War films in India have not really hit international standards except for Lakshya (2004) and Uri: The Surgical Strike (2019), and none till date have managed to carve a riveting wartime biopic in the vein of Downfall (2004), The Desert Fox (1951), Schindler’s List (1993), To Hell and Back (1955), The Pianist (2002), Patton (1970) or The Imitation Game (2014). Thankfully, we now have a film that can proudly double up both as a profound biopic of an inspirational life and also a mighty fine war film bereft of unnecessary jingoism. And if you’re going to skip Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl merely because it stars Janhvi Kapoor and is produced by Karan Johar, two figures made into scapegoats in the never-ending nepotism debate in the wake of Sushant Singh Rajput’s tragic death, then you’re going to rob yourself of a seriously well-made cinematic experience.
Scroll below to read my full Gunjan Saxena The Kargil Girl movie review…
What’s it about
As made evident by the trailer, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl narrates the motivational true story of its eponymous character, the first female IAF pilot to face active wartime combat and the first woman to be bestowed with the prestigious Shaurya Chakra award for her service during the historic 1999 Kargil War.
Gunjan Saxena seamlessly traverses it’s central protagonist’s journey from her wide-eyed dreams of flying in the clouds (literally speaking) to the unimaginable patriarchy she faced in the male-dominated field of defense to her untold reserves of strength and passion, which, ultimately, not only made her something of a prodigy in flight navigation, but also won over her sharpest detractors. Director Sharan Sharma and co-writer Nikhil Mehrotra carve a moving portrait of how a woman had to face toxic masculinity and insidious patriarchy even within the hallowed halls of the country’s defense forces.
From Gunjan being constantly denied flying hours and her male compatriots being dumbfound insensitive to her feminine needs to being humiliated in an adverse display of arm-wrestling and her own brother perpetually concerned about the world’s thoughts rather than supporting his sister — the film poignantly weaves its narrative around these points, yet, to its credit, never goes overboard in painting the men in her life as fiends, signing them off as a product of their times, willing to change in the end. That it shows enough care for the men in her life who can sympathise and/or empathise with her like her father and base commander, speaks volumes of how the film is dedicated to not drive home an agenda that overshadows an inspiring tale.
Another facet where The Kargil Girl scores heavily is R. Dee’s camerawork. From lonesome frames of our protagonist, conveying all that needs to be said, to exhilarating aerial shots — the movie largely benefits from its cinematography as it does from Aarif Sheikh’s decisive trimming, keeping things crisp and moving along at a robust pace. Rekha Bhardwaj’s harmonious melody, Dori Tutt Gaiyaan, also comes at the perfect moment to elevate our connect to the story. Coming to the performances, it’s the supporting cast that shines, with Pankaj Tripathi in marvelous form as always while Vineet Kumar Singh and Angad Bedi sportingly portray characters you can’t help but hate.
Where Gunjan Saxena takes a major misstep is in the casting of its lead star. Janhvi Kapoor is too raw and just not skilled enough (at least for now) for such a nuanced role and though she isn’t outright poor in it, she does stick out like a sore thumb amidst her seasoned co-actors. Manav Vij is pitch perfect as her commander, but surprisingly, doesn’t get enough screen time to shine, which, in turn, slightly hampers the film’s impact. The rest of the songs aren’t nearly as good as Dori Tutt Gaiyaan and don’t merge well with the narrative flow. Also, it would’ve been nice to see a bit more of Gunjan’s combat missions as it could’ve added better perspective to her intrepidity.
Some flaws notwithstanding, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl pays deserving tribute to a real-life hero and demands to be watched as a worthy piece of cinema, keeping all prejudice aside. That it would’ve been better served on the big screen is a topic that also needs to be discussed albeit at another time. I’m going with 3.5/5 stars.