Sagarika Ghatge talks about women in sports and why Sania Mirza is her favourite Indian sportsperson
It was around 12 years ago when Chak De! India released in India, a film which went on to become an inspiration for many, as Shah Rukh Khan portrayed the role of the patriotic coach Kabir Khan. It was also the very same film that catapulted Sagarika Ghatge into Bollywood. Interestingly, it wasn’t the first time that the 33-year-old actor was being a player on the field. For the uninitiated, Sagarika also represented India at the national level in the hockey team before she went on to become an actor. With the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup final scheduled in France this weekend, we had a chance to interact with the Bollywood actress and former sportsperson ahead of the game, and the release of her upcoming film Monsoon Football.
While India is still not a part of the elite competition, they have come a long way and are currently ranked at 63. If that isn’t proof of how far they have come, then do note that the women’s hockey team is currently ranked 10 in the world. So, it would only be fair to ask Sagarika, what is the one change that she has seen for women in sports since the last time she picked up a hockey stick? “I think there are so many more role models than we had earlier, both nationally and internationally. It is also one of the reasons why a lot of women are taking up sports not only as a career but also to start playing at the amateur level,” says the actor, who appeared on Sony Pictures Networks on-air promo for 2019 FIFA World Cup.
This is a change that has been visibly on the rise for women in cricket in the last few years. Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur are among the notable role models from the current Indian team, which has received exposure by leaps and bounds. However, while Mithali and Harmanpreet are really popular for their contributions, Sagarika says it is only because of the impact they have created on the game, and that shouldn’t be a degree of comparison to other sports. “I think when you start comparing you take away the passion for that sport and how we look at things," she adds. She does say that it is definitely encouraging to see the way women’s cricket has progressed after it was recognised by the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI), only recently and is still a work in progress, as she hopes it becomes much better in the years to come.
While there has been a progressive change, are the authorities really involved in taking it further? “There are a lot of sponsors and organisations supporting women athletes, which is quite encouraging. With television channels broadcast women’s matches, like the FIFA Women’s World Cup, and that is simply because a lot of people are coming together to make it happen,” Sagarika says affirmatively. So what can people do? She adds, “I think we have to be together and make that change happen even quicker.”
Meanwhile, as the grassroots level initiatives are encouraging many school kids to take up sports, Sagarika hopes she can be a part of an initiative soon to help encourage girls to take up playing sports. For starters, the Fear Factor: Khatron Ke Khiladi 6 finalist said she tells all her friends to get their kids to take up playing sports as soon as they can. A thought, which comes from the fact that even though she played hockey for India, she took up tennis really early in an attempt to play it professionally, but ended up shifting gears to take up hockey and track and field as a discipline. So, it is no surprise when she tells us that her all-time most-loved sportsperson is former German tennis legend, Steffi Graf. “I simply loved her persona when she got that forehand going and I used to always look up to her,” she adds. While Steffi is internationally her favourite, Sagarika said she has always looked up to Sania, who has been a role model for Indians not only in tennis but otherwise too. “I truly admire her because she is somebody who speaks her mind and that I think is because she is a sportsperson,” she immediately adds. Sports definitely seems to be Sagarika’s first love, but does she find the time to still play hockey through her busy film schedules? “I do make time to play tennis, and also swim regularly as a practice, and have recently taken up yoga, to keep fit and it is a lot of fun,” says Sagarika.
The actor is currently busy filming for Monsoon Football, which doesn’t come as a surprise to us, as she is clearly passionate about sports. So what can we expect from her? “It will give people a very different side of the sport where you will see household women play football,” says the actor, giving us an insight into the upcoming film in two languages (Hindi and Marathi) directed by Milind Ukey, which is all set to release in December later this year. The actor adds that she will also soon be seen in a show called Boss, which will come out on AltBalaji for her fans.
Watch the FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 finals between USA and Netherlands live and exclusive in India on July 7 at 8.30 pm onwards on Sony Ten 2 and Sony Ten 2 HD channels.