The military community—especially those linked to the Indian Air Force—is seething with anger and extremely disappointed with the film, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, that purportedly projects the IAF as a service where a toxic culture of masculinity thrives and whose officers are remorselessly sexist, several people Hindustan Times spoke to said.
The Netflix film, based on the life on a former woman helicopter pilot and her role during the 1999 Kargil war, instantly set off a firestorm of controversy after its release last week, with the IAF strongly objecting to the negative portrayal of its work culture and many in military circles accusing the film makers of peddling lies and a false narrative.
In its letter to Dharma Productions, Netflix and the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) earlier this month, the air force said certain scenes and dialogues in the movie and its trailer, which were forwarded to it for viewing, were found to “portray the IAF in an undue negative light.”
“The film has smeared the reputation of an honourable service with its cooked up instances of gender bias. There may have been some teething troubles in the initial years after women were allowed to join the IAF but what has been shown in the movie is absolutely fictitious and revolting,” said a serving officer familiar with the developments in the service in the late 1990s, asking not to be named.
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In its letter, the IAF wrote that some situations in the film are misleading and portray an inappropriate work culture against women to glorify the screen character of the former flight lieutenant.
Several male officers have been projected as misogynists to suit the film’s false narrative and sensationalise the plot, another serving officer said on the condition of anonymity.
“Do the film makers realise how those officers would be feeling about their horrible portrayal? I happen to know some of those fine officers, including the flight commander, who were posted at the Udhampur air base during that time. Forcing a woman officer to arm-wrestle with a male counterpart to prove that she is physically inferior or asking her to change into flight overalls on the tarmac, this is nothing but fiction,” he said.
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Many in the military circles believe the film is hardly about women empowerment and the sole agenda appears to propagate gender stereotypes.
“As a woman officer, I know all about the IAF and its work culture. You will find some oddballs in every walk of life and women do have uncomfortable experiences but that doesn’t mean you paint the entire organisation with the same broad brush. The fictitious film has done that,” said a retired woman officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Many feel the Netflix movie has lowered the military’s standing in the eyes of the entire country. “A civilian who watches that movie will never allow his daughter to join the armed forces. I have been flooded with WhatsApp messages from my civilian friends who have been asking if that kind of gender bias prevails in the armed forces,” said the wife of a serving officer, asking not to be named.
In the wake of the heated debate around the film, some highly regarded veterans believe that it’s time to stop singling out women officers for celebration only because of their gender.
“Thank you Sir, for raising a pertinent question. While I’m proud of women officers taking on all types of roles, my view is to stop singling them out for celebration only bcoz of gender. Lady officers are as good & equal to anyone, & we all are equally proud of their achievements,” former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee Lieutenant General Satish Dua (retd) wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
He was responding to a tweet by Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd), a former director general of military operations, who asked, “Ever wonder who was the first person to fly a combat sortie in the Kargil War, or the first soldier to make the supreme sacrifice.”