EXCLUSIVE! We welcome a film on Gunjan Saxena, but where is one on Sreevidya Rajan?

As one of the two women pilots who were assigned duties in a war zone during the 1999 Kargil conflict, it comes as a surprise that no Indian filmmaker has approached Rajan to tell her story

By Mayur Lookhar

Flight Lieutenant (Retd) Sreevidya Rajan, Indian Air Force

The Indian armed forces is highly respectable and it presumably offers a level playing field for all. But it is also true that it has taken a while for the women participation to increase in our armed forces. In a patriarchal society, a woman is lauded when she steps into a man’s world. Our hearts are filled with great pride when he hear tales of heroism of any female soldier, cop or any woman in general.  Come 12 August, Netflix (largely India) subscribers will celebrate the valour of Flight Lieutenant Gunjan Saxena , who earned a Shaurya Chakra for her heroics in the Kargil conflict of 1999. India’s armed forces had sent back the infiltrating Pakistani army, imposing a crushing defeat on their arch rival in the two month war.

First-time director Sharan Sharma’s Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl [2020] is one of the most keenly awaited films of the year. Young Janhvi Kapoor will be essaying the role of Gunjan Saxena with Pankaj Tripathi playing her father.

It sure will be a great moment for Saxena and her family of army officers when the Dharma Productions film releases on 12 August.  While this is a moment to savour for Indians, but we are a little surprised that no one is talking about the other woman IAF officer who also entered the war zone during the Kargil conflict.

When Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl [2020] was first announced a few years ago, we researched [online] about the unheralded hero.  It was then that we learnt that Saxena wasn’t alone, but there was also Kerala-born Sreevidya Rajan who risked her life to undertake a daredevil task – rescue ops in a war zone. Flight Lieutenants Saxena and Rajan entered the war zone in their Cheetah helicopters and flew more than 80 sorties during the Kargil war. Both Rajan and Saxena had enrolled into the Indian Air Force in 1994.

Just as three years ago, we are faced with the same question. While we warmly welcome the film on Gunjan Saxena, we wonder why isn’t there one on Rajan?  

We connected with Rajan via facebook messenger where we put forth some key questions to her. We wonder whether Rajan will figure in the Dharma Production film.  While a filmmaker is free to make a story on anyone with the individual’s consent, was there any proposal/possibility to have Rajan’s story told in the Dharma film?  The now retired Flight Lieutenant simply said ‘NO’.

We appreciate Sharan Sharma, Dharma Productions making a film on Gunjan Saxena, but logically speaking, isn’t it a tad strange that the Dharma film will only tell the story of Saxena? . Rajan chose to not to comment to this particular query.

As seen from the trailer, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl is described as a film ‘of India’s first woman air force officer’

Screenshot of text from Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl [2020] trailer

Rajan though was quick to correct the film’s makers and us too.  “No, we were not the first women aviators in IAF. we are the only women pilots to participate in Kargil,” clarified Rajan.

When asked whether both Saxena and her were assigned similar tasks (rescue ops) during the Kargil conflict, Rajan replied, “Yes, not only Gunjan and I, but all pilots from my unit were also assigned with the same duties.”

It is the director, writer’s right to pen a story on any individual as they wish. Neither Sharan Sharma, screenwriter Nikhil Mehrotra or producer Karan Johar can be faulted for telling Gunjan Saxena’s heroic tale.  What stunned us though was how till date NO ONE has approached Rajan to make a film on her. Well, let’s just say our bewilderment stems from the above fact but like a selfless Indian soldier, Rajan is not really looking at any biopic but is simply glad to have served her country.

“I was one among many people who fought in Kargil conflict. From Army and Airforce ,we lost many precious lives in that war. Many of them did much more than what we both (Gunjan and her) did during the operation. It’s sad to know that many deserving people have gone without even being noticed. I just feel that I did my duty and do not wish to glorify it,” said Rajan.

Rajan had served the Indian Air Force from 1994-2004.  After retiring from the Indian Air Force, the Chemistry graduate worked as a Senior Project Manager in an IT-firm from 2006-2009. The lady then did her Business Management course from Indian Institute of Management – Bangalore in 2009.  She then worked as an HR and training executive in the Pune-based firm Sri Aviation Solutions Pvt Ltd. Rajan lives in Ernakulam, Kerala.

While we respect Rajan’s choice to not speak of her heroics, but we hope someday, like Gunjan Saxena, we’d celebrate her valour in a another ‘Kargil girl’ story.

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