Jahnvi Kapoor in a still from the movie Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl | YouTube/ Netflix India
Jahnvi Kapoor in a still from the movie Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl | YouTube/ Netflix India
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To understand whether India’s youth of today are capable of figuring out the context or if they just get swayed by dramatic portrayal of the information, I decided to spend two hours watching Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl on Netflix with my teenage daughters.

I was a contemporary of Flight Lieutenant Gunjan Saxena, the retired Indian Air Force (IAF) officer on whose life the Netflix film is based. I had joined the Army in 1994 and was part of the first group of 100-plus women inducted in the Indian Army. I can say I was among the first few to have had close first-hand information of how women “struggled” to create a niche for themselves in the male-dominated profession of armed forces. 

To my surprise, though, I could not relate to any of the so-called challenges that Gunjan Saxena’s character, played by Janhvi Kapoor, faces in the Netflix movie, except for the challenges arising out of lack of infrastructure — for instance, a separate changing room for the female officers.

It is true that the Indian armed forces have been a male bastion for more than four-and-a-half decades post-Independence; it is also true that the rulebooks, the infrastructure and the work culture were more suited and influenced as per male requirements. But it Is not true that having opened doors to women in 1993, the armed forces have not evolved to relook at these issues.


Also read: The only woman warrior in Kargil War flew her Cheetah helicopter without fear


A wrong portrayal

Watching Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl movie with my kids was a very difficult proposition because it raised so many questions in the minds of my daughters that they became really confused about the way they see their mother. My image of a strong, independent woman who always stood her ground and faced all kinds of challenges in life with a smile was being questioned.

Every scene in the movie that was laced with gender bias evoked a kind of sympathy from my daughters who suddenly felt how “bechari” their Mom would have been during her Army days. The endless stories that I have shared with them about my success, achievements, mountaineering expedition, rafting, skiing, being instructor to officers such as Captain Vikram Batra, Param Vir Chakra and Lt Sourav Kalia in the Indian Military Academy (IMA), being adjutant of a training battalion for troops and whatnot were all being questioned.

Suddenly there was a doubt over what the reality was — all those memories that I had shared with them or what they were seeing on the screen? Who was telling the truth and who was telling the lies? Did the Indian armed forces build strong women or did they malign strong women? The list of the questions my daughters had was endless.

Still the most pertinent question that they had was — has the induction of women in Indian Army paved the way for gender equality or gender bias?

While I am there to answer the questions of my daughters and set the context for them to dig deeper into the real meaning of these complex words, I really am worried about thousands and thousands of other impressionable minds who are lost in the labyrinth of information available on various platforms.

Are the makers of Gunjan Saxena — The Kargil Girl and other such content accountable to the society? Is there a mechanism to create checks and counter balances? I don’t have answers to these questions at this point of time but I have the determination to challenge the status quo.

Captain Shikha Saxena (retd) was among the first 100-plus women and the few Sapper Officers to have joined the Indian Army in 1995. Views are personal.

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44 Comments Share Your Views

44 COMMENTS

  1. What a typical response by apologists for the status quo! Really surprised, shocked and saddened by this article and these comments. The most overpowering emotion after watching the movie is pride for the women who follow their dreams and convictions against all odds, not pity. How deluded are the people who think that it evokes pity. They are obviously patriarchs at heart who don’t want to see the society change for the better. For the system to change the first step is to accept that there is a problem. Not just in India but the world over first few women entering the forces have had to face gender discrimination and many still do. To deny that is unbelievably naive. Pride in Indian Air Force is all good and proper but gender bias is one of those unconscious biases that plague even the most educated. It still exists and thrives in the most learned of careers including scientific disciplines. People really need to wake up and smell the coffee.

  2. Throughout the movie, I missed the confidence and strength of a fauji. Bad acting and direction. Anyone can imagine that what does it take to be at such responsible position and have courage to do something which no other woman has done before. Salute to you Mm Gunjan.

  3. I totally get your point…Ms Saxena..I hope your kids are wise enough to make out real from reel..they should feel proud that they have a mom like you..very coincidentally I read a similar article in today’s Sunday supplement written by Ms Srividya Rajan…she comes from the same place as you..and I guess there are many which are yet to come..like you said Cinema has to have accountability to the society..this is such bad work from the makers..

  4. Ban karan johar and Janvi kapoor. They did an extraordinary bad work. India is proud of Real gunjan saxena for her contributions for the nation. 😡😡😡😡

  5. Johan did a rubbish work once again as expected with a star kid. They showed manu many things unreal like small girl going in the cockpit in the plane etc. Both Jahnvi and karan johar are the bad elements of the bollywood who actually shame the real Shikha saxena and her work. One side India is proud of real Gunjan other the other hand they make the real work with full of shame and dirt. 😡😡😡😡

  6. When a film shows the struggles of women officers it does not deny their successes. Women can achieve success and yet have their struggles. It does not mean
    the people, both men and women, have not evolved. Gender equality does not come by itself , old systems are broken, new ones are created for the culture to change.
    Women are not “bechari” if they struggle, or show their daughters that they went through a struggle to get to where they are. On the contrary that makes them strong and focused women. I hope your daughters, being the children of this brave young generation, will understand that. Dont deny another woman’s experience just because your lens was different.

