Gunjan Saxena's Heroics: 'The Kargil Girl' Who Inspired Biopic Starring Janhvi Kapoor

It doesn't seem far-fetched to imagine Kirti Kulhari's character in Uri: The Surgical Strikes might have been a nod to Gunjan Saxena.

Producer Karan Johar unveiled the first few posters of the biopic based on the life of IAF (Indian Air Force) Pilot Gunjan Saxena, starring Janhvi Kapoor in the lead role. Being directed by debutante Sharan Sharma, the film is reported to chart the journey of Saxena as she became one of the first female IAF pilots to take part in combat during the Kargil war in 1999. Saxena, along with Srividya Rajan, rewrote the rules for young girls with a dream to become fighter pilots, a job reserved for only men till then. They set the ball rolling 17 years before the IAF officially began accepting female pilots to become a part of fighter squadrons in 2016.

Born and raised in a family filled with members who had served in the armed forces, it was an obvious choice for Saxena to take flying lessons at the Safdarjung Flying Club while attending Hansraj College. Saxena and Rajan were two of a batch of 25 women inducted as the first batch of trainee IAF pilots in 1994. Posted in Udhampur, Saxena and Rajan, the two pilots were admittedly taken aback by the lack of basic facilities like a separate washroom and a changing room. Before the mistake was rectified permanently, Saxena recounted how she and Rajan would stand guard while the other one changed in a makeshift changing room with walls on either sides and an almirah.

Summoning all of its available strength, the IAF enlisted the services of both Saxena and Rajan during the Kargil War. Between the two pilots who flew Cheetah Helicopters, they reportedly did as many as 80 recce sorties (where they flew over enemy territory to identify bunker positions and markers), and thus helped save many lives with the intelligence. It should be noted that the territories were engaged to shoot down anything belonging to the Indian armed forces, hence making it a very risky job to undertake time and again. A vital part of Operation Vijay, Saxena was also given the charge to carry food, medical supplies for the members of the Indian armed forces stranded in enemy territory, which soon earned her the moniker of the ‘Kargil Girl’. Saxena was later awarded the Shaurya Chakra for her contribution.

A film starring Janhvi Kapoor based on the life of Saxena does automatically raise curiosity around this little-known Kargil war hero. It could perhaps, chart a course similar to Ridley Scott’s G.I Jane, where Demi Moore played a character of the first female soldier to pass the elite U.S NAVY S.E.A.L training. It’s a strong statement for gender roles, especially in a time when the conversation around equality is as loud as it has ever been.

And now that we think about it, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to imagine Kirti Kulhari’s character in Uri: The Surgical Strikes might have been a nod to Gunjan Saxena. Both chopper pilots helped rescue members of the Indian armed forces from behind enemy lines. Gunjan Saxena’s biopic, quite unimaginatively titled, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl also stars Pankaj Tripathi, Angad Bedi, Vineet Kumar Singh and Manav Vij in important roles. Interestingly, Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions is also producing a biopic on Vikram Batra starring Sidharth Malhotra, which is also expected to release later this year. How’s the josh, KJo?