“This was carried in the Femina January 13, Happy New You issue
Section: Your space: looking back
Title : Less like you, more like me
Intro: Gul Panag picked her own definition of ‘arriving’ in the industry. She voices her views on establishing her own labels all her life”
I was five years old. It was ‘home clothes day’ at school, a Saturday. Between my grandmother and me, we had forgotten that, and I ended up reaching school as the only student in uniform. I refused to go in, bawling and wailing. My father, who had come to drop me, asked: “What sense does it make to blend in and be like everyone else?’ He said, “It’s better to be different and stand out.” I think that was the beginning of my belief in living life on my own terms.
It’s not as though I made a conscious decision or effort to be different. I think it was just the way I was brought up.
I was taught to think and act independently and to celebrate my individuality.
Many years later, when I decided to enter the Femina Miss India pageant in my quest to challenge myself, my father insisted I get ‘professional’ photos taken. My brief to photographer Prakash Shroff was to take photos that would stand out. The prevailing trend those days was to wear contact lenses and pout (yup, it hasn’t changed
all that much)!
The stark picture (my photographic debut) that was published in Femina while introducing the contestants of Femina Miss India 1999, turned out to be very different from the rest, and it set the tone of my unconventional perception. Winning, I think, was a case of being first among equals, but I largely attribute my victory to my refreshingly ‘different’ mark.
I always knew my strength lay in my communication skills (honed by winning countless public speaking competitions), and I made a start with television. Everyone advised me against this, saying that the expected thing to do is to sign films. I wasn’t convinced as I was not yet sure if that’s what I wanted to take up.
I thoroughly enjoyed my stint on TV, and when the time came to graduate to films, I chose to make my debut with Dhoop. Yet another unconventional start. I was warned that a film like this, which was not run-of-the-mill, would prove fatal for my career. I clearly disagreed. I firmly believed our film industry, at the time,
was on the threshold of change. Now, I could either be part of that change, maybe even pioneer it, or be left behind. Dor, Manorama Six Feet Under, Summer 2007, Hello and Straight are all unique films where I’ve played different characters. My choices, both in work and in life, have helped me create a space for my self.
I’ve learnt a lot over the last decade. I’ve learnt that success is relative and what’s important is to give your very best shot
to what you choose to do. I’ve learnt to speak my mind. I’ve learnt to stand up for what is right, even if it’s unpopular. Especially if it’s unpopular. But the most important thing I’ve learnt, is you should do things your own way, to respect yourself enough to dare to be who you are: because success is only success if achieved on your terms. Every time.
As Coco Chanel said, “In order to be irreplaceable, you must always be different.”