Published On : Thu, Mar 26th, 2015

Crafted delicately but no porcelain beauty – Army girl Gul Panag

Gul Panag and Abhijit Kokate  (4)
Nagpur.

Not a trace of make up on her face, no adas, no nakhras, and most of all, no sun shades wore indoors too. She enters the room where the press conference is  being held like a normal person, she does not ‘make an appearance’ like a celebrity. But she still makes an impression instantaneously. She is someone Nagpurians, who have made a career of disdaining stars with airs, can relate to immediately. And it speaks volumes for her presence that though the (disastrous) India  vs. Australia semi final match is being aired live in another part of the restaurant, press people, photographers and other guests remain riveted to their chairs. In fact, even after the formal meet is over, we followed her to the ante chamber for ‘exclusives’ which she grants at the cost of lunch. She replies to the same questions over and over again without losing patience or appearing to be bored.

But she is no push over. She signs Ts, she endorses radio shows and cable TV, she poses patiently for photos with everyone, but she refuses to sip from a glass of mocktail, even on request, and specially not for a photograph. She will hold it in her hand and pose but definitely not sip! That is not her acting difficult, it just goes against her convictions and her discipline. Though she must have been famished and they looked deliciously tempting she refused to nibble at some mini chocolate pastries which everyone else grabbed.

“Pack me some of those chicken sandwiches to have on the way to the airport” she says casually, then says “let the box be, I’ll just carry them in a paper napkin” ( She must have been really hungry and wanted no fuss. She also did not want to make a late entry into the airport like a typical cine star).

Harping on the subject of a sensible diet, Gul, who is a sporting and race car buff, equated food to filling fuel in a vehicle.

“Fill just as much as you need to drive. If you overstuff yourself, it will settle where it is not required and create havoc with your looks and your metabolism, both” she cautions.

She spoke a lot in Hindi, and very chaste Hindi at that.

“You talk to communicate, not make an impression. If the audience is more comfortable in Hindi and I have no issues speaking it, why should I lapse into English?” she says when a lady compliments her on her excellent Hindi. But when questioned in English, she answers fluently in that language too.

Gul Panag and Abhijit Kokate  (3)
She is after all an Army girl and has lived and traveled all over India and studied in 14 Kendriya Vidyalayas. She credits her love of adventure sports and the outdoors, to this background.

“When it was not fashionable to do so, I used to be out running with my father every morning even as a child” she remembers.

This assertion also underlines her negation of male – female stereo typing.

“What ever differences are there, nature has created. We should respect those, but why should we add to them and make life more difficult for ourselves?” she asks.

So she says girls should go out and drive and show everyone that ‘girls can drive too!’. Do everything your heart wishes to do – fly planes ( she does), climb Mount Everest ( she plans to) and try your hand at everything that is of interest to you.

But she also passionately advocates taking precautions.  “Discretion is the better part of valour. Girls should know and understand the social realities of the day and take all actions for their safety. If you are out traveling, driving on the highways, plans your route carefully, share it with people, and plan to arrive at your destination before it gets dark. And I would advise this to both men and women, have someone waiting for you and keep in touch with them”.

She also has some practical advise to give when ever you plan to drive a vehicle yourself.

“Walk round it and do a physical rec co. Check the tires are ok and not punctured or flat. See your exhaust is not choked with someone having stuck something in it – deliberately or otherwise. Only then get in and turn on the ignition”.

This girl who have us memorable movies like Dor , Rann, Manorama six feet under, Turning 30 and Ab Tak Chappan – 2 is all ready to turn a Producer and not wait for glamorous and meaningless roles to keep her busy.

With her eye for detail,  penchant for planning and willingness to take what she calls ‘calculated risks’ she would be perfect in this role.

Married to Rishi Attari, an airline pilot and someone she had been seeing for a long time, she does not mind playing ‘house wife’ once in a while and disarms you by saying ” if not a hot meal, have a hot cup of tea ready for your husband when he comes home and you are expecting him”.

Gul Panag and Abhijit Kokate  (2)
She is quite an activist too, though she did not boast about it or mention it in any way in her interview.

She runs an NGO called  Colonel Shamsher Singh Foundation,  that works towards a variety of causes including gender equality, education and disaster management. She served on the advisory board of the Wockhard Foundation. She was active in the IAC participated in movement. She ran at a marathon in Delhi in  November 2010, but had to endure eave teasing and harassment  from male runners at the event. She later remarked that the attitude of men in Delhi needed to change and that the city was unsafe for women.

It speaks volumes for her popularity in Chandigarh that in 2014 despite there being a ‘Modi wave’ and having a senior actor like Kiron Kher pitted against her when she contested on AAP ticket with a shoe string budget she still managed to poll over one lakh votes.

A versatile woman this, full of idealism tempered with good, uncommon common sense!

Sunita Mudaliar