Instructor who trained first batch of IAF female pilots slams Gunjan Saxena biopic: ‘No one had to run to their room to change’
Retired Wing Commander IK Khanna, who says he trained the Indian Air Force’s first batch of female pilots, has written an opinion column for The Print, claiming that much of what was shown in the recent film Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, especially with regard to the IAF, is inaccurate.
“I was one of the instructors back in July 1994 when the first batch of seven women pilots arrived at the Air Force Station at Yelahanka, Bengaluru, to commence training on IAF transport aircraft,” Khanna wrote. Wondering if the film’s screenplay was shared with the IAF, Khanna wrote that under his watch, all women pilots were treated as equals, and “No one had to run to their room to change as shown in Gunjan Saxena.”
Khanna narrated the story of Harita Kaur Deol (later Fg Offr Harita Deol), who was supposed to be accompanied by a journalist on a training flight, in which she would perform an operation not unlike the one Gunjan performs in the film -- shutting down an engine and restarting it in air. “As she went through the paces with a demonstration of the exercise by the instructor followed by practice by her, I could see the journalist sweating more than Harita,” Khanna wrote.
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He continued, “Gender bias has been part of Indian society for ages, but women have been part of the defence services in many fields for years.” He remarked, “And to believe that Gunjan Saxena, or for that matter any other woman pilot, was subjected to arm wrestling—as the film on her shows!
Directed by Sharan Sharma and starring Janhvi Kapoor, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl has been at the centre of a controversy ever since its August 12 release. Several veterans of the IAF have said that it inaccurately portrays the air force, and one of Gunjan’s fellow officers, Sreevidya Rajan, has said that she was the first female pilot in a combat zone, and not Gunjan, as the film claims. “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,” Sreevidya had written in a Facebook post.
Gunjan, in an interview to NDTV, responded, “From July 1999 till today, my name has featured in a number of headlines, in a number of articles, and in the Limca Book of Records, and in one of the promotion exams taken by the air force. Between July 1999 and today, I don’t see what has changed. The only thing that has changed is this movie being released.”
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