sincerity in work, and then, patriotism would automatically follow. There is little cinematic feel in this scene, and Pankaj Tripathy and Janhvi Kapoor perform it with gumption and competence. These qualities are true of the whole movie, which explains why even the somewhat manipulative parts work.