In these trying times, it is art that is helping us survive. Films have turned out to be our greatest teachers. Recently, the Netflix release Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl earned a lot of appreciation for being that rare Bollywood film that has redefined patriotism. Apart from the deft writing, what stood out was the performances. While Janhvi Kapoor's restrained acting earned praises, it is Pankaj Tripathi who stole the show. Essaying the role of Janhvi aka Gunjan's father, Tripathi gave the character the depth that it deserved.
Pankaj Tripathi reminds us of some on-screen fathers, who have been pillars of support for their children, in turn teaching us lessons about life. Let us take a look at some such rockstar dads:
Farooq Shaikh in 'Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani'
Where this otherwise run-of-the-mill story stood out was gifting us the much-needed on-screen parent who is not a dream killer. Farooq Shaikh might have less than 10 minutes of screen time as Bunny’s (Ranbir Kapoor) father and we may not even recall his name, but he is the most fleshed-out character in Ayan Mukerji’s film. Where films like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham tried to hammer that what parents say is the gospel truth, YJHD breaks the mould and shows us parental consent is not always needed. Shaikh is the not the over-dramatic father we were used to seeing at one point of time. Rather, he is soft-spoken and empathetic, someone who stays up nights for his son and jokes that that is the only way he would otherwise get to meet him.
He shows concern in small things, like buying Bunny a backpack for his trek. The soul of the movie is in Shaikh’s last words in a father-son exchange - “Go where you wish, do what you want, but remember that I’m always by your side.” Shaikh’s dad does not believe in confrontations, his conviction lies in letting his son go. He shows us that parenting doesn’t always mean forming two opposing teams, it means creating an avenue for the children to feel like returning home.
Narottam Mishra in 'Bareilly Ki Barfi'
“Samaj hai, idhar hi rehna hai (This is the society, we have no choice but to live here) - Bitty’s father consoles her daughter after she says no to a prospective alliance, only to be judged for her mannerisms. The Mishras hail from a small town in UP. In a place where women are taught that their happiness lies in serving their husbands, Narottam Mishra emerges as a dad who doesn’t hesitate to send his daughter to get a cigarette from the neighbours. He opposes Bitti’s mom’s claims that a daughter is merely ‘paraya dhan’. Bitty is unafraid to voice her opinions, goes on dates, returns late at night and rants about everything that’s wrong with the society - all the while having her father back her. Pankaj Tripathi, as always, delivers an effective performance. In Bareilly Ki Barfi, Tripathi isn’t as vocal as in Gunjan Saxena. His progressiveness is much more muted. Narottam Mishra teaches us to be quietly supportive.
Mr Basu in 'Dil Bechara'
The film about two terminally ill, young cancer patients has become all the more tragic given the circumstances. While the country celebrates Sushant’s performance, Saswata Chatterjee and Swastika Mukherjee as Kizzie Basu’s (Sanjana Sanghi) parents remind us of all those guardian angels trying to put up a brave front while in fact becoming numb seeing their children grimace in pain. In a scene that we probably have gone back to umpteen times, a very sick Kizzie stops taking Manny’s (Sushant) calls because she fears that her death will break him. To which her father says, “Your mom and I could have left you at an orphanage and put an end to our suffering when you were diagnosed with cancer. Let Manny choose whether he wants to suffer or not”. Few words, but enough to tear us up.
As Manny and Kizzie take their relationship further, Mr Basu also becomes a father figure to the boy who fills his daughter with hope. One rainy night, while sharing drinks Mr Basu asks Manny as to why he is encouraging Kizzie’s ‘silly’ dream of going to Paris. The exchange between a grieving father who is seeing two young lives slipping away and a ‘son’ who wants to ensure that Kizzie’s one wish gets fulfilled cements the fact that it is indeed the performances that more than make up for the lousy writing.
Mr Basu, with his short but significant presence, tells us that it never harms to give that one chance to a person waiting at our doorstep without worrying about the consequences.
Sachin Sandhu in 'Thappad'
“One slap, but he still does not have the right to hit” - Taapsee Pannu’s Amrita opened new doors when it comes to the debate around domestic violence. She files for a divorce when her husband slaps her in front of guests at a party. Hell breaks loose when the women and men in Amrita’s family learn of her decision. “Thoda bardasht karna sikhna chahiye aurat ko (Women should learn to tolerate)”, proclaim her mother and mother-in-law who become deaf to the injustice being meted out to Amrita. At that time, the person who supports her is her dad Sachin Sandhu (a flawless Kumud Mishra). He goes against his family and the society and stands up for what is right. “The more important question is - why did this happen?” Sandhu questions his son-in-law when the latter tries to justify his action.
Even when Sandhu learns that Amrita is pregnant, he encourages her to follow her heart. “Am I doing the right thing, dad?”, asks a troubled Amrita who is drowning in self-doubt. “If you are listening to your heart then you must be doing the right thing”, he replies.
But he isn’t without flaws and accepts that he too fell victim to the patriarchal mindset and prevented his wife from chasing her dreams. Sandhu teaches us that evolving means learning from our past mistakes and striving to build a future that rests on empathy and respect.
Ashok Kumar Saxena in 'Gunjan Saxena'
“Plane ladka udae ya ladki dono ko pilot hi kehte hai (Irrespective of whether a man or a woman flies an aircraft both are referred to as pilots)” - One small conversation at the breakfast table paves the way for Gunjan Saxena to realise her dreams. Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl is that rare Bollywood war film that consciously stays away from violence, instead choosing to focus on a deeply personal story, countless of which form part of a history written in blood. Gunjan, the first woman IAF pilot, harboured dreams of flying the aircraft since she was a teenager, and the person who provided her unconditional support was he father, a retired army officer. Major Ashok Kumar Saxena (played to perfection by Pankaj Tripathi) is the opposite of the image of defence personnel we have been feed through the years - he is soft-spoken, compassionate yet a strict disciplinarian.
Senior Saxena has unflinching faith in his daughter and despite reservations from his son (also an Armyman) finds ways to ensure that Gunjan doesn’t leave a stone unturned while preparing to get into the Indian Air Force. When Gunjan fails to clear her medicals despite coming out with flying colours in the written exam and interview, it’s this gentleman who starts training her, giving up his little indulgences in the process. In one of the most affecting scenes, Gunjan tells her father (after a miracle ensures her a place in the IAF) “Papa, the Air Force needs cadets who are patriots, but I just want to fly planes. In a bid to fulfill my dream, am I being a traitor to the country?"
To which her father tells her that the opposite of treachery is sincerity and one’s sincerity is never questioned. ”Do you think the Air Force wants people who shout 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai'?" he asks. "They want cadets who have a goal, passion and who will complete their training with hard work and sincerity because they are the cadets who will go on to become the best officers. When you become a pilot with sincerity, patriotism will follow suit”.
In one fell swoop, the noise about chest-thumping patriotism is debunked by someone who has served the country for decades. Saxena senior teaches us that it’s not necessary to scream and get things done - a quiet, rational argument sends across a stronger message.
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