Amidst the ongoing controversy that has erupted over Bollywood movie ‘Gunjan Saxena’ for negatively portraying the Indian Air Force, a former Air Force officer has written a scathing letter to the makers of the movie saying that they cannot peddle lies in the name of creative freedom.
In her letter to the makers of the movie – ‘Gunjan Saxena’, published by the Outlook, Wing Commander Namrita Chandi (Retd) has a written a detailed response addressing the negative portrayal of the Indian Armed Forces, especially Indian Air Force and has given a befitting reply by rejecting the claims of extreme gender bias, misogyny and even harassment of women in the IAF as portrayed in the movie.
Wing Commander Chandi (Retd.), in her letter, has said that both men and women have trained together in the Armed Forces and have seen each other under the worst of circumstances.
“This rebuttal to “Gunjan Saxena, The Kargil Girl”, has as little to do with Gunjan, as has the film,” Chandi categorically clarifies at the beginning.
Moviemakers showed Air Force officers in poor light
The rebuttal, according to the former Air Force officer Chandi, has more to do with the house of Dharma Productions, owned by Karan Johar and all those ‘penny dreadful’ story and screenplay writers, who have contributed to this monstrous film that has shown the Indian Air Forces officers 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,” adds Wing Commander Chandi (Retd.).
The Air Force officer said that the cinematic licences and creative freedom can be applied to bubble gum films like ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gum’ type but cannot be stretched into an absolute travesty of set rules and established protocols of hallowed institutions like the Indian Air Force.
She added that even though she was not certain what Gunjan could have told the researchers of the film about her experiences in the crew room, but she can say with authority and absolute iron-clad surety that no one who has worn a uniform, even for the five or six years like Gunjan did, will ever feed such a scenario to the ‘makers of puerile cinema’.
Men in uniform are true gentlemen and professionals, says former officer
Narrating her own experience during her days at the Indian Air Force, Namrita Chandi said, “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 former officer also added that the flight commanders, the people who wield the burden in all operational squadrons are men of great professional competence and not in the least like that man depicted in the film. “Every pilot in the Air Force has to prove himself: Man or woman, says the retired officer.
Attacks Karan Johar’s production house for distorting facts
Launching a scathing attack on moviemakers over distorting facts to suit their narrative, Wing Commander Namrita Chandi (Retd.) added that creative license is one thing but when someone deals with institutions, they cannot change facts. Elaborate and fantasise, if you must but don’t peddle lies, she wrote.
Putting some facts in her letter, officer Chandi said that it was Srividya Rajan, who was the first lady pilot who flew to Kargil – not Gunjan as depicted in the movie.
Explaining a scene in the movie where an Army Major makes certain comments on the character of Gunjan Saxena, Retd officer Chandi said that even an imbecile knows that once you are a commissioned officer, you are committed to the constitution of India and asked the moviemakers not to 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 the 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,” she explained the way Indian Armed Forces functioning without discriminating based on gender.
The former Air Force helicopter pilot said that the entire narrative in the movie 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 she as a young woman would run as far away from the Indian Air Force as possible! The film shows misogyny at its worst, she attacked Karan Johar’s production house for stereotyping institutions.
Lady officers are hurt and shocked
She added that her lady officer colleagues 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, reveals Namrita Chandi. She said the moviemakers have played with the facts, which are 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 officer revealed how the seniors took them under their wings and taught them, sometimes harshly, but mostly with a 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, she narrated her positive experience during her days at Indian Air Force.
“I served for a 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,” said Wing Commander Namrita Chandi (Retd.)
Concluding her letter, Wing Commander Namrita Chandi also advises Jahnavi Kapoor, who played the role of Gunjan Saxena in the movie, to state that she must have come away with a poor and pathetic impression of women. “Lady, let me advise 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,” the former officer penned down her thought on the recent controversy.
The controversy surrounding the movie ‘Gunjan Saxena’
The issue came to the fore when the ‘Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl’, that essays the role of India’s first woman pilot Gunjan Saxena, landed in a controversy after it was released on Netflix, after viewers and Armed Forces veterans raised objections over the negative portrayal of the Indian Air Force in the commercial film.
The Indian Armed Force shot off a letter to Dharma Productions, Netflix and the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), protesting against the inaccurate representation of gender discrimination in the Air Forces as portrayed in the movie. The Air Force said that certain scenes and dialogues in the movie portray it in a bad light. Gunjan Saxena herself told a media agency that she didn’t experience any gender bias in the IAF.
According to an official privy to the details, before the release of the movie, the Indian Air Force had requested Dharma Productions to modify or delete the objectionable scenes. However, no such action was taken by the Karan Johar-owned production house. Following the allegations of the baseless negative portrayal of IAF, the National Commission for Women (NCW) chief Rekha Sharma also urged the filmmakers to stop the streaming of the film on Netflix.
It is also pertinent to note that the letter by the IAF was written after the Defence Ministry’s letter to the CBFC last month, raising objections to the depiction of armed personnel in some web series.