  7. Madam, you get the feeling because you were not an army officer and have no knowledge about it’s working ethos. But still you comment as if you are the final arbitrator. On the top of it, and obviously without understanding what is being said, you accuse the decorated retired that she is writing the comment because her name is not there!
    Such petty ideas can be your brain child only. An Indian Army officer doesn’t think that way.

  8. Salute to your great work Captain. But as a woman and a cinema lover, I am surprised that how can anybody or your kids see an officer like you as ‘bechaari’ after a movie. Why dint they see it as a girl who had a dream and accomplished it despite some temporary hurdles. The message is so clear, whatever it is, just stick to your passion and things will fall in place.

    Now, some more points. First, it’s a movie. Take it as a movie. We should be talking about storyline and acting than gender bias. Second, the movie is made on someone life and if in case she gives some creative freedom, what is the harm in it. I don’t think any woman will be discouraged to join airforce or to become a pilot? Last but not the least, every individual has a different experience and is free to share that. Audience should be intelligent enough to take it as a movie and move on. Currently, this discussion on the Gunjan Saxena movie seems to be going beyond the movie.

  9. True. I connect much more to this article than the movie. Wish IAF and the spirit, strength, and grit of women officers were better placed and presented given this opportunity of reaching the mass audience.

  10. These days our country india is overreacting on anything weather it is a about movies, real life etc…
    We don’t show people the reality we only show the fake emotions to make a movie hit.. These days our country has a huge fake respect for army in media like Facebook, movies etc… I have seen in reality when a soldier moves in front of us i haven’t seen a single person saluting that soldier like they salute a soldier in Facebook, insta, etc sometimes I feel like what kind of creatures(people) we have in our country… These days many directors are making biopics and at many parts the movie is not shown as in real life… We always copy the Hollywood but still we can’t copy it properly…shame on Bollywood they don’t have brains

  11. I never wished to watch the movie as it was from Dharma Productions. I was surprised initially how dharma productions came up with this idea of biopic. But now I know, no matter what the story is, they are incapable of making a good film.
    I have no issue if they tell lies in the biopic, like amir khan did with dangal (regarding coach of Babita Phogat). But this film includes IAF, that makes it serious, and not only one but 3 different contemporaries of Gujan Saxena has spoken about negativity and wrong portrayal of facts and IAF in the film, and shockingly Gunjan Saxena’s silence on the portrayal of IAF is making things complicated and confusing. Its best if KJO keeps the creativity in his SOTY series.

  12. The Indian air force and army should take legal action and ban the film immediately.
    These Bollywood people like Karan Johar & Ekta Kapoor need to be thought a lesson. They cannot show anything they want as per their twisted imagination.
    And going forward any film which will portray Indian Armed Forces will have to cleared by a panel of Defense personnel of the respective forces.
    Ban #banDharmaproductions #bankaranjohar #banjhanvikapoor #banbollywood #justiceforSSR #CBIforSSR

  13. Gunjan saxena is a film to promote Janhavi Kapoor. It has nothing to do with real life of Gunjan Saxena. No part in the film seems authentic. We either should watch it as a as a fictional movie or leave it since the acting and screenplay are also not worth a watch.

  14. Pretty evident that Shekhar Gupta has been instructed to sabotage the movie. From the past week. there’s only been one-sided BS.

  15. Why do I get the feeling that your(SS) name not getting mentioned in the movie has made you go vocal with negativity.I fail to understand why you feel Bechari..if you are that strong of a lady ,proof your strength by explain to your girls how to see it in positive light..and that is how to overcome negativity.If your girls are judging you who has been their mother for years now by a mare movie released couple of weeks now..I hate to say you may have failed as a mother.
    In my opinion you should have been respectful of your colleague.You let her down & IAF with all this Social media bash you’ve displayed .Because the movie did not mention you..you decided to self praise and give self limelight too.Mrs.SS there are lots of unsung hero’s in the world, they fall in a separate directory and it’s okay to be one..
    You’ve damaged your reputation…sad!

    • She is an army officer you idiot. That too a sapper, it’s a combat arm. Gunjan Saxena was from airforce. There is no gender bias in armed forces. This crap was shown to create imaginary challenges in Gunjan’s life which she was shown to overcome in the movie. This is a malicious misrepresentation of air force and disrespectful to men and women who served.

    • She is an army officer you idiot. That too a sapper, it’s a combat arm. Gunjan Saxena was from airforce. There is no gender bias in armed forces. This crap was shown to create imaginary challenges in Gunjan’s life which she was shown to overcome in the movie. This is a malicious misrepresentation of air force and disrespectful to men and women who served.

