‘Girls don’t become pilots, they cook,’ Gunjan (Janhvi Kapoor) is told by her brother Anshuman (Angad Bedi) moments after the commencement of the film Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl. However, even before you can roll your eyes at the statement, Gunjan’s father, Anup (played by Pankaj Tripathi) takes over, effectively lifting her spirits and narrative through the film.
Sky-struck from a very young age, as Gunjan vows to become a pilot, it is her father's calm albeit guiding presence that steers the course of her ambition. Anup rarely guides her on what to do but rather helps her with the “hows” of the dynamic whenever Gunjan, or Gunju as he calls her, finds herself in a fix through the film.
Don’t get us wrong here. Gunjan’s character in the film is all that we expect it would be, especially given that it is based on a real-life Kargil hero. She is determined, fearless, and a go-getter. However, even the best of us need good role models to forge our values and vision in life, and Anup does exactly that for his daughter in the film. Always a delight to watch, Pankaj as an actor brings his characteristic touch to the film, infuses it with life, and manages to do so without overpowering Janhvi’s character. And while Janhvi Kapoor as an actor still has a long way to go, Gunjan Saxena definitely marks an improvement from Dhadak, not so much from Ghost Stories though.
That said, it is the father-daughter bond in the film that shines supreme for us, an aspect that has also made us overlook the film's shortcomings. In fact, we're so smitten with the father-daughter bond as shown in the film that we have jotted down a list of our favourite moments. Read on:
At the very beginning of the film, Anup repudiates Anshuman for telling Gunjan that girls cannot become pilots. “Kaun badtameej tumhe yeh sikha raha hai? (Who the hell is teaching you all this?)” he promptly asks as he goes on to tell Gunju that she can become whatever she dreams of becoming. “Beta iski baaton mein mat aana. Dekho plane ladka udae ya ladki, dono ko pilot hi bolte hein (Don’t listen to him. Whether a girl flies the plane or a guy, both are called pilots)” he tells her. “Aur jab plane ko fark nahi padta hai use kaun uda raha hai toh tumhe kyun padta hai? (When the plane flies irrespective of who is flying it then why does it bother you)” he turns again to his son and asks. It is a powerful moment that effectively sets the tone of the film.
There is a sequence in the film when Gunjan’s family throws a party after she tops her class 10 exams. During the same, Anup can be seen talking about Gunjan and how she is going to make him very proud. However, moments later she ends up declaring to everyone at the party in a somewhat cliched scene that she wants to quit studying and become a pilot. Following this, Anup interrupts both Kirti (Gunjan’s mother, played by Ayesha Raza Mishra) and Anshuman when they are trying to tell Gunjan that it's a terrible idea. The father and daughter are left alone. Later when they get back to the party, Kirti asks, ‘maan gayi Gunju? (Did she agree)’, Anup replies ‘Nahi main maan gaya (No I agreed)'. The moment is as adorable as it is impactful and you'd have to see it to know what we are talking about.
Gunjan has a dream and a firm resolve. She knows that no matter what, she has to become a pilot and would do anything in her power to achieve it. She continues her studies after her desired air training academy goes on to increase the minimum requirements for becoming a pilot. Meanwhile, Gunjan’s mother Kirti keeps frequenting astrologers to somehow make her change her mind. ‘When will she change her mind,’ she asks Anup who promptly replies ‘When will you stop believing in all this hogwash?’
In so many ways Gunjan takes after her father. As she unyieldingly pursues her goals, her father tells her mother, “Pilot toh who banke rahegi”, despite much resistance from her.
Instead of a hyper nationalistic approach that’s projected in war movies in India, both Gunjan and her father’s approach to the concept of patriotism is rather pragmatic. While preparing for her Air Force entrance, Gunjan, in a moment of honesty, tells Anup that she feels like an imposter for trying to pursue the forces while her only vision is to become a pilot. Visibly moved by her candour, he tells her that as long as she is honest to her job, she is doing it just right. He also tells her that the country doesn’t need officers who shout slogans of nationalism but people who are truly dedicated to the work assigned to them.
Training montages as they commonly appear in both war and sports movies in India have already been done to death and yet there's something refreshing and endearing about the sequence when you watch it in Gunjan Saxena. Anup inspires Gunjan through actress Rekha's fitness journey as published in a magazine, perhaps the perfect way to persuade her, given her love for Bollywood. Anup himself downs glasses of bitter, unpalatable juices to inspire his daughter and you can detect genuine, paternal mirth on his face when he sees Gunjan taking on the task herself and getting serious about the training.
Pankaj's approach as an actor in the film is very similar to his stance as a father in it. He is subtle, he is economic, and yet he knows how to make an impact. Tired of the sexism meted by her male colleagues when Gunjan tells her father that she has decided to quit the Air Force and plans to get married, we see a trace of rage in him for the first and last time in the movie. He is anguished by his daughter succumbing to societal constructs and pressures, and tells her she can't give up on her dreams because that's exactly what the society wants to do to girls, to cage them down. 'Pinjra tod (go break the cage),' he tells his daughter in what is easily one on the most powerful sequences in the film.
Lastly, it is important to note that Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Movie is not a war movie, even when the name suggests otherwise. Barring a couple of moments, there aren’t any intensely gripping moments, the kind where you find your heart racing. There is hardly any anxiety-provoking scene in the film and while this would have been a downside for a theatrical watch, it somehow works on an OTT platform, especially during a pandemic when reality is all the anxiety that we can really handle.
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