A Bollywood film inspired by the life of India’s first female pilot to fly in a war has been accused of showing the Air Force in a negative light, writes Geeta Pandey of the BBC in Delhi. In the summer of 1999, as India and Pakistan traded missiles and bullets, Flight Lieutenant Gunjan Saxena repeatedly flew across the Line of Control, the disputed border that divides Kashmir between the two South Asian neighbors.
The conflict started after the Pakistani army infiltrated the actual border and captured the icy heights in Kargil, which is located in Indian-administered Kashmir. “I spent about 20 days in June, flying a helicopter on a recension mission,” Flt Lt Saxena told the BBC. “My main job was to find out where the enemy’s posts were, assess the war damage to India’s army, and evacuate the casualties.”
The Real Gunjan Saxena (Honours and Awards):
She was among the first batch of women to join the Indian Air Force in 1994 – the year she began inducting women transport and helicopter pilots – and between two female pilots who flew reconnaissance during the Kargil conflict.
I asked her if she ever feared missiles and bullets flying around her on the battlefield – she once shaved off a beard when a missile missed her helicopter by inches. “No, never,” came the quick reply. “It was risky, but we voluntarily accepted the risk.”
She received the Bravery Award in her home state of Uttar Pradesh for displaying “exemplary courage” for her role in the struggle, which has been distinguished as a “pioneer” who “broke the glass ceiling” and many young women Inspired to join the Air Force.
“I never saw the roof,” she laughs, “and never went there to break one. I’m glad if I broke it. And if I inspired others to break it, I’d be lucky. Am.” After more than 20 years, her Netflix biopic, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl (out last week), and her autobiography, The Kargil Girl (out last Monday), is to celebrate her life and achievements.
Get your copy – Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl
“She’s an inspiration,” says Kirandeep Singh, one of the autobiographers’ co-authors. “Over the years, people were forgetting her achievement and it was an attempt to revive an interest in her story.”
“It takes a lot of courage to go to the battlefield, the LOC has formed just a few hundred meters away and within Pakistan’s range of small arms fire and again carry out missions and casualty evacuations”, says the second co-author, Nirvana Singh. “In the chaos of war, his instinctive and serene perception fell apart.”
The movie – Janhvi Kapoor
The film, starring Janhvi Kapoor, topped the Netflix charts in India and received rave reviews from critics and viewers – a newspaper describing it as “the deeply moving story of a feminist father and his feisty daughter”.
Flt Lt Saxena says that she has “received a lot of messages from younger girls stating that she too wants to join the Air Force after watching the film and wants to become a pilot”.
But the biopic has also landed in the middle of an unexpected line, mostly over the portrayal of sexism and gender inequality in the Air Force.
In the last few days, several female officers, who were contemporaries of Lieutenant Saxena, have also spoken out – some have talked about subtle sexism and the prejudices present in the Air Force, But others have criticized the film for “twisting the facts” and “trussing the lies”.
The film and autobiography are “Very different”.
“I liked the film as a viewer, it’s very entertaining, but it’s dramatized,” she says, adding that the book is the real deal.
“Twenty-five years ago when I joined the Air Force, the society was very different. And we were the first female pilots, so it was a new situation for the Air Force as well. The real issues were – there were no female toilets or grounds. Changing the room – but they deal with them.
“Even socially, this was a new situation for them so initially they were awkward and hesitating, so they took time to adjust. But change and acceptance came and it did not hinder our duty.”
The purpose of the film and the book, she says, is not to create any controversy, but to inspire generations to come – “not only wanting to join the Air Force, but we want to convey the message to all who have One is to dream that there may be obstacles, but take care and believe in yourself ”.
Originally posted: Yahoo