Producers: Dharma Productions, Zee Studios
Cast: Janhvi Kapoor, Pankaj Tripathi, Angad Bedi
Written by: Nikhil Mehrotra, Sharan Sharma
The only good thing I see coming out of the present COVID – 19 scenario is that we all have to wear our masks and that includes Gunjan Saxena. It will protect her from answering embarrassing questions about the movie. It’s supposed to be a biopic of a strong willed, independent woman who broke through the glass ceiling again and again to prove to the world that women are equally capable. But what finally turned out for all to see was a total disaster. Instead of inspiring the girls, it created doubts about the regressive mindsets in the Armed Forces. If there was a bigger distortion to how the Armed Forces were depicted in the movies, then this one takes the first place.
I mean what happened? Was the complete censor board affected by COVID and that’s the reason why they didn’t see the movie and some babu cleared it on their behalf? Or were they practicing ‘social distancing’ from the movie and let it loose on the public to suffer? Either ways this movie was under no circumstances worth releasing, in theaters or in any other platform.
From the word go, there were way too many aberrations in every which way. Let’s start from the SSB itself (that’s the Service Selection Board for the uninitiated). The GTOs or the Group Testing Officers who conduct the SSB are hand-picked for their acumen and caliber. They are not some misogynists, screaming and shouting and humiliating the girls gathered there. I till date remember the GTOs I had met during my SSB. They were smart, intelligent, encouraging and perfect gentlemen. They were professionals who had to select the best from the gathered crowd, and they knew their job.
The medicals were not a walk in the park either, restricted to having your height, weight and BP checked. It takes nearly a week or more for the medicals to be completed and the results are not delivered by hand. And certainly, no such adjustments are made during the SSB or medicals such as “her hand and leg length are more than her body so she’s through”. Unimaginable!
Then the training. It looked more like a B-grade action movie. Gunjan wasn’t the only lady officer so where were the others? Getting properly trained, I guess. As far as I remember, lady officers weren’t treated with kids’ glove. On the contrary we had it tougher; I mean honestly, we were not mentally or physically prepared for the hardships. Our parents sent their princesses but what they would transform into was beyond their imaginations. We had to undergo similar physical rigours like our male counterparts. Some of the females were better than the guys. And believe me, the guys didn’t feel emasculated. We cheered and watched out for each other. When our parents came for our Passing Out and met us for the first time, every mother could compete with Nirupama Roy in hysterics and theatrics. Most of us were beyond recognition with our tanned (I’m just being sweetly subtle) skin and gaunt features. But yes, you could make out the physical strength from the toned and taut bodies. Our uniforms had to be resized every month what with the waistline reducing so rapidly. And now of course it refuses to stop expanding, but that’s another story.
After watching Hritik Roshan in Lakshya and Vicky Kaushal in Uri, you feel like being a fauji. But Janhvi Kapoor was…ugh! She really needed to lose some weight and also more importantly learn to run since she knew she was going to be playing this role. I’m not saying all of us were athletic or knew how to run and jump and roll but after a month in the Academy, we could do any of these things even in our sleep. She roams around the Academy, without a headgear. Wow! We wouldn’t dare step out of our dorm for fear of our seniors. God help if one of them gets us, it’s as good as Doomsday. She’s training one day and the next she’s up in the air flying the chopper. It’s all ok in the movies but that’s not how it is. Since the movie is supposed to be a biopic, they could have shown the difficulties she faced during the pilot training, how she hard she had to train to excel, and that could have been inspiring but now it’s a joke. Remember Shashi Kapoor’s Vijeta? What a classic till date.
The saddest part is the part after she gets Commissioned and reports to her base at Udhampur. Was she part of some covert mission where she underwent training and no one in the Indian Air Force was aware of the lady officers getting commissioned to fly choppers? It looked like that. The washroom scene was meant in the lighter note I guess but it was totally unwarranted. When the lady officers were first inducted into the Armed Forces, a lot of effort was taken to make their induction smooth and comfortable. The snide, distasteful comments about sharing a tent with the pilots during the night sorties were way out of line. They are adults and they are professionals. These women who join are not some lost-in-the-woods babes who decided one day to play officer-officer and donned the uniform. Well Janhvi Kapoor walked through the complete movie like that. She had the perpetual expression of being lost, not knowing what’s happening around her. It’s as if she woke up in Alice’s Wonderland where she got to wear a uniform and fly a chopper. Yippee!!
