Directors: Sharan Sharma
Producer: Karan Johar and Zee Studios
Ever since her brother who has the window seat won’t let her peep out of the plane and a caring air hostess leads her into the cockpit for an exclusive glimpse of the skies, little Gunjan is hooked. She has to be in the pilot’s seat one day.
Whether the prejudice is against gender, colour, race or religion, for the first person who breaks through it, it’s a heartwrenching battle. And so is it for Gunjan whose skirmishes begin right there at home where brother and mother would rather have her chalao the belan, ie wield a rolling pin in the kitchen than chalao a plane.
Gunjan would have joined the many women whose dreams are crushed under the weight of the jaundiced if it hadn’t been for her father who chuffs her up every time her spirits sag. While her brother thinks women on a plane can only ask, “Veg or non-veg?” and serve as air hostesses, it’s her father who comments, “Whether it’s a male or a female, whoever flies a plane is called a pilot.”
It is two extremes that first-time director Sharan Sharma rests his film on. There’s dad Anup Saxena who’ll wake up at the crack of dawn, drink karela juice with her and give Gunjan the boost her morale needs so desperately. At the other end is Flight Commander Dileep Singh who gloats that there’s no ladies’ toilet in the air base because it wasn’t meant to be a place for a woman, asks her to change on the tarmac and gangs up with the guys to cancel her sorties while they cheer and party. Anup Saxena is the epitome of encouragement, Dileep Singh is the embodiment of all that men once held against a woman entering their bastion. On the air base is the manifestation of the male fear that ‘Madam’ may one day become ‘Sir’.
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Brother Anshu is as unrelenting as her colleagues. Even after her passing out parade, he looks at the group photograph of new air force officers and remarks, “I see 10 officers and 1 girl.”
It’s a long flight to victory with air pockets and wind speeds against her.
But dad, a senior officer and a lucky break during the Kargil incursion of 1999, provide a helpful tailwind against the turbulence of the prejudiced, for Flight Officer Gunjan Saxena to sprout wings and take off.
Fearlessness and the willingness to tirelessly work to be the best ultimately open out the skies for Gunjan. The real life story of the Indian Air Force’s first woman officer lays it all out – how much tougher the climb is for this gender where she has to constantly prove just how good she is at her job. Today, the 1,625 women officers in the air force won’t have the same rough ride as Gunjan had to clear the flight path for them.
Playing Gunjan is a mighty assignment for 23-year-old Janhvi Kapoor but she goes at it with the same spiritedness as the real-life female pilot who had to choose between flying a plane and making parathas. Discarding glamour for grit, it also helps that Gunjan was the same age, only 24 when she went on 40 missions to become the Kargil Girl.
Making a confident debut, director Sharan Sharma’s biggest ace is the father-daughter story that he tells with many moments that bring a tear to the eye like the time Gunjan is selected after several heartbreaks. Pankaj Tripathi as the delightful father who ensures that Gunjan’s dreams don’t remain flights of fantasy or crash land, is the strongest pillar on which Janhvi and the film lean on. Vineet Kumar as Dileep Singh who makes every attempt to ground Gunjan is efficient in being the other side of the male coin.
The lucky part of an OTT release is that entire families can watch it – and maybe more rigid mindsets will relax their prejudices.