CWG 2018

As India’s young guns make their mark, inspirational Tejaswini Sawant wins one for the old guard

At 37, Sawant is India’s oldest medallist in this edition of the Games so far

Tejaswini Sawant was over the moon in 2010 when she bagged the World Championship gold in the 50m prone and was primed to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics.

But the weight of expectations pulled her down and things went into a downward spiral with responsibilities at home taking her attention away from the sport.

Before she knew it, the young brigade was challenging the established stars and that added pressure to the problem.

But the 37-year-old put all those frustrating moments behind her to become India’s oldest medallist so far in this edition of the Games. She won the 50m prone silver on Thursday and followed it up with the Rifle 3-position gold and a Games Record on Friday.

This was Sawant’s third gold in the Commonwealth Games over four editions but this would probably be the sweetest one. Her day job as an officer in Maharashtra’s sports department did not distract her. She kept her faith in coach Kuheli Gangulee, worked hard on the mental aspect of her preparation and then, turned things around when it mattered the most.

“My event was at the latter stages of the Games and I had to ensure that the pressure of my own expectations does not build up on me. So I kept myself away from any interaction even with my family members and just focused on my shooting,” said Sawant, who did not even start her phone to accept the wishes of her family members after the silver medal-winning performance.

This was probably the easier part. The more difficult part was to keep faith in her own abilities when things weren’t going her way. She even missed out on the Indian team spot in the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.

And getting over that took quite some time.

Getting back up again

“The break (which extended to a couple of months) pegged me back by almost six months and I missed out on the 2014 Commonwealth Games as most of the trials were in 2013. By that time, the young shooters had started performing and it meant that I started taking more pressure of performance,” Sawant told The Field from Gold Coast.

“I started performing well in 2015 and even bagged a medal in a tournament in Czech Republic in 2015. But then I got married and needed time to adjust to the new life and that took time,” said Sawant, the elder of the three siblings who had put her personal life on the backburner to take care of the family ever since her father Ravindra fell ill.

The former naval officer, who was instrumental in getting his daughter follow her shooting passion, passed away in 2010 a few months before she became the first Indian woman to be crowned world champion.

Things went downhill from that point on but the one thing that remained a constant during this period of ups and downs is Sawant’s relationship with her Kolkata-based coach Gangulee. During this period, the two worked hard on the two .22 events – Prone and 3-position – and the pupil insists she never felt the need to work with a foreign coach during the period.

“I don’t think that thought ever crossed my mind,” Sawant said when asked about whether she tried working with a foreign coach to resurrect her career.

Though she had worked with Laszlo Szucsak in her formative years, Sawant has stuck to working with Gangulee, who is still an active shooter, since then.

Gangulee was with her during the Commonwealth Shooting Championship in Brisbane last year as a team member and that helped the 48-year-old plan her ward’s pre-match preparation to the minutest details because of that.

“I was not there this week but I knew the range very well, the wind conditions other issues, and we planned accordingly. I am happy that Teju executed the plan 100 per cent today,” said Gangulee.

High expectations

Image credit: AFP
Image credit: AFP

The 1994 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist insisted that the real challenge was to help Sawant handle the pressure of expectations.

“We definitely worked on the technical aspects of shooting. It is easy to handle the younger lot. But the senior players have been there and done that and they have to deal with the high expectation.

“So while going to the Commonwealth Games we discussed how she was not to think about getting top scores but just concentrate on the shooting part and I am happy that everything worked out perfectly,” she added.

Sawant knows that her own expectations would again increase after the medal-winning performance in Gold Coast and is keen to avoid similar issues as she focuses on qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“Kuheli didi planned for this tournament and she will again give me a plan as I prepare for the Asian Games and then for the 2020 Olympics,” said Sawant, insisting she still enjoys the sport as she used to when she broke on the international scene in her early 20s.

“The only thing that has changed is that with added responsibility at home and office, I don’t get to train 8-9 hours like before. I now train for 4-5 hours but the intensity has improved and also my overall understanding.”

She and her coach hope that the improved understanding combined with the hard work could see her achieve far bigger goals in the near future.

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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.