Boys will be boys, so they say. Not in the Armed Forces. here it’s said differently – they join as boys and become gentlemen. The locker room scenes were absolutely unpalatable and unacceptable. The portrayal of the male officers was so off color and off the mark. They are Indian Air Force officers for Godsake – gentlemen officers – not some dark alley, shady flying school trainees. Drinking and partying daily, posters of semi clad women – I mean who is the script writer and where did he get his facts from? The male officers treat the lady officers as colleagues, not barbie dolls. Nor do they avoid them like plague. There’s professional rivalry and competition, a good camaraderie, which reflects a healthy work environment. I agree misogynists are there everywhere but this is stretching the truth way too much.
And what an inspiring way to motivate future female aspirants by showing that they can prove themselves capable if and only if they can beat the topper – a guy of course – in arm wrestling. What utter nonsense!! By those standards only our women’s wrestling or weight lifting teams are qualified. Janhvi Kapoor had an expression of being lost once again – lost to what? The humiliation, the suppression, the indignity of it all? She was meekly accepting the treatment meted out to her. I’m sure the real Gunjan Saxena would have stood up for herself, not accepted such regressive behaviour. I’m yet to hear stories of rosters being changed because nobody wanted to fly with a woman. Everyone has to do their duty as per the duty roster, even if it meant that you are the only female in the all-male post.
After barging into the party in the next room, she packs her bag and walks off to her home. Totally unheard of in real world of Armed Forces. She should have been marked AWOL, missing without official leave. Didn’t she hear about the rules and regulations of the Armed Forces from her sexist macho big brother? Instead she returns and is sent to the forward base on a mission. I wish they would be so generous with other officers too who break the rules. And her brother – God, where did he come from? He had the mindset of the Neanderthals – sorry Neandertals didn’t mean to offend you! Is he for real? I don’t even want to waste my time on him. And please don’t make him your rakhi-brother. And being an Army officer himself, he advices her to reconsider her decision to join up after the Commissioning. Which Army is he from?
And the grand finale was the ultimate – she just walks out of the helicopter to run and rescue the senior, throwing her helmet and caution aside. Really, is this what happened or rather is this how it happened? Thank god they didn’t continue with the rescue mission by showing a field hospital and blood transfusion from her to him. It would have just killed any hopes of anyone ever wanting to be a fauji.
I don’t mean to devalue Gunjan’s achievements or her hard work. She was an inspiration then, and she is an inspiration now. She’s created history with her stellar performances. But did she really need a movie like this made to highlight her journey or validate her achievements (which by the way never got any mention anywhere)? What the movie has done is, it’s showed not just her but the complete breed of lady officers from all the three Armed Forces in a very poor light. Our efforts and our professionalism have been totally devalued and written off.
It was a two-hour ordeal which I finished in just over 30 minutes. I don’t blame Janhvi Kapoor for the below acceptable standards – she’s another product of the Bollywood nepotism. I hold the producers Dharma Productions (who should stick to their brand of bubblegum romances and not venture into areas that require the use of mental and cognitive faculties) and the story writers (tow the Dharma line of storytelling because biopics need a lot of genuine research work and understanding of serious stuff beyond your grasp), and most importantly the central character Gunjan Saxena (for not speaking up this one time when it came to reducing the women to such caricatures of their true selves) for this atrocity. Was she not consulted? If yes, then is this what she advised and suggested?
Remember the world is watching. And is this what we want the world to think of our Armed Forces, our lady officers and our male officers? To be an officer of the Indian Armed Forces is a matter of great pride and honour. Each one of us who has donned the uniform, irrespective of the number of years, feels a deep connect to all things fauji. Call it patriotism or professionalism, it is an integral part of what and who we are for as long as we live. So, restrict your creative freedom to other spheres and leave the Armed Forces out of it. Please do the nation a favour and do not make such movies in the future. It will demotivate the future aspirants from even thinking about a career in the Armed Forces.