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In this interview with Gul Panag, the actor, activist, traveller, politician, fitness enthusiast talks of how she attacks life head-on taking up many challenges.
The trouble with interviewing Gul Panag is that one doesn’t know where to begin, as there is not one pursuit of hers that she doesn’t follow passionately. While Gul first came into the limelight as a model and actor, her interests and activities today are diverse; she is into running marathons, traveling, horse riding, public service, acting, adventure and now also a member of the National Executive of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
The day I have to chat with her (she prefers a telephonic chat to a dry email. Kudos for that!), she tweeted ‘50 Suryanamaskars done’!
How do you do it? How do you have the time, energy and passion for all the activities that you do?
Gul Panag: The basic fact that we are humans means that we are multi-talented and meant to do many other things – otherwise we would be animals (not to say anything’s wrong with them). However, we are designed to be evolved and therefore pursue many interests.
(Of the many interests that she flirts with is her passion for travel and adventure. She mixes both these quite often, a recent one being the expedition to the treacherous yet appealing Manali-Leh, in a women-only expedition, covering 2257 kms in 13 days. The adventures and fun experiences of this journey are captured in a 3-part series, Off Road with Gul Panag: Ladakh, soon to air on the Discovery Channel.)
Tell us a little more about your love for the outdoors.
Gul Panag: I feel privileged to take off from the hustle and bustle of the city and in a sense, look at one’s life from a different perspective. I feel when you move away from the city and its din, you are at a remote location, where there is no ‘connectivity’, it’s then that one connects with oneself and can look at one’s life from a detached vantage point!
How often do you take these trips and how sacrosanct is this ‘me’ time for you?
Gul Panag: We have a ‘green’ farm close to Mumbai where we (that’s my husband and I) take off regularly on weekends. In a regular month, I am ‘all work’ during the week, but weekends are ours alone!
Share with us your thoughts on the Ladakh trip.
Gul Panag: I just feel that when we are in the cities, and do a hundred things at one point in time, it adds to the stress; when I was away in Ladakh, there was nothing else that mattered! So living in the moment is one big takeaway form such trips.
For this trip, we used a fully-equipped, custom-fitted Mahindra Scorpio Getaway. (It was named Super Milo after her dog!) It included enhancements such as a heavy duty winch, high lift jack, snorkel, metal off road bumpers, additional lights, suspension lift, premium traction tyres and steel wheels, roof top tent with side awning, 40 litre auxiliary fuel tank, 100 litre stainless steel water tank, a C.B. radio and a roof mounted revolving search light to make it more sturdy and self-sufficient for going off-road and for setting up camp in isolated locations. The vehicle also carried a portable gas burner and an oxygen cylinder to combat High Altitude Sickness!
Other highlights included passing the iconic Gata Loops – the 22 hairpin bends that ascend over 400 feet – and taking on the three highest motorable passes in the world, Khardung La, Taglang La and Chang La!
Gul Panag In Ladakh
Tell me a little more about your work with the Shamsher Singh foundation.
(Gul is also a frontline advocate and activist who regularly facilitates dialogue and debate on critical issues of gender equality and justice, environment issues, fundamental rights, secularism, corruption and political accountability. Recognized as one of the most influential people on social media in India, Gul runs a foundation in her grandfather’s name The Colonel Shamsher Singh Foundation that works towards promoting citizen-government partnership towards gender equality, addiction awareness, education, employment and disaster management.)
Gul Panag: We want governance to be a participatory process where all stakeholders are in the know of what’s happening and can discuss the way forward. For example, in her district of Fatehgarh Sahib, the foundation is on its way to digitizing the Panchayat records of the villagers.
We haven’t really seen you in movies off late. Are you waiting for the right script, biding your time?
Gul Panag: I am open to reading scripts that appeal to my sensibilities. But now, what’s also happening is that everybody wants to do alternative cinema unlike earlier. Therefore it makes sense for a lucrative option for the production house to cast a so- called mainstream actor. However, I look forward to essaying meaningful roles and enjoy while doing so!
(Recognized as a ‘thinking actor’, Gul was last seen in the sequel to the average Ab Tak Chappan. Strictly speaking, her most memorable roles were in Dor and Manorma – Six Feet Under.)
As someone who is seen as an influencer on Twitter, what would you tell those celebrities who aren’t on Twitter?
Gul Panag: I believe if you have something to say and can defend that belief and maybe have a little of a thick skin, you’ll be on Twitter!
Besides all the things that she already has a finger in, Gul is working on a book on fitness based on her experiences with and interest in the subject. No doubt, like everything else she does, we can expect her panache and commitment to reflect in it!
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