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Sagarika Ghatge on the impact sports has had on her life

The actress who is married to cricketer Zaheer Khan created an impact on debut as the spirited Preeti Sabharwal in Chak De! India and has played hockey at the national level

  • Published 23.06.19, 6:57 PM
  • Updated 24.06.19, 11:46 AM
  • 4 mins read
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Sagarika has appeared on Sony Pictures Networks on-air promo for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup (you can tune in for the live matches exclusively on SONY TEN 1 and SONY TEN 2 channels) (File picture)

Sagarika Ghatge has a strong connect to sport. The actress created an impact on debut as the spirited Preeti Sabharwal in Chak De! India, has played hockey at the national level and is now married to former cricketer Zaheer Khan. Sagarika has appeared on Sony Pictures Networks on-air promo for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup (you can tune in for the live matches exclusively on SONY TEN 1 and SONY TEN 2 channels). t2 caught up with the actress for a chat on the changing scenario of sport for women in India and how sport has shaped the person she is.

Sport has been an indelible part of your life. You’ve been a national-level athlete, you’ve played a central role in a seminal sport-centric Bollywood film and now you are married to one of India’s best-known sportspersons. What is the role that sport has played in your life?

Today, when I think of my childhood, I realise that sports had become an integral part of my life very early on. In school, as an amateur, I would run the 100m and 200m and when I went to boarding school, I represented Rajasthan in hockey as well as in 100m and 200m track events. Sports, in general, has been a very big part of my life. All thanks to my parents who understood my potential and never discouraged me from taking up sports. I remember missing a lot of things in school because I would be playing at the district level and the state level, but my parents were always supportive. When Chak De! (India) happened, my father was more than happy for me to do it because it was a sports film. Coincidentally, life came a full circle when I married Zaheer (smiles).

What are the life attributes that sport has taught you?

When you play a team sport, you are always interacting with different people and that helps you build your personality. So it’s important for one to play a sport, meet new people, build a team and understand each other. I feel sport helps one grow as a person and become free- spirited. At least that’s what helped me.

Over the last few years, we have seen a number of women rising and making a name for themselves in sport in India. What would you attribute this positive shift to?

I think today, role models have become very important. If you have a role model in the world of sport, that greatly impacts a person who is either just starting to play or wants to take up sport as a career. Today, the biggest factor that will propel a kid to take up a sport will be strong role models in that field. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of female athletes making a mark and emerging as strong role models and they were perhaps inspired by role models themselves.

What do you think needs to be done in this country to encourage more women to take up a sport as a profession?

As a community, we need to encourage women to take up sport. That needs to start at the grassroot level, at home. It’s the responsibility of the parents and the school that a child goes to inculcate in him or her that playing a sport is important, whether you are doing it professionally or just taking it up as a hobby.

Do you think India still has too much of an academically-oriented mindset to allow youngsters to concentrate on sport full time?

I think it’s work-in-progress and is changing at a very rapid rate. There are so many academies that have opened up that parents are sending their kids to. Of course, there is still some way to go, but we are getting there.

Sania Mirza
Sania Mirza (File picture)

Which of the recent rising stars in women’s sports in India have impressed you the most?

There have been so many in recent times. There’s Smriti Mandhana in cricket. P.V. Sindhu, of course, is someone we all look up to. I think someone who has consistently been around and has done extremely well is Sania (Mirza). She’s someone we have all admired through the years and even after having a baby, she’s got back into shape in no time. I think she will start playing soon.

Sagarika in Chak De! India
Sagarika in Chak De! India (File picture)

Chak De! India not only smashed a host of stereotypes, but also played a key role in bringing focus on women in sport. How much do you think cinema, and popular culture in general, helps in encouraging young talents to venture into sport?

I think the impact is huge. Cinema is a great medium to not only tell a story, but also to promote something. It’s the responsibility of directors, producers and actors to make sure that the sports-centric subjects they take up are portrayed impactfully on screen. Such subjects, if done well, arouse curiosity and it’s curiosity that compels people to go out there and do something about it. That’s what happened with Chak De! It made people curious about hockey as a sport and about women playing hockey. Films need to back such subjects.

Given the position you are in and your connection to sport, what will you look to do to help change the scenario for women in India?

I would love to help in whatever way I can. Right now, I am not really associated with anything in particular, but sports is something so close to me that I would be only too happy to encourage people to go out and play a sport. My effort will always be to tell someone to go out and play any kind of sport as opposed to doing an activity indoors. I would love to be associated with any initiative in some way or the other, but I don’t know how… yet.

Is there any sport that you actively play now and is there a sport that you always wanted to play but couldn’t?

I’ve pretty much played a lot of sports. Something that I haven’t tried my hand at is squash. Tennis is something I play once in a while when I go to CCI (Cricket Club of India in Mumbai). I also swim on a regular basis.

"When you play a sport at that level, the kind of pressures you have to deal with is insane. Zaheer (Khan) is very calm and that’s the way he is. The routine pressures of life and work... he has a very different way of dealing with them, which is very inspiring", said Sagarika. (File picture)

What’s been the biggest positive about being married to a sportsperson who has played a sport at the highest level?

I think there are a lot of positives. When you play a sport at that level, the kind of pressures you have to deal with is insane. Zaheer is very calm and that’s the way he is. The routine pressures of life and work… he has a very different way of dealing with them, which is very inspiring.

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