Getting real with Gul Panag: Actress-model talks about balancing entrepreneurship and motherhood

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The former beauty queen opens up on balancing life as an entrepreneur and a mom, dealing with the troll army and more

She was crowned Miss Beautiful Smile at Miss India in 1999. However, Gul Panag did not want to be just another dimpled-chin girl-next-door. Thus, she became so much more. Gul, an actress, motor-head, fitness enthusiast, certified pilot and above all, an entrepreneur, is a textbook case of multifaceted.

Known to speak her mind in public domains and caring too little about what she calls ‘the misogynistic’ troll brigade, she recently launched Phoenix Marketcity Mumbai’s 11th edition of the Power Woman Fiesta.

An adrenaline junkie as per her Instagram bio, Gul believes in furthering women’s rights with whatever task she takes up; whether it is becoming the first Indian woman to drive a Formula E racing car, cycling tricky mountain terrain or just being ‘real’ online. Gul lets us in on the multiple roles she plays in real life, breaking free from typecasting in Bollywood and being a role model to her son, Nihal.

You have been touted as a woman of power for your interests. However, these interests have also typecast you in the industry. How have you dealt with that?

You have to embrace who you are. I believe everything that I do as an actor, is to give me a platform to pursue all my other interests.

You are known to speak your mind but this often invites criticism. Do you feel the need to filter some of your thoughts while presenting yourself in the public domain?

I have always spoken responsibly while expressing my opinions. I like to think that I can look back at the last two decades of public life and not find outrageous statements attributable to me and that’s because I understand the responsibility that comes with being a public figure.

In your career spanning 20 years, you have done close to 21 films. What made you explore other things on the side and not pursue acting as a full-time career?

Acting is an enabler for me to do everything else that I want to do in life. I am a very multifaceted person. I think doing just one thing at one time is very limiting. I have a lot of respect for people who can just do one thing all the time and pursue one single goal with a single-minded focus, I can’t do that. I am somebody who’s always capable of doing things in short bursts across multiple realms.

As a woman entrepreneur yourself, does it bother you when people constantly ask you about balancing your personal and professional life?

There’s always going to be pressure to be the kind of mom professional that doesn’t have children. Someone once said, “Work like you don’t have children and be a mom, like you don’t have work.” My personal trick is to compartmentalize. When I am playing the role of an entrepreneur, a mom or a daughter, I try to compartmentalize myself in that role only.

Being trolled online is not surprising. It’s even worse if you are a female personality because the troll army will police you for your clothes, or for what you eat or drink. How do you deal with this?

This aspect of trolling only reveals the deeply misogynistic and patriarchal nature of our society, especially when it’s being vented by anonymous accounts. One just needs to maintain one’s decorum and dignity and not stoop to the level of the trolls.

Being a travel junkie, in some of your Instagram posts, we see your son enjoying that journey with you. If there was one interest you would want him to take from you, what would that be?

I think we are just doorways through whom children pass. If we can show them everything that there is, they can pick up whatever they like. Personally, I don’t think children will do what you tell them to do, they will do what they see you and that’s my goal as a parent — to be a role model for Nihal so that he should always never have to look outside of his home in search for role models.


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