Over the years one thing has become painfully clear; Indian filmmakers struggle to successfully pull off biopics. Take the most recent case, Shakuntala Devi, for example. It felt more like an episodic portrayal of Shakuntala's life rather than getting a sense of the flesh and blood human behind the superhero status bestowed upon her by the filmmakers. Either this or the writers adopt a loud, melodramatic tone to convey the backstory of living legends like Milkha Singh in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. I know I well may have caused many eyebrows to raise by this opinion, but I honestly feel that's a highly overrated film. Of course, there are exceptions to this list. Irrfan Khan's rendition of an athlete turned dacoit in Paan Singh Tomar is probably one of his most memorable performances on-screen.
Anyway, coming back to Gunjan Saxena - The Kargil Girl. Fortunately, it doesn't fall into the usual traps of the genre because it's an extremely self-aware film. It doesn't try to push any boundaries in terms of the filmmaking craft but instead tries to make the most of what it is best at doing; wrap a shrewdly manipulative story around an emotional core that is the relationship between a daughter and her father who never once questions her ability to fulfill her dreams even when she herself wonders if she has chosen the right path or not.
I use the word shrewd because writers Nikhil Mehrotra and Sharan Sharma (also the director) create an engaging story out of something very mediocre and familiar by pressing all the right buttons at the right time. Weirdly, for the most part you feel happy being emotionally manipulated by the simplicity of the characters and their worlds throughout the roughly two-hour duration. After all, once you've got the heart in the right place, all it takes is a little conviction, some solid performances and inspiring music to woo your audiences.
Which brings me to the three pillars of the film. As the main protagonist, Jahnvi Kapoor is in superb form. Frankly, I had my reservations against her acting abilities following Dhadak, but her assured glamour-free performance as the stubborn pilot refusing to conform to conventional societal norms took me by complete surprise. Next is Pankaj Tripathi. Here's an actor who conveys volumes of emotions with minimal fuss or effort. His scenes with Jahnvi lend some of the best bits in the film that may leave you fighting back your tears. Finally, the film strongly benefits from Amit Trivedi's rousing soundtrack that perfectly complements the inherently optimistic script.
I am going with 3/5 for Gunjan Saxena. It doesn't claim to be an excessively jingoistic war film but instead is content with telling the inspiring story of an aspiring pilot who makes it big despite the deep rooted sexism in her profession. "Streaming on Netflix" may well be changed to "Soaring on Netflix".