Director Sharan Sharma says the decision to not opt for hyper-nationalism in his film "Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl" was directly influenced by the life of the subject, who believes in serving the country through her work. As a debutant filmmaker, Sharma believes he had the advantage of relying on his instincts and going by "only what felt right". The film is based on the life of Gunjan Saxena, then a flying officer, who became the first woman combat aviator to fly into a war zone during the 1999 Kargil War.
"Gunjan Saxena" has garnered positive reviews, particularly drawing praise for steering clear of chest-thumping patriotism that has almost become a norm in recent Bollywood movies.
"The advantage of being a first-time filmmaker is that you don''t know too many things. You rely on your instincts. So whatever felt natural, we followed that. We did not design the tone. It came from Gunjan ma''am," Sharma told PTI in a Zoom call.
In a crucial scene, Gunjan, played by Janhvi Kapoor, asks her father, Armyman Anup Saxena (Pankaj Tripathi) whether she was being dishonest with the country by joining the Air Force to simply realise her dream of flying a plane.
He replies: "If you are honest in your work, you can never be dishonest with your country. Do you think Air Force needs people who shout ''Bharat Mata Ki Jai''?"
Sharma, a cricket enthusiast, cited the example of Sachin Tendulkar, saying the master cricketer had best served the country by giving his best to the game.
"Gunjan ma''am''s thought was simple that she had a dream to become a good pilot and if she does that, she will be able to perform her duty and serve the country. It is a simple thought that whatever you do, do the best and that''s how you serve the country. I liked the thought very much," he added.
The film, also starring Angad Bedi, Ayesha Raza Mishra, Vineet Kumar Singh and Manav Vij, is backed by Dharma Productions and Zee Studios. It started streaming on Netflix from Wednesday.
Sharma, who graduated from the University of Southern California in 2010, spent nine years with Karan Johar''s Dharma before landing his debut.
He assisted Johar on the filmmaker''s "Ae Dil Hai Mushkil" and his production "Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani", directed by Ayan Mukerji.
Sharma said he came across an article on Gunjan Saxena and told Johar that it would make for an interesting movie in case someone wanted to take up the project at Dharma.
Johar instead told him to see the project through.
The greenhorn director said he was initially apprehensive about whether he would be able to understand Saxena''s journey but his doubts cleared once he met her.
"She had this dream to become a pilot. She described it as a ''keeda'' (here: passion). It was an innocent dream that appealed to me a lot because growing up even I wanted to become a cricketer like Sachin Tendulkar."
Sharma also said he found Saxena''s dynamic with her family "interesting".
"Her father is the soul of the film. The kind of inspiration he gave her to live her dream, it connected with me. I loved the brother-sister dynamic as a brother to a younger sister. While I went there wondering how I will tell this story, I left feeling this is my story to tell," he said.
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