'Gunjan Saxena' Review: Compelling performances make up for the lack of realism

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

In the recent times, films inspired by reality are creating more buzz than ever. Amongst these the mostly popular are the ones which document the lives of real people. In the cinematic parlance such films are termed as biopics. The sudden increase in the number of biopics made in Hindi cinema has taken everyone by storm. It’s not that such films weren’t made earlier but today they are being churned out at an unprecedented rate just like the formula-based entertainers of old. And the box-office figures only confirm the growing popularity of the biopics amongst the filmgoers.

Now, while it is difficult to pinpoint one particular film that ushered in this trend, it would certainly be impossible to understand the recent rise of the biopics without taking a closer look at these biographical films whose commercial and critical success undoubtedly paved the way for more such movies: The Dirty Picture (2011), Paan Singh Tomar (2012), and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), inspired by the lives of actress Silk Smitha, athlete turned bandit Paan Singh Tomar, and sprinter Milkha Singh, respectively. Nowadays an important subject that’s proving to be conducive for making biopics is nationalism. Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, based on the life of Indian Air Force officer and helicopter pilot, is the latest in the series of films revolving around the theme of nationalism and war. The film starring Janhvi Kapoor, Pankaj Tripathi, Angad Bedi, Vineet Kumar Singh, and Manav Vij in pivotal roles is currently streaming on Netflix.

Flight Lieutenant Gunjan Saxena, who joined the Indian Air Force in 1994, is a 1999 Kargil War veteran and the first woman Shaurya Chakra awardee. She is also the only woman to be part of the Kargil War. During the Kargil War, she was tasked with the responsibility to evacuate the wounded, transport the supplies, and assist in surveillance. As part of operations, she helped evacuate over 900 troops, both injured and dead, from Kargil. Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl follows the journey of a young girl who dreams of becoming a pilot. When she grows up into a young girl she realizes that the world sees men and women very differently. But with her father’s support she is able to join the Indian Air Force. However, her real struggle begins when she reports for her induction programme at an all-male training facility. So, Gunjan must be ready for one acid test after another in order to prove her worth.

Gunjan Saxena’s journey is source of great inspiration for young girls and boys; it dares them to dream and dream big. The Sharan Sharma-directed biopic tries hard to be true to the story of Gunjan’s struggle. Alas, it lacks the realistic treatment that a subject like this demands! That’s precisely why biopics such as Paan Singh Tomar, Shahid, and Poorna stand out a cut above the rest. However, despite its shortcomings, the Gunjan Sharma biopic does succeed in putting spotlight on the life of a brave daughter of the soil. The credit, of course, goes to the compelling performances of Manav Vij, Pankaj Tripathi, Janvhi Kapoor, and Angad Bedi, and in that order.         

Rating: 6/10

A version of this review first appeared in The Sunday Guardian.

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