Janhvi busts boys' locker room in 'Gunjan Saxena'
Janhvi Kapoor plays the ultimate outsider in 'Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl'. The 'Netflix' movie does not subscribe to the hyper-nationalism that recent Indian war films have so proudly worn on their chest. Instead, director Sharan Sharma chose to explore a wholly different, but equally thorny topic: feminism.
In our country, the idea of equal opportunity is seen as a threat by those in positions of power, which is why there is a systematic effort to maintain the status quo. Gunjan Saxena chose to break it.
From an early age, Gunjan's father, an army officer, was the only one who supported her dream of becoming a pilot. Despite topping her class in school, she frets about telling her parents that her future lies not in some man's kitchen, but in the skies. The early scenes unfold at a clip, providing just enough contexts for us to care about Gunjan and her difficult journey. But every time she overcomes an obstacle — Gunjan in the film is gifted to a fault — she is faced with a new one.
Her joy at being admitted into the air force academy is short-lived, because it is here that she truly experiences sexism. She is forced to relieve herself in a men's washroom because there is not one for women. Nearly all of her fellow cadets refuse to participate in sorties with her, for fear of being outclassed.
Like Gunjan, it seems as if Jhanvi is aware that she must work harder than others to prove herself. She brings a sense of discomfort to her performance in the air force scenes. In any case, it works. It is not easy playing a person who is massively proficient at her job and still so doubtful of her own potential. Gunjan in the film is what many might describe as a Mary Sue, a slightly outdated term used to describe a character who is implausibly skilled, even within the realms of fiction. There is no obstacle that she cannot cross by simply tapping into her reserve of strength. And there is no narrative problem that Sharma, who is making his directorial debut here, cannot solve with a montage, or with the help of an overbearing background score.
He structures the film almost like a superhero origin story. Gunjan suffers hardships despite her obvious talents, but she develops her skills patiently, until she is called upon to unleash her powers in battle. By writing Gunjan as someone whose first love is not serving their country, but flying, Sharma offers a new perspective on uber-patriotic war movies.