    • Dear priya,

      If a movie is being made on d life of a certain group of ppl don’t you think it’s a good idea to show accurately what actually happened. Of course bollywood has a knack for adding masala to make it more interesting and a “good” Story. however did it occur to you that by clearing d faulty information shown in d movie, retired capt. Saxena is doing a good deed for all by leting us know d truth. And in doing so she is side by side supporting d Airforce by debunking that they are not the misogynistic they are shown to be.

      It’s true there were hurdles and problems but to say this is an act to gain fame wouldn’t be an agenda. Her pride is in d achievement she has made all through her life.
      When you see two contradict things presented to you, the first response is to question it.
      Especially if it’s giving a wrong portrayal of oneself.
      This movie did make me emotional to see SS face such hardship nd how ppl were.
      I’m happy to find that not d real case. (Not completely at least)

    • It’s so funny to see women like you trying to attack other women coz they’re standing up against gender bias. I don’t blame you coz that’s what we’ve been told for centuries. Women are the damsel in distress and probably need a prince charming to come and save her!! Keep believing in that bullshit. When are you people gonna open your eyes to how women are being treated around. Women should stand with each other, not spew hatred! *sighs*

      • Lol gender bias exists. But it didn’t happen with Gunjan Saxena and the fact that numerous female IAF officers have spoken against the film, people would rather believe them than a bollywood film which obviously relies on creating binary characters in order to create sympathy.

    • Madam, you get the feeling because you were not an army officer and have no knowledge about it’s working ethos. But still you comment as if you are the final arbitrator. On the top of it, and obviously without understanding what is being said, you accuse the decorated retired that she is writing the comment because her name is not there!
      Such petty ideas can be your brain child only. An Indian Army officer doesn’t think that way.

  16. I live just a few houses away from Col. Saxena’s house in Lucknow, and know the family quite well. Gunjan Saxena as I know, is a confident, strong willed, and a prompt decision maker…, So-much-so, she got posted to Siachen to fight the enemy, a area so inhospitable in normal days that a average person won’t be able stay there for more than a day!
    The picture should have shown this not what it has depicted.

  17. I live just a few houses away from Col. Saxena’s house in Lucknow, and know the family quite well. Gunjan Saxena as I know, is a confident, strong willed, and a prompt decision maker…, So-much-so, she got posted to Siachen to fight the enemy, a area so inhospitable in normal days that a average person won’t be able stay there for more than a day!
    The picture should have shown this not what it has depicted.

  18. Strange that a woman’s struggle should make her look “bechari” instead of strong for having borne that and continued. Women in all walks of life face discrimination and I some cases even abuse. Does that make them “bechari”. She should explain that to her daughters instead of belittling another woman’s experience.

  19. It’s a movie and movies use cinematic liberty to make things dramatic for impact. Ranting against Karan johar is suddenly ‘ in ‘. Everybody has an opinion now against d movie, the actors d director, d scriptwriter et al. This is also bullying. In NO uncertain terms.
    Do u realize that it’s not about kjo or jahanvi, there are hundreds of people who r in d team of a movie. If u MAKE movies fail, hundreds will lose out. IDIOTS

    • Before calling others idiot, you should look and read your comments. You are highlighting your own insensitivity and cunningness… Kjo is an absolute moron making an anti national film for his own glory and defining it as creativity. Staying in India, making money in India but putting India and armed forces in the wrong notion. If Kjo stayed in Pakistan, by now he would have been executed on the charges of blasphemy!! Please, do not malign the country you are staying in and most importantly our armed forces who are giving their life protecting it… Think about it.!!!

  20. I think every individual thinks that he/she should be praised and thats why its creating a mess. Otherwise movie is overall good

  21. Firstly we thank you for your service to the country. Salute to you.

    Secondly.. this is a B grade movie made by a nepotistic guy, “starring” a C grade actress who would be fit for nothing if not for her surname and her daddys connections. So I chose not to see it. And it turns out I was right.. the shitty reviews speak for themselves.

  22. Thanks Shikhaji for making things clear. The film merely reflects the view that many journalists, filmmakers and policy makers in India hold. They all prefer to see the Indian woman as an abla naari and see themselves as devices to spread stories about this abla nari and how she is disempowered.
    Anyone who has dealt with an Indian woman, whether it be in the form of a mother, a sister, a girl friend, a wife or a lover knows that this abla naari image is entirely fictitious. But it persists. Despite all evidence that there is no ablaa in India, and there never was an ablaa.
    In your engagement with the military you would have noticed how people’s minds are captured. Military leaders, lieutenant onwards to the General, do it routinely and regularly with the men whom they command. A similar capturing of the mind by the ablaa naari myth has happened with the journalists, filmmakers, policy makers, academics and women supporting NGOs of India. Your article does a wonderful job of breaching that myth and inviting the readers to look at the reality of how the Indian woman is powerful, a master of her own destiny and capable of doing anything and everything. More power to you and all other Indian women

  23. The title of the film deceives people into believing it is a realistic storyline. Then half way through the movie you realize this is another dumb run-of-the-mill bollywood movie. Waste of time! Creative liberty is fine to the extent that it does not disrespect the audience.

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