A woman fighter in a male-dominated world


Dateline: 1990. Scene: Kargil. Back to the past: Two siblings — young Gunju (Riva Arora) and her brother Anshuman (Aaryan Arora) are on a flight and while the girl wants to be a pilot, her brother decides that she can only fly as an air hostess. The entire two-hour-plus narrative is about a pathological male-dominated Service Force. Good or even reasonable performances sometimes salvage sloppy scripts. Example: Gunjan Saxena.

The mood of the nation (actually, the globe) the flavour of the season, the signatures on the package all help to push the envelope. However, it does not even come close to Neerja. Decades ago, in 1994, Nana Patekar gave us compelling take on the hardships of life in the armed forces. This film does not reflect a minor fraction of the same. Actually, it does not go there and is happy dealing with the problems of a woman fighter.

The script is about a male-dominated world that is constantly grudging a lady’s dream, and this is nauseating. If true, hopelessly time barred. In fact, it borders on a sick mind that simply gets stuck in this mindset of men refusing to accept women (which is substantially true in multiple ways). However, if this is how it all panned out in the Indian Armed Forces, our officers have a lot to explain. Are we not the nation that won a war under a woman Prime Minister and did the political bigwigs of Kargil not name the Lady Durga? That example is not general acceptance of ‘Women Empowerment’ which is still a socio-political mirage in our context.

Celebrating? I thought these roles disappeared with Meena Kumari and Mala Sinha. The narrative tells you that every guy who dons the navy colours is a male chauvinist beyond redemption. To tell the heroics of a national hero which ‘Gunjan Saxena’, beyond doubt, is, you end up watching a pathetic display of gender prejudice.

While there is no denying how as a society we are gender prejudiced, this wobble shows that the script is more about Bollywood than Indian Air Force. The paradox staring is that the celebrated victor is up to “heroics (eeks!)” serendipitously, by desperation, for want of alternatives. Can we wake up Indians? We Mahan Bharatiyas have been told that the Kargil girl was harassed throughout her career by the Armed Forces? That the hour of honour was because the powers-that-be had only her left?

While some in the cast like ever-dependable Pankaj Tripathi and the in-form Angad Bedi are top of the rack, Vineet Kumar Singh is impressive. More than anything, the filmmaker Sharan Sharma ends up selling a decadent Air Force stylised Janhvi Kapoor (Bollywood written all over) than saluting the factual matrix that runs along the closing shots of the film.

Also, somewhere, the script is less a tale of human endurance and more of a chapter from a motivational speaker’s user manual. Gunjan deserved better. Instead, she got Janhvi. Janhvi, the industry prototype, got ‘Gunjan’ perhaps because she is anything but Gunjan.

After all, as a great salute to a lady of brilliance and courage, only Bollywood could have thought of a song which says: ‘Watch Out! She is a firecracker’.

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