September 18, 2020
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Dear Makers Of 'Gunjan Saxena', You Cannot Peddle Lies In The Name Of Creative Freedom

I have myself served as a helicopter pilot and I have never faced the kind of abuse and maltreatment as was portrayed in the movie. In fact, men in uniform are true gentlemen and professionals, writes Wing Commander Namrita Chandi (Retd).

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Dear Makers Of 'Gunjan Saxena', You Cannot Peddle Lies In The Name Of Creative Freedom
Poster of movie 'Gunjan Saxena'.
Dear Makers Of 'Gunjan Saxena', You Cannot Peddle Lies In The Name Of Creative Freedom
outlookindia.com
2020-08-16T10:55:39+05:30

Disclaimer:

Dear Gunjan,

We have trained together. We have seen each other under the worst of circumstances. I know you were a competent pilot and more so a woman who the country is proud of. That said, you should have spoken up when you had the time.

This rebuttal to “Gunjan Saxena, The Kargil Girl", has as little to do with Gunjan, as has the film.

This has more to do with the house of Dharma Productions and of all those penny dreadful story and screenplay writers, who contributed to this monstrous film that has shown us all in the proud blue uniform in very poor light. 

I saw this film with little expectation. Very few films do any justice to truth, as it stands. Film makers issue disclaimers and also absolve themselves under the guise of cinematic license and creative freedom.

Also Read | Movie Review: Come On, Bollywood, Indian Air Force Deserves Better Than 'Gunjan Saxena'

But cinematic licences and creative freedom can be applied to ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gum' type of  bubble gum cinema. It cannot be stretched into an absolute travesty of set rules and established protocols of hallowed institutions like the Indian Air Force. I am not certain what Gunjan could have told the researchers of the film about her experiences in the Crew Room. But, this I can say with authority and absolute iron clad surety that no one who has worn a uniform, even for the 5 or 6 years like Gunjan did, will ever feed such a  scenario to the makers of puerile cinema.

I have myself served as a helicopter pilot and I have never faced the kind of abuse and maltreatment as was portrayed in the movie. In fact, men in uniform are true gentlemen and professionals. They go out of their way to make lady officers comfortable and adjust. Yes, initially there were teething troubles like no changing rooms or exclusive ladies toilets; yet the men made space for us. Sometimes, my brother officers stood guard outside the curtain while I changed. Never in my entire career span of 15 years have I been disrespected or mistreated.

The Flight Commanders, the people who wield the burden in all operational Squadrons/ Units (disseminate flying tasks, schedule sorties and crew rosters etc), are men of great professional competence. Not in the least like that man depicted in the film. Every pilot in the Air Force has to prove himself. Man or woman.

As I mentioned, creative license is one thing but when you deal with institutions, you cannot change facts. Elaborate and fantasise, if you must. But don’t peddle lies.

Srividya Rajan was the first lady pilot who flew to Kargil – not Gunjan. Though, I am certain that Srividya has no complaints about this credit being taken away from her. There is a scene in which the Army Major asks the character of Gunjan Saxena: “tum join karogi". Even an imbecile knows that once you are a commissioned officer, you are committed to the constitution of India. Please do not make a civilian even imagine that it is even possible to disobey orders.

I have myself been the first lady officer to fly on the International Border with Pakistan, way back in 1996. I had the confidence of every officer that sat with me in the crew room. I was the first lady pilot to be posted to Leh and fly the Cheetah helicopter in the Siachen Glacier, an area where superstitious belief was that the Army suffered casualties whenever a lady visited Base Camp! But not once did my colleagues or flight commander raise objections to my flying or had doubts on my ability. My husband and I were both posted together in Leh from December, 2000 till December, 2002. If I was suspect, he would be the first person to object.

Officers are officers. Whether with long hair or short. Never are they paraded for losing in a childish strength game. Never are the briefings interrupted in that rude and ugly manner. Quite naturally, Gunjan’s erstwhile flight commander is extremely peeved at being portrayed so negatively and so far from the truth. I can vouch for it.

The entire narrative is skewed and as far from the truth as chalk and cheese. If this film attempted at infusing patriotism in the country's women, and I was a young woman, I would run as far away from the Indian Air Force as possible! The film shows misogyny at its worst!

My lady officer colleagues and I are shocked and very saddened by what has been represented and conveyed through this movie. The social media, sometimes, convolutes the facts in a manner that dilute the importance of gallantry awards. The news that Gunjan Saxena got a Shaurya Chakra is absolutely untrue. As I said earlier, these are facts that even she will not refute. I know her to be a good human being. But it could be anyone else and our collective reaction would be the same. It is demeaning the sanctity and bravery of genuine Shaurya Chakra winners. 

I reiterate that none of us have anything against Gunjan. Our greatest objection is to the way the lady officers have been shown. My fellow lady officers, and I, down the years, fiercely defend our male colleagues. They have welcomed us and given us equal respect. We learned, albeit the hard way, but to co-exist with utmost harmony and respect for each other.

The seniors took us under their wings and  taught us, sometimes harshly, but mostly with gentle and firm grip. In any case, we were ready to venture into a male dominated territory where the initial foray was naturally met with resistance.

I did not come from a services family, but from a farmer’s family. I had no idea of what I must expect from the force, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the warm and willing welcome. These are the ethos of the Indian Air Force or indeed any uniformed service in India. 

Of course, I do not deny that some weak minded and professionally incompetent face hardships. But that applies to men as well as women. It was not reserved for Gunjan.

Poor Jahnavi Kapoor, she must have come away with a poor and pathetic impression of us women. Lady, let me advice you, please, never again do a film of this kind if you are a proud Indian woman. Stop showcasing Indian professional women and men in such poor light.

I served for full 15 years as a helicopter pilot and can call myself a very proud Indian Air Force veteran. There is no way that I will allow the image of the force to be tarnished like this, whether it is due to creativity or cinematic license. 


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