Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl: The True Story of the Woman Air Force Officer Who Inspired Karan Johar

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Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl: The True Story of the Woman Air Force Officer Who Inspired Karan Johar

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

Two decades ago, when tensions over the Kargil war were close to their peak, two pilots were sent into the killing fields to carry out reconnaissance operations, and casualty evictions — having to brave both bullets and missiles seated in tiny Cheetah helicopters.

What made this particular operation iconic, however, was the fact that these two pilots also happened to be the first women Indian Air Force officers to be sent into a war zone.

Flight lieutenants Gunjan Saxena and Srividya Rajan scripted history in 1999, saving the lives of dozens of army men, while flying dangerously close to Pakistani positions.

On Tuesday, director Karan Johar announced that his next film was based on these missions, and the life of Saxena, who over the years came to be known as “Kargil Girl” will release on Netflix though we don’t have a date yet. The first posters of the film, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl were also shared by actor Jhanvi Kapoor, who will be playing the role of the pilot.

 

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Johar shared a teaser of the movie. “Her inspirational journey made history. This is her story. Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, coming soon on Netflix,” he wrote on Instagram.

But for those of us who can’t wait for the film to release, here is all you need to know about the brave Gujan Saxena.

Saxena, who is the daughter of an army officer, graduated from Hansraj college in Delhi, and was one of 25 women who made up the batch of women IAF trainee pilots. She, along with her colleague Rajan, was called upon by the Air Force, when the conflict between India and Pakistan had escalated. She was summoned to Srinagar and she agreed.

During one of her evacuation and recon missions, Saxena also had a close shave when a rocket fired by the Pakistani Army came dangerously close to hitting her helicopter, before it went crashing into the hill behind the Kargil airstrip.

In an interview with NDTV in 2016, the pilot said that her biggest motivation to keep going, despite the dire situation, were the evacuation missions she had to carry out. “I would say it’s a very satisfying feeling when you save a life because that’s what you’re there for,” she had said.

Back then, Saxena had to serve as a short service commissioned officer, which meant her tenure with the IAF ended in seven years. But women in the Air Force are now allowed to get a permanent commission, owing largely thanks to her pioneering flights.

The pilot was later honoured with the Shaurya Vir award for her exceptional courage, but her story soon faded from public consciousness. Hopefully, the biopic, which is slated for release on Netflix early next year, will make her a household name again.

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