Gunjan Saxena has become a household name — for the wrong reasons, all thanks to Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions and Netflix, which has come out with a movie on her.
The movie — Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl — has been roiled by controversy since the release of its trailer for distorting events surrounding the life and tenure of retired Indian Air Force (IAF) officer, and her participation in the 1999 battle with Pakistan.
A long list of factual errors turned Gunjan Saxena into a mere controversy. And it all started with the trailer, which depicted rampant sexism in the IAF — the first of the three Services to give combat roles to women. This is why Gunjan Saxena is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
So peeved was the IAF that it wrote to the Central Board of Film Certification (CBDC) about the “undue negative portrayal” in the Netflix movie starring Janhvi Kapoor in the lead role.
“In the aim to glorify the screen character of ‘Ex-Flt Lt Gunjan Saxena’, M/s Dharma Productions presented some situations that are misleading and portray an inappropriate work culture especially against women in the IAF,” the IAF’s letter to the CBFC read.
This opened a Pandora’s box on news channels and social media, with several military personnel, both serving and retired, criticising the film.
Gunjan Saxena was ‘Bharat Ki Beti’, until facts came tumbling out.
The Kargil Girl projects the retired officer as the first woman helicopter pilot of the IAF, which is absolutely false. The movie also shows her as the only women pilot of her era, which is also not true.
Wing Commander I.K. Khanna (Retd) wrote in an article that the first batch of seven women pilots had arrived at the Air Force Station at Yelahanka, Bangalore, in July 1994 to commence training on IAF transport aircraft. So, Gunjan Saxena could not have become the first pilot to join the IAF in 1999 — which is when the Kargil battle took place — since a lot of women were already flying for the force.
The movie also seeks to portray Gunjan Saxena as the first woman pilot to take part in the Kargil War, a claim which was rejected by another woman pilot. Flight Lieutenant Sreevidya Rajan said she was posted to the Udhampur base and that she, not Gunjan, was the first woman to fly in Kargil.
Gunjan Saxena has also been wrongly identified in the social media and certain media reports as having been awarded a Shaurya Chakra, which she hasn’t.
ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta has noted that there was no Cheetah helicopter involved in the Kargil battle and no pilots were taken hostage, as shown in the film.
A household name
The movie conjured such clearly refutable claims that the part about Gunjan Saxena flying in the Kargil war and carrying out multiple reconnaissance and rescue missions just like Flt Lt Sreevidya Rajan and other pilots became secondary.
And yet, the movie has managed to find a large viewership. Some are taking it at face value and believing what is shown while others are angry and accusing the filmmakers and Bollywood of deliberating showing the Indian armed forces in a bad light.
However, the claims and counterclaims, some right and some wrong, became the centre of the discussion and a social media buzz.
Eventually, everything added up to making Gunjan Saxena a household name. But at what cost?
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