Sreevidya Rajan on Everything Wrong With 'Gunjan Saxena' the Film
Sreevidya Rajan talks about how she and Gunjan Saxena were constantly supported by Officers in their unit.
Janhvi Kapoor's latest film Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl has been shrouded in controversy for weeks now. Post the release, the Indian Air Force wrote a letter to the Censor Board objecting to its “undue negative” portrayal. A number of IAF officers, including Gunjan’s coursemate, Flight Lieutenant Sreevidya Rajan (retd), have claimed that officers have been misrepresented.
The Quint spoke with Sreevidya Rajan about her journey during her service, the years she spent with Gunjan Saxena at the Udhampur base and why she thinks IAF has been portrayed in a "negative" light.
How did your journey of becoming a pilot come about?
I had always dreamt of becoming a pilot but that time there was no opportunity of women in defence. Only lady medical officers were there. And I couldn’t join the civil flying fields because we couldn’t afford it. I was in the final year of my graduation that’s when the Indian Air Force started inducting women pilots. So I applied and I got in and my dream was fulfilled.
The film shows that there were no toilets or changing rooms and while that might be a petty concern for an officer of that stature, what were the hurdles that you and Gunjan Saxena encountered?
I also felt that they have projected such a silly thing. I understand they did it to make it more interesting, they must have shown it otherwise we never complained. Of course, there was a lack of infrastructure but we never complained because there were alternate measures. We used the lady medical officer’s toilet and no one insulted us the way the movie projects it. First one week or so we had to go to other rooms and change, thereafter the other officers adjusted and we used the same changing room and they were happy to share it with us. When we were posted to Udhampur after the initial formalities, there was no interruption on flying and there were no petty reasons cited and no one cancelled our flights. If you want to make a fictional movie you can exercise your creative freedom there.
She has written, “the bias is not at an organisational level, the experiences of different woman officers would be different. To deny it completely speaks of a feudal mindset and undermines the grit of women Officers.” What do you have say when she says that it’s not at an organisational level and it’s probably stemming from a person?
Yes, I agree with her on that. It is not at an organisational level, it’s from the people. Having said that, in any field of work, there are different types of people. Some might be of progressive thinking, some neutral and some may have problems with ladies. So the movie is generalising and has shown everyone in a negative light. All officers are shown to not be happy with a lady officer and none of them wanted to cooperate with her and that’s incorrect. I am not saying that we did not face any problem, we did. If you see my blog, I have clearly stated that. There were few people who had objections but not as shown in the movie. Some of them were actually very supportive and very helpful and they were very proud of us because we were in the Air Force which is a male-dominated area and that too in a niche area like flying. It is not easy for every girl to do. I did not react to any of it till I watched the movie as the first pilot flying in Kargil because I am not interested in any fame or publicity, that’s the first thing. Second is that I always believe in gender equality. We all know that there are so many Kargil heroes from Army also but only for being a woman you want fame, then I am not interested.
She’s written in her blog saying that, “First in the order of merit during my basic training and also in helicopter training, the first woman to fly in a combat zone (mentioned in the Limca Book of Records), the first ‘BG’ (a coveted flying category) among women helicopter pilots and the first woman officer to undergo the jungle and snow survival course.” And she says that she will not budge from these achievements of hers.
Okay except one, rest all that she has said is correct. The one thing incorrect is that I am the first one who went in Kargil. The first batch that went to Kargil, I was first among them and I flew in Kargil Operation. When the second set of pilots came to Srinagar, that’s when she also came. Thereafter, she flew there and we came back to Udhampur. Yes, she is correct that she was the course topper and she has got all these accomplishments. My point is then why didn’t they show that in the movie instead of showing her as weak. I think they wanted a proper ‘masala’ movie that’s why they went ahead and showed that everyone was against her and she had to go and rescue someone to prove her worth and that’s also wrong. I don’t want to come out and show all that and I am not here to claim the credit though I, my unit pilots and I am sure the Air Force also knows. My issue is from the movie, they have just erased me from history. I have also worked so hard to reach there. You struggle so much and reach there and you don’t even exist. I could not accept that and plus how the IAF is shown.
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