The criteria on which the Service Selection Board works while selecting the officers for defense forces is based on opinion of experts in the field of Psychology, according to which, overall intelligence of males and females at any age is virtually the same. While females show superiority in verbal behavior, and retain perceptions of details quickly and accurately, males surpass the former on spatial, numerical and many mechanical tasks. If this is the thought process that is applied at the very first stage of selection process for entry into India’s defence forces, is there any chance of gender discrimination? Perhaps, Karan Johar and his director did not do his research well before making the film Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl.
Also read: Gunjan Saxena’s IAF coursemate Sreevidya Rajan shocked by filmmakers’ ‘twisting of facts’
Heroes: Reel vs real
A real hero is admired for his bravery/courage, outstanding/great achievements, or noble/good qualities. Whereas a reel hero’s presence is limited to the film or the novel she/he is part of. So, don’t confuse between the reel hero and real hero. The reel heroes should not be addressed as hero but as entertainers because they might lack the prerequisites for heroism: bravery, conviction, courage, determination, honesty, moral integrity.
In the film Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, the ‘reel hero’, on direction of the filmmakers, tarnishes the image of the Indian Air Force through inappropriate portrayal of the IAF’s work culture, which according to them is against women.
Also read: Why the Gunjan Saxena film is not just bad but a national embarrassment
How the IAF treated women 30 years ago
I have operated extensively in the Kargil region and was also involved in a life-threatening incident at Kargil in 2002. So, I know what it takes to operate in such a region. I was involved in the induction of the first batch of women officers in IAF to ground duty branches in 1991. Thereafter, as a flying instructor, I trained the first batch of women IAF transport pilots.
The first batch of women officers were inducted in the IAF to serve in administration, education and few other branches way back in 1992. I was then posted at the Air Force Academy and involved in the process as a junior officer. There was a lot of apprehension among senior officers about how these women will cope up with the training and how they will adapt to the IAF culture. Much to the surprise of their seniors, the women officers coped up very well and were not far behind male officers, if not better in performance.
Separate facilities for them were created in the shortest possible time. For that year’s Air Force Day parade, 13 of the women officers formed a marching squad and were star performers at Delhi. I was their officer in-charge. Due to shortage of transit accommodation at the Palam Air Force Station, they were given the officer’s mess despite being cadets. In the beginning, the IAF had to deal with many administrative difficulties such as accommodation, dress code etc. However, it managed these aspects well.
Also read: The only woman warrior in Kargil War flew her Cheetah helicopter without fear
First batch of women pilots
In 1994, I was a flying instructor at Transport Training base at Yelahanka, Bengaluru when the first batch of women pilots were inducted in the transport stream. At Yelahanka, separate facilities were provided to them as the infrastructure required was built in shortest possible time. The first pilot course for women on helicopter was conducted much later. By then, the IAF had gained enough experience in conducting courses for women. Hence, the depiction in the Janhvi Kapoor starrer movie that facilities were not available is a lie and has been added to create sensation.
During flying training, the women were at par with their counterparts. In flying, it is very important to train the pilot for the aircraft emergencies they are likely to encounter. In IAF, this aspect is taken very seriously. In Govind Nihlani’s 1982 film, Vijeta, this role of the pilots was aptly depicted. However, Karan Johar and his director have added the masala of gender bias even in this depiction.
Women pilots, after commissioning, followed me to the operational squadron in East India (Jorhat 1995). They were trained in all transport operations such as paradrop, formation flying, air maintenance, and they performed exceptionally well.
In 2008, when I was a Commanding Officer at Chandigarh, about seven women pilots were on my squadron strength. I can state with pride that their contribution to the squadron was substantive and they could achieve this as there was no gender bias. They could perform to the best of their capabilities as they were provided all facilities. Incidentally, Chandigarh based aircraft operate in the Himalayas — the most challenging environment for flying.
The fact that a majority of women pilots continue to fly after completing their Short Service stint — as civilian pilots — is proof of their professional competency.
For any job on earth, women are equally qualified as men, if provided with the right atmosphere. The IAF was able to fulfil this requirement by providing all facilities, and a free and fair working environment.
Also read: Gunjan Saxena biopic passes with flying colours despite rocky performances
What Karan Johar doesn’t know
The film industry has mastered the art of objectifying women despite their resistance. The Karan Johar-produced film tries to create sensation by projecting the IAF as an organisation that discriminates against women pilots. Johar probably does not know that the IAF was the first defence organisation in India to induct women officers in all branches and that the force constitutes 14 per cent women officers, comparable to any western country.
The movie was to showcase the courage and bravery of a woman helicopter pilot. However, it highlights nonissues such as lack of facilities and discrimination against women without factual evidence to support the portrayal. Johar’s ignorance is also highlighted by the fact that during the announcement of the film, he had mentioned Gunjan as a Shaurya Chakra awardee. I am a Shaurya Chakra recipient myself, but I was not aware about Gunjan. So I tried finding out which year she was awarded the Shaurya Chakra to congratulate her. I haven’t been able to find any evidence of the same.
Karan Johar, are you aware of the best traditions followed by the Defence forces while dealing with women? If not, then please educate yourself. The defence officers have best of the traditions while dealing with women. When a lady walks-in a gathering of officers, all the officer’s irrespective of their ranks get up as a mark of respect towards her. In social gatherings, the ladies are escorted to the venues and offered a seat with respect. Even while serving food, ladies are served first. Do you follow such courtesies? Or at least are aware of those? If not, then who has given you the authority to depict how women officers are or were treated in the IAF?
Don’t create the facade of creative freedom. All you could do in response to the IAF’s objection was to add a disclaimer saying: “No scenes should be construed to represent a true or accurate recreation of the actual events that transpired. The Airforce supports equality in skies. There are 1625 women officers serving in IAF.”
If you know that the IAF supports equality, then why include scenes that suggest otherwise. You need to do some introspection and not only apologies publicly but also delete the scenes from movie which are derogatory.
AVM Suryakant Chafekar, AVSM ,Shaurya Chakra retired as SAASO maintenance command the Commanding Officer of the 48 Squadron and retired from the Indian Air Force in 2017. Views are personal.
The film fraternity knows didly squat about the Armed Forces of India. Right from air traffic controlling being done in Hindi, to Sanjay Dutt sporting long locks as a Army officer, Amitabh Bacchan in ceremonial uniform conducting PT fir cadets, old men being shown in Major rank to the latest movie URI showing desk officers flying choppers overnight and wearing wrong uniforms and badges for ceremonial dinners, its been wrong potrayal all along.
Bollywood stinks when it comes to war/ spy/ covert ops genre movies – except few rare movies/ tv series which at least strive for some realism …
And I don’t mean storyline, editing, flow of plot etc higher stuff of film making – I mean basic stuff – just how to hold a gun (like finger off trigger but ready to fire) or hold a assault rifle or SMG or sidearm or how a 7.62 mm ammo recoil / handling would be different than that of 5.56 mm or how an experienced operator would go about using such weapons/ tactics/ posture/ movement etc are not portrayed correctly – forget the research and accuracy involved in type of weapons / vehicles or aircraft for a particular mission/ situation/ scene….
Who am I in filmmaking – nobody – but I am the viewer/ audience & a military enthusiast, a bit of aficionado on subjects war & military and a civilian – let alone a serving or retired defence personnel who’d spot the goof ups / inaccuracies a mile away – and I still say Bollywood stinks when it comes to this genre
Having gone through articles by another IAF lady officer who was in kargil, an Army lady officer and this gentleman author – clarifying the treatment of ladies in armed forces – I can only think of one reason for all that nonsense being shown in the movie where pilot officers are being shown as behaving like teen aged boarding school 12th batch grilling the junior batch – just to create PITY & then AWE ( plus rating / popularity) for the star kid playing the character of the pilot – the director, it seems, is not bothered about the actual scheme of things that occurred or the real person concerned – simply bollywood!!
Instead of creating such typical senti / pitiful scenes of male bias in the name of creative content – the Director could have chosen to show/ recreate scenes of female capacity, achievement & courage (which were actually performed by pilots during kargil war) like –
*Heli-rescues from almost next to LOC
*Landing on on High Altitude helipads where air is rarified and landing a chopper on a precarious helipad takes the best of (wo)men & spirit
*Supply (and morale) drops for weary troops – short on supplies & ammo
*Recce & fire control & coordination with fighter pilots for air strikes
*Artillery spotting etc …
and of above performed under fire most of the times ….
and many more acts of bravery & professionalism not know to us in civvy street…..
And which can be told to the world if proper research is done – to depict and portray the person, situation and facts in correct light and to present them in a great film package …
But I guess the Director /Dharma Productions aren’t aware that any of the above acts can actually happen in real life…
Not Bollywood – they think they are the cats pyjamas – feed junk to the desi audience when it comes to movies of such genre – who’ll notice!!!
It’s high time aran johar stops making films…there is no audience now for his regressive thinking which he promotes through his movies
I would have laughed about this but for its implication and effect on impressionable young women of India who may generalize this.
On the other hand this is simply Karan Johar ‘Air Force’ version of Student of the Year.
Wow! Namaste :). Every word you wrote came out as proud and annoyed person, and you have every right to be so. As personal who has served in IAF you must have felt the pangs of Bollywood commercial cinema tarnishing its name. I am sorry you had to see such a ‘movie’. Karan Johar, I don’t know what goes in that person’s mind. I hope you stay well. Thank you for the article. 🙂
Movie is a commercial product meant to sell and make money, so some masala is perfectly fine.
You write about defense services respecting women . Why don’t you write about women treated like cheap whores when officers bring in females and get drunk and share them with their fellow brother officers. I have seen it happen in numerous officers mess.
Don’t exaggerate . Ask civilians staying just outside cantonments how they fear military officers trying to get close to females. 😊👍
Will you ,sir, oppose if someone adds “positive masala” to a movie on Balakot strikes??
As for Johar, he doesn’t know about even avg colleges.😆 . That’s why we ignored the movie.
What worries me is Not Karan Johar’s ignorance but the silence of the Chief of Air staff and his lady wife. Why are they not anything about these matters?
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