Retired Wing Commander Namrita Chandi, who served in the Indian Air Force with Gunjan Saxena, the subject of a recent biopic, has written an open letter criticising the film’s portrayal of the IAF. Differing views have emerged on the issue of the film’s depiction of sexism in the air force.
In her letter, published on Outlook, Namrita Chandi wrote, “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.” She wrote that she trained together with Gunjan, and saw “each other under the worst of circumstances.” She wrote that both her letter and the film, which she described as ‘monstrous’, have little to do with Gunjan.
She blamed Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions, and its ‘penny dreadful’ writers for showing everyone who has served in the ‘proud blue uniform in very poor light’. While she agreed that initially, “there were teething troubles like no changing rooms or exclusive ladies toilets,” at no point was she made to feel uncomfortable. In fact, on occasion some of her cohorts would stand guard outside while she changed.
Namrita also accused the filmmakers of “peddling lies.” She wrote, “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.”
Citing her own credentials, Namrita wrote, “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…”
She wrote that the film acts as a deterrent for women to join the air force, and that her fellow female officers are ‘shocked and saddened’ at how events have been portrayed. She ended with a message for actor Janhvi Kapoor, who played Gunjan in the film. “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.”
The air force had complained to the Central Board of Film Certification and Dharma Productions about its ‘undue negative portrayal’ in the film, which released on Netflix on August 12. The real Gunjan Saxena has since put out several statements highlighting the importance of the role that the IAF played in her life, and the opportunities that she was given by it.
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