Gunjan Saxena’s coursemate Sreevidya Rajan says ‘I was the first woman pilot to fly in Kargil’, slams ‘factually incorrect’ biopic

Flight Lieutenant (retd) Sreevidya Rajan, coursemate of Flight Lieutenant (retd) Gunjan Saxena, said that facts were ‘twisted’ in Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl.
Janhvi Kapoor (L) with Gunjan Saxena.
Janhvi Kapoor (L) with Gunjan Saxena.
Updated on Aug 20, 2020 03:19 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByHT Entertainment Desk

Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, a biopic on the life of former Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Gunjan Saxena, has been at the centre of a controversy for its creative liberties. After the IAF objected to its ‘undue negative’ portrayal, Gunjan’s coursemate, Flight Lieutenant (retd) Sreevidya Rajan, has said that the makers of the Janhvi Kapoor-starrer have ‘twisted the facts’.

In a lengthy note posted on her Facebook page, Sreevidya said that Gunjan and she trained together at the Air Force Academy and Helicopter Training School. “Both of us were posted to Udhampur in 1996 but in the movie, it was shown that she was the only lady pilot posted at the unit. Since the two of us were the first lady pilots to be posted to that helicopter unit, we were skeptical about our acceptance in the male-dominated niche area of flying. We were received with the usual preconceived notions and prejudices from a few colleagues. However, there were enough officers to support us,” she wrote.

“We were under strict scrutiny and certain mistakes of ours were met with corrective actions which may have been overlooked had it been done by our male counterparts. We had to work harder than our counterparts to prove ourselves to be at par with them. Some were not happy to share the professional space with us but the majority accepted and treated us as fellow officers working towards a common goal,” she added.

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In Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, Gunjan’s sorties are cancelled on a regular basis because no male officer is comfortable flying with her. She is also asked to arm-wrestle as a show of strength, something that Sreevidya denies ever happened.

“Our flying began within a few days of our arrival and was never interrupted or cancelled for petty reasons as wrongly portrayed in the movie. The squadron commander was a thorough professional. He was a very strict and tough officer who took us to task whenever there was a mistake from our side, be it male or female. We never faced any humiliating physical strength demonstrations as shown in the movie. We were never ill-treated or humiliated by our fellow officers,” she wrote.

Sreevidya agreed that there were no separate toilet facilities and changing rooms for women at the Udhampur air base, as shown in Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, but their fellow officers ‘always accommodated and helped us’. She also said that it was ‘factually incorrect’ to portray Gunjan as the only woman pilot to conduct recce and rescue missions during the 1999 Kargil War.

“In the movie, Gunjan Saxena was shown as the only lady pilot to fly in Kargil operations. This is factually incorrect. We were posted together to Udhampur and when the Kargil conflict started, I was the first woman pilot to be sent along with the male counterparts in the first detachment of our unit which deployed at Srinagar. I flew missions in the conflict area even before Gunjan’s arrival at Srinagar. After a few days of operation, Gunjan Saxena came to Srinagar with the next set of crew. We actively participated in all operations given to us which included casualty evacuation, supply drop, communication sorties, SAR, etc. The heroic acts of the protagonist portrayed in the climax never actually happened and may have been shown as part of cinematic licence,” Sreevidya wrote. In the final scene of the film, Gunjan is shown to rescue her misogynistic superior from a combat zone.


Calling herself a ‘good friend’ of Gunjan’s, Sreevidya said the makers of Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl were likely to have ‘twisted the facts’ given by her ‘for the sake of publicity’. “She is a brilliant officer and a thorough professional. She had many achievements during her career which should have been portrayed to inspire the younger generation instead of showing her as a weak and oppressed victim in certain scenes. As the pioneers of women pilots, we were treated with utmost respect and it was our responsibility to live up to the expectations and pave way for future generations. The movie is sending out a wrong message about the lady officers of IAF there by demeaning the prestigious organisation of our country,” she wrote.

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Sreevidya said that Gunjan ‘should have made sure to show the facts and portray IAF in a positive light’ before giving the biopic a green signal. “Though I was the first lady pilot to fly in Kargil, I never claimed it in any forum before this due to my strong belief in gender equality. In Kargil operations, male pilots had flown extensively and faced more hardships than us. But they never got or sought any publicity. We probably were given this fame because of our gender which I do not support. In defence services, there is no disparity between male or female. We are all officers in uniform,” she added.

On Monday, Gunjan defended her biopic in a blog written for NDTV. “Let me inform readers with utmost conviction and honesty that even though cinematic liberties were exercised in my biopic by the filmmakers, what they did not miss or exaggerate was me, the real Gunjan Saxena. I admit without hesitation that I have even more of an iron will and resoluteness than was portrayed in the movie,” she wrote, adding that it ‘was absolutely disheartening to see a small group of people trying to dent this hard-earned reputation with nonsensical rants’.

Responding to the portrayal of her fellow officers as misogynistic, Gunjan wrote, “When I joined there was no discrimination at the organizational level. But yes, individually, no two people are the same and some individuals adapt to change better than others. Since the bias is not at an organizational level, the experiences of different woman officers would be different. To deny it completely speaks of a feudal mindset and undermines the grit of women officers. I also combated the difficulties of prejudice and discrimination at the hands of a few individuals for being a woman. But since it was never at the organisational level, I got equal opportunities all the time.”

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