An actor and an entrepreneur, Gul Panag is amongst India’s most powerful opinion makers. She is a frontline advocate and activist who regularly engages and facilitates dialogue and debate on critical issues of gender equality and justice, environment issues, fundamental rights, secularism, corruption and political accountability. SheThePeople.TV’s Ideas Editor Kiran Manral recently caught up with Gul Panag in our latest edition of Bombaywaali at Fun Republic Social, Mumbai. The conversation dwelled upon Gul’s journey into the glamour world, her fascination with fitness, her stint with entrepreneurship, politics and how she consistently reinvents herself.
Gul is also known as a fitness icon, an adrenaline junkie and an off road driver, and has recently trained and qualified as a private pilot.
Her childhood as an army kid instilled moral values
On growing up as an army child, Gul said, “Apart from some exceptions, most army kids have made a name for themselves somewhere, be it journalism, law, aviation or others. Showbiz is at the forefront because its success is visible to everyone. Being from the army background instills a moral fibre in you as an individual.”
Gul’s father is a retired army officer. He has been her biggest inspiration in life. Gul said, “He has always been upright, honest and leading from the front. I never had to look for a role model outside of my family. He is the smartest person I have ever met.” She also expressed her gratitude to her father for raising her to be independent.
“The initial years in showbiz were like being on a holiday. There was no code of conduct, that I was used to growing up as an army kid. I eventually started doing things where I would enforce my code of conduct, even if it is just on me. And I think that is where the seeds of my new journey were laid.”
Initial years in Bollywood
“My father one day told me — if you don’t study well or don’t do something good with your life, I will be forced to marry you off to the first available and willing man around. That was a potent threat for me. I suddenly was motivated to do something good with my life,” Gul commented on what inspired her to enter show business. She started out with modelling and then branched out into Bollywood.
On her transition from army background to show business, she said, “The initial years in showbiz were like being on a holiday. There was no code of conduct, that I was used to growing up as an army kid. I eventually started doing things where I would enforce my code of conduct, even if it is just on me. And I think that is where the seeds of my new journey were laid.”
Gul has always made a point to do unique roles, which are often not typical representations. For her, being a part of “believable cinema” was very important. She said, “The fact that it is a real person, or can be believed to be one is an essential part of how I choose roles. I mainly focus on three criteria for my character: How believable is she? Will she make you think? Will you remember her?
"Even the most forward families would put this idea in their daughter’s life that the day you get married will be the best day of your life. So you are actually ripping her off her choice and decision." – says @GulPanag
at #Bombaywaali https://t.co/4nE3Hgv7wJ
— SheThePeople (@SheThePeople) June 11, 2018
Seeds of social activism
At a high point in her career, Gul realised, “If I am doing the kind of cinema that I want to do, it has to be supported by me having that degree of independence and being my own person, financially secure as well. Because if I depended on cinema for sustenance and creative satisfaction, it won’t ever happen together.”
She mentioned how her grandfather inspired her greatly. He was elected the sarpanch of their village, Fatehgarh Sahib, and undertook extensive work to help the citizens. She commented, “I met the PWD chief once, chatted with her and she said our district Fatehgarh Sahib has the lowest sex ratio in the country. It struck me that here I was living a dream of the emancipated woman, making independent choices whereas in my village the condition was so poor for women. I felt strongly moved to do something about this. I wanted to take forward my grandfather’s legacy of good work, so I ended up establishing the Col Shamsher Singh Foundation. We then started working in conjunction with the local PWD.”
The Col Shamsher Singh Foundation is a culmination of the strong values of Col Shamsher Singh, Gul’s grandfather. It is an initiative to give back to the community, take care of the environment and to extend help to the needy.
On women’s empowerment
She said, “Women need to be independent. They have to understand that they need to stand up on their own feet. But that only happens when she starts making choices for herself. Even the most forward families would put this idea in their daughter’s life that the day you get married will be the best day of your life. So you are actually ripping her off her choice and decision. They must be raised to be independent and stable, thus empowering them to exercise their choices.”
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