| TOP GUN: Shooter Anjali Bhagwat in a triumphant mood
Bollywood actor Nana Patekar hit newspaper headlines for a rather unusual reason last month. Patekar, who has been trigger-happy in many of his on-screen roles, made his mark with the rifle in the pre-National shooting championship at Indore, claiming a silver in the rifle prone (big bore) 300m event.
Patekar's active interest in marksmanship, coming in the wake of Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore's silver medal triumph at the Athens Olympics, has made shooting a much-talked about sport. And if you find that you are any good at it, you could now actually make a career of it and rake in the moolah.
Though shooting is yet to pick up in the eastern region, in cities like Mumbai, youngsters are lining up to learn the sport. Mumbai-based ace shooter Anjali Bhagwat, who won four golds at the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002, points out that shooting has become an extremely popular sport in the western city. 'Some schools and colleges have compulsory shooting classes,' she says. It is possible to pay about Rs 200 or so every month in several small clubs in Mumbai and get initiated into the sport. 'It is easy to start out,' says Bhagwat, 'because everything is on hire and not too expensive. But if you get serious, then you need financial backing.'
In the past, the best shooters, such as Dr Karni Singh, were maharajas. But times have changed. 'Today a middle-class urban Indian boy or girl can try his hand at air pistol or air-rifle,' says shooter Moraad Ali Khan, who claimed a gold medal at the Manchester Commonwealth Games.
The best thing about the sport is that it is never too late to start. Someone like Abhinav Bindra, who has been winning medals at international meets and is considered to be one of the most promising shooters in India, started early. 'I was about 14 when I began to shoot,' he says. His rich businessman father had spotted that the child had a fascination for guns and left no stone unturned to ensure that he got the best training.
But others like Rathore and Moraad were late off the blocks. The armyman took up the sport at the age of 28 and Moraad, when he was 32.
If you are an aspiring shooter, you could begin practising your marksmanship at local shooting clubs and ranges. Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Indore, Mhow, Calcutta, Ahmedabad and many more towns offer the facility of a rifle and a pistol shooting range. 'Initially, you have got to learn from senior shooters,' says Moraad. But if you are good and you win in the nationals, then doors open up. There are various government schemes that allow junior and senior shooters to get training.
The biggest incentive for a good shooter comes from the state. The government offers handsome cash incentives for winners of gold, silver and bronze medals at international meets. For instance, in 2002-03, Bhagwat took home Rs 80 lakh as reward for her medal triumphs. That apart, there is a small prize-money foreign circuit although it is not as lucrative as golf or tennis.
You need to have some special qualities to become a successful marksman, though. Former international shooter and Indian Railways coach Amitava Chatterjee, lists concentration, patience, alertness, clarity of vision and hand-eye coordination as the qualities that make for a good marksman.
However, Bindra feels that it is hard to make a full-time career out of the sport. But usually, shooters who are good enough to be in the national team get well-paying government jobs.
Even so, there is one downside to choosing this sport as a career. For the rookie shooter, the road ahead is laden with expenses although the costs depend on the particular category one opts for. For instance, an air pistol can cost about Rs 65,000 but buying an air rifle could set you back by Rs 80,000. A standard pistol can be bought for Rs 1.5 lakh while a shotgun needed for trap shooting costs about Rs 3 lakh. The ammunition costs vary from one event to another.
You also have to pay for the equipment. The rifle gear, which includes the jacket, pants and shoes, would be in the range of about Rs1.5 lakh. For the other categories, it works out to less than Rs 10,000.
Says Bhagwat, who works with Reliance Industries, 'We often tell senior sports ministry officials that there should be a sports quota for shooters in state and central government jobs.'
If the sports ministry takes that up, a good shooter could well end up hitting the bull's-eye.
• Dr Karni Singh shooting range, Tughlakabad (near Delhi)
• Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh shooting range, Hyderabad
• Sports Authority of India shooting range, Bangalore
• Pistol and rifle shooting range, Worli, Mumbai (run by the Maharashtra Shooting Federation).
• Shotgun shooting range in Red Hills, Chennai