indian sport

‘Satisfaction was the greater celebration’: Remembering Abhinav Bindra’s Olympic gold, 10 years on

India’s only individual Olympic gold-medallist spoke about the journey to and since Beijing 2008 on the 10th anniversary of his feat.

On August 11, 2008, Abhinav Bindra took his shot at history. It was a 10.8, the final in a series of 10 almost perfectly-executed shots of ten-point-something. It was then the highest final shot in Olympic 10m air rifle history.

10.7, 10.3, 10.4, 10.5, 10.5, 10.5, 10.6, 10.0, 10.2 were the shots that preceded it. A final score of 104.5, adding to the 596 in qualification. But for the sport-loving population of India, these were not the numbers that mattered. It was No 1 – India’s first ever individual Olympic gold medal. It was a day sport lovers won’t forget, when the Indian tricolour was raised and the national anthem was played at the Beijing Olympics.

In the decade since then, Bindra’s momentous feat has been described countless times – in conversations in newsrooms and shooting ranges, in hostels, offices, and social media. It has been recounted in his own words and Rohit Brijnath’s inimitable prose in his autobiography A Shot At History: My Obsessive journey to Olympic Gold.

But even with every retelling, the awe of the achievement is not diminished. It is still spoken about in terms of pride. Maybe because it was the first individual gold and the first medal of the colour for India since 1980, when the Indian hockey team last stood on top of the podium. Maybe because in the 10 years and two Olympics since 2008, India have not won another gold.

For many who watched it, that podium photo with a composed, smiling, bespectacled Bindra holding his gold medal was the most striking shot of the day. For Bindra, though, there is no one standout moment because it was the journey to the gold that is the most rewarding aspect: the “obsessive” journey that included commando training, overcoming his fear, sleepless nights, a last-minute fault in the rifle, a World Championship gold and memory of the Athens Olympics failure.

“An Olympic gold medal is a culmination of a lot of work for a long period of time,” Bindra told Scroll.in on the eve of the 10th anniversary of his feat. “How I approached my career, how I approached each day, trying to put my best foot forward. I like to say that the Olympics, for an athlete, does not happen once is four years, it is pretty much every day.”

Changed the attitude of Indian athletes

In the 10 years since, a lot has changed for Indian sport, as it has for the introverted shooter who became world and Olympic champion. The biggest change, Bindra said, is in the self-belief and attitude of young athletes today.

“They are so very aspirational. Even the youngest of athletes starting out want to win a gold medal at the Olympics. That has been a very positive change,” the 35-year-old said. “When I was competing we were from a different generation, where we were more defensive. But now that it has been done, people are more competitive and have far more self-belief and that is something very fulfilling and satisfying for me.”

In his autobiography, Bindra compares his gold to the breaking of a barrier. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s medal at Athens in 2004 had changed him, he said, as the silver-mark was breached. Similarly, his gold broke down another barrier, as more athletes aim for the top of the podium, and not just the final.

Ask him if he thought Beijing would still be India’s only individual gold a decade later, he said “no” flat out, but went on to offer some positive outlook. “I believe we will win more individual golds,” he said. “We came close, unfortunately it hasn’t happened. I like to think that in sport, yesterday never counts; we have to keep looking out to the future.

“That’s what we are doing now – we are coming out with something to inspire young athletes and use this moment, this achievement of mine to motivate them to go out there and win their gold,” Bindra said of a video he has released in association with JetSynthesys to mark the 10th anniversary of his gold medal.

Back in 2008, drained after the emotional day, he didn’t fully understand the significance of his medal and the impact it made back home. But with the benefit of hindsight, he knows that Beijing 2008 was a big moment for Indian athletes.

“When you win it, you don’t realise or recognise it,” he said. “But over time, you do. It is something we as a country were waiting for and it happened on that particular day. The glass ceiling had to be broken, someone had to do it and I feel fortunate that I was the one who was able to do it. Now that it has been done, we are hoping that a lot more people are able to do it.”

And an important step towards that, Bindra believes, is failure. His failure to clinch a medal in 2004 after reaching the final with an Olympic record score haunted him for years. At Rio 2016, he missed the podium by a margin of just 0.5 points. But he sees these moments with a beatific lens.

“Failure is very important,” he said. “I think you can only have big achievements through failure. It makes you stronger, gives you the desperation to do well. If failure is taken in the right spirit, it will propel you to work even better and work even harder and that’s what I tried to convert my failures into. I failed certainly more times than I succeeded and I decided to use those experiences to make me a better athlete.”

This sage-like attitude is considered one of Bindra’s trademarks. Even when he was on the Olympic podium, his serene expression was described as “ever-calm” by the media. But was he actually that calm when he received his gold? Turns out, he was more drained.

“Winning is a very exhausting experience,” he replied, candidly. “It took a lot out of me to win then. More than anything it was one of the most satisfying moments of my life because I was able to fulfil a goal that I had worked on for 15 years of my life and that immense amount of satisfaction and the feeling that I felt, of being able to do it, that in itself was the most special thing. That was the greater celebration actually,” he said.

Befitting celebration for someone like Abhinav Bindra, indeed.

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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.