Posted by Benita Benjamin
It might be a mere coincidence that the film Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, directed by Sharan Sharma, was released at the historic moment when women are granted Permanent Commission in the Indian Army. Yet, the film based on the life of Gunjan Saxena, the first female combat pilot in India, addresses some major concerns that made many apprehensive about women’s abilities to defend her country. Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl is a subtle backlash at a hypocritical society that educates girls but tugs her down every time she challenges the status quo, mounts unrealistic barriers for women only to snub her dreams with ruthless strength when she braves all odds, and equates her with the nation’s honour when she is disrespected and unrecognised.
Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl ended on a happy note when Gunjan finally overrode the conventional barriers and proves that she is as good as, or better than, any other male pilot. To know that Gunjan, in real life as well, had to repeatedly prove that her passion and talent are genuine, leaves one in awe of the strength she might have mustered to reassure herself when everyone doubted her. The film Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl documents the frustration that results out of ambushed dreams in the scene where Gunjan’s merit is judged through a fist fight. Every time Gunjan is defeated in the fist fight, she shudders with the painful acknowledgement of the demeaning terms on which a woman has to compete with a man in a ‘man’s world’ designed by men.
Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl shows how in every stage of her struggle, she is constantly discouraged by several people on account of her gender and associated notions of safety. While the nationalist discourses patronise women as the custodians of culture and morals, ironically Gunjan is dissuaded from serving her country for the sake of her ‘safety’. This speaks volumes about the double-standards of the patriarchal rules made up by the society only so it can throttle a woman’s dreams. Initially, Gunjan’s brother tells her that the ‘real’ world outside is different from the world that she is used to. He then approaches their father in a vain attempt to convince him that Gunjan’s safety should be prioritised over her happiness. Later, when Gunjan is sent on a rescue mission to Kargil, she is asked to abort the plan on account of her safety. Afterwards, the Minister says that the mission was called off as India did not want her daughter to be dishonoured. The film raises some pertinent questions here – How can one protect a woman when her pride is hurt? How can one respect a woman when her skill is not trusted? How can one make a woman happy when her dreams are forfeited?
Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl definitely strikes at the glass ceiling, but one is acutely aware of the fact that it has not been shattered yet. The film’s brilliance lies in identifying the prejudices with which a woman’s merit is judged. Moreover, the film tries to allay the reservations about the psychological and physical abilities of women that stand in the way of women’s opportunities not only in the defence sector but also in all spheres of life. When a humiliated Gunjan interrupts her fellow pilots partying at night, she says that she wishes to fly a helicopter and not lift it. When it comes to her determination, there is no space for any misgivings as it is the courage of her convictions and fortitude of her dreams that helped her bounce back each time the world excluded her and made her severely conscious of her gender, like the gang of male pilots that gets dispersed in different directions when Gunjan casually joins them in their conversation at the party. Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl gives a sincere portrayal of the biased and gendered society that breaks her determination and prompts her to give up her dream, if the family is not already a hindrance or if she emerges unscathed by the trammels of the family.
Undoubtedly, Gunjan is an exceptional woman who soared with her steely resolve and hard work. Nevertheless, one becomes painfully aware of the impossibility of surmounting the difficulties hurled upon her if the circumstances were different. For a moment, one might wonder if Gunjan’s life would have been different if it were her unemployed mother, and not her father, who had wanted her daughter to scale greater heights. One might drift a bit further to wonder if Gunjan’s career would have been untimely snuffed out, if Commanding Officer Gautam Sinha did not trust her for what she is. While we are at it, one might as well digress a bit more to wonder if the world would have stood a chance of meeting such an inspiring person if Wing Commander Dileep Singh had a choice when the rescue mission was announced. This heightens the vulnerability of a woman’s hopes and aspirations that hang on a delicate thread at the hands of male benevolence and whim.
It was not a fortuitous turn of events that made Gunjan what she is today. Her success is hard-earned and well-deserved. One can only hope that there will be a day in the near future when a woman can claim the same opportunities and rights as a man. Until then, let’s abide by the lesson that Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl asserts on – to strive without yielding.
Benita Benjamin completed PG English from Hyderabad Central University and MPhil from Kerala University. Her research interests are gender studies, cultural studies, media studies. She can be found on Facebook.
Featured Image Source: Indian Express