Gul Panag: Actress, Activist, Politician

How's this for an impressive career trajectory: Miss Universe contestant turned movie star turned social activist turned politician. For Gul Panag, the only career constant seems to be evolution, as she oscillates between acting and modeling, advocating for gender equality and cancer awareness, and—recently—running as a political candidate in the general Indian elections as a member of the Aam Admi party in Chandigarh (she placed third).

The Indian star in more ways than one chatted with Ravishly about how she broke into acting, why politics called to her, and the importance of speaking out against gender injustice.

You've studied in 14 different schools, from Chandigarh to Ooty. What were the challenges and benefits of such a nomadic early education?

Studying at various institutions across the world was a fantastic experience. I think it made me more flexible, understanding, adaptive, tolerant, accommodative and above all, adventurous than I might have otherwise been. It gave me the chance to meet and interact with people of different cultures, from whom I learnt a lot. My nomadic instincts, I think, were born here.

You love traveling. What's your favorite place in the world to unwind, relax and settle in?

The area berween Delhi and Leh is really one of my favorites; I try to drive or ride that stretch as often as I can. I love the dramatic changes in scenery, from the urban sprawl of the plains to the greenery of the Himalayan foothills right into Himachal Pradesh, and then the absolute barrenness post-Rohtang Pass. The desolate Keylong-Upshi valley stretch, right until you enter Nubra valley, is, to me, the most beautiful drive in the world.

Your Twitter page describes you as "activist, actor, aviator, animal lover, adrenaline junkie, adventurer, avid traveler, automobile and fitness enthusiast, biker, entrepreneur, student, writer." Which among the above roles are you most passionate about, and why?

All of the above, really. Adventurer most if I must pick one, because it defines my approach to life. I want to do it all and have no regrets when I look back at my life when I'm 70. I want to know that anything I was passionate about, I gave a really good shot.

How'd you get into acting? What has your favorite role so far been . . . and what would role do you dream about?

I studied theater and was not really keen on doing films. I was set to head to America to study further. It was about that time, in 2003, that I got my first film offer for Dhoop, and it was [my husband] Rishi who nudged me into giving it a try. He said you've got this great opportunity, you don't want to look back 10 years down the road and regret it. And it seemed like the sort of film that I wanted to do. So yes, Dhoop has been my most favorite role I've played so far!

Why have you entered politics, and what kind of political future do you envision for yourself?

I have always had an active social conscience, and have been very vocal about many issues. Like everybody else, I too wanted an atmosphere of clean politics and thought that the time to step up was now. I am very grateful for the large vote share that I received from Chandigarh, for a first-time candidate and party, it is a huge vote of confidence. So currently, our effort is to build further on that vote of trust and build organization and structure from the grassroots level, while simultaneously developing the national political vision for the party.

You are an ambassador of the Pinkathon event; what is its mission? And how has it grown and evolved over the years?

Pinkathon is an international run only for women. It offers running distances of 3K, 5K and 10K, giving each runner an opportunity to run in their comfort zone. The objective of the event is to encourage women's health and fitness. Pinkathon also aims to raise awareness about breast cancer, its causes and prevention. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths amongst women