The first woman to be an IAF combat pilot, her contribution to the Kargil war and her headstrong journey of braving her way into a male dominated institution. It is an inspiring story, irrespective of Bollywood. The question here is how high can this film soar from an already high pedestal.

The film follows a methodical progression of Gunjan’s life from a little kid fascinated by the idea of flying, a naive girl struggling to follow her dreams and a series of her small victories that lead to a life-defining climax. This win for Gunjan also very subtly stands for a larger win over patriarchy.

The storytelling is measured. It never gets too ambitious to go overboard with emotions. It goes up to the point of water coming to the brink of big eyes teary eyes, but it never drops. Either the lead character is built along the natural restraint of Janhavi Kapoor, or it just organically works for her. While the lack of melodrama helps in staying on point, it also feels restrictive at times for other characters.

The narrative is kept simplistic, so are the characters; they are either with or against Gunjan’s path, there is no in-between . On one hand there is world’s best father who is supportive of everything under the sun that his daughter dreams of.  On the other hand there is an elder brother, brought up in this same household who happens to be a product of patriarchy. Two other distinctly opposite men at the IAF also represent the support and the challenges in the second half of Gunjan’s journey.

The father daughter conversations, even silences are where the heart of this journey lies . One scene where Pankaj Tripathi in a very matter of fact way takes off the burden of misinterpreted ‘patriotism’ from his young daughter’s honest shoulders, could be remembered as one of the most finely written scenes of recent times. There are many such instances where he whispers wisdom in his trademark style, filling up the screen with warmth and joy.

Having said all that, it’s Bollywood after all, so there are clichés and there is childish humour to break the monotony of sensible cinema. For example – the scene where music has to stop just when Gunjan announces her plans to quit studying in the middle of an awkward dance. Then her stating ‘sarkaileo khatiya’ stats in an IAF interview and still cracking it. The ‘arm wrestle’ bit towards the end by her CO.  All this might seem normal in regular Hindi cinema context, but for a film that chooses to be so undertone, any hint of drama or exaggeration sticks out like a sore thumb.

Pankaj Tripathi is as brilliant as ever, his appearances on the screen are the most memorable ones, even if he is just sitting there supporting the actor next to him. Janhavi Kapoor fits into the role appropriately, the inexperience, the burden to prove herself as an ‘actor’, all works naturally into the innocence of the character. The arch for some of the other able actors like Vineet Kumar Singh and Angad Bedi feels slightly disappointing though.

What works for Gunjan Saxena is that it stays true to its motive and chooses not to shift its focus to chest-thumping patriotism, which usually guarantees applause.

The true story of Gunjan Saxena itself is path breaking, as a result the film as a simple and honest (almost) narration of it, with a great cast, becomes a joyful watch if not exhilarating.

Going with 3.5/5 cuttings for this one.

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