CWG 2018

CWG 2018: Meet Manika Batra, India’s most successful athlete in Gold Coast with four medals

Remember the name – Manika Batra – that’s expected to bring more laurels for India in the rapidly played sport of table tennis.

Manika Batra likes Alia Bhatt. She likes watching The Big Bang Theory. She likes dancing. She likes photoshoots. There are many likes for Batra, but love, for her, is table tennis. That’s why her pendant’s table-tennis racquet-shaped. That’s why she’s one of India’s best table tennis players. That’s why she, at 22, is world No 58. That’s why Manika Batra won medals in all the events she participated at Gold Coast.

She pulled off a huge upset against world No 4 Tianwei Feng (winning the tie 11-8, 8-11, 11-7, 11-9, 11-7) routed Yihan Zhou in four games to help India beat Singapore and clinch the gold medal in the women’s team event.

The Feng win was no fluke. For, she repeated the feat en route to winning the women’s singles gold medal. Batra beat her 12-10, 5-11, 11-8, 5-11, 5-11, 11-9, 13-11 to reach the final.

Her combination with Mouma Das fetched India the silver medal in the women’s doubles event.

And, to cap it off, a bronze medal in the mixed doubles event with G Sathiyan.

Early beginning

Batra’s steady rise in the sport at just 22 can be attributed to her early start. She took up the sport at four after watching her two elder siblings play the game. She soon became the best player in the city. Then in her state. Then, at 15, she won the silver medal in her first national level competition. She changed schools, skipped classes and even gave up college after a year to pursue table tennis.

Batra was part of the Indian squad in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, where she reached quarterfinals. A year later, she helped India bag a team silver and women’s doubles silver in the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championship.

The 22-year-old won the South Asia Group qualification tournament to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics, where she attracted a lot of attention for painting her nails in the tri-colour.

But Batra has also been forcing people to take notice of her table tennis and is already the top-ranked Indian female player with a potential of becoming an icon of the sport that’s still growing in India.

“People should know me through table tennis. Already, Sharath Bhaiyya ke saath mera bhi naam aa raha hain [my name is being taken along with Sharath Kamal Achanta – India’s most successful paddler],” she had told The Field last July.

After her stupendous effort at Gold Coast, people will remember the name. Manika Batra. The name that’s expected to bring more laurels for India in the rapidly played sport of table tennis.

The tactical switch

One of the primary reasons of Batra’s success against Feng, as observed by ESPNIndia, was her flicker-fast switch of the paddle from its long pimpled rubber side (that aids in defence) to the inverted pimpled side (conventionally used for forehand, attacking strokes) to play an attacking backhand shot that flummoxed her left her higher-ranked, more experienced opponent.

“There was a lot of research that went into flipping the paddle around. I couldn’t ever master it. But Manika learned this from the time she started playing. So it has become very natural for her,” said Neha Aggarwal, former Olympian in the sport. 

“Manika has been playing this way from the time she started her career. But she has had to work a lot to make this work. Manika didn’t have a very good forehand or serve and she has had to work on that. This style is an art but Manika is very smart in using it,” 

Editor’s note: This article was originally published after Manika Batra helped the women’s team to a gold, it has been updated now at the end of India’s campaign, adding the part about the tactical switch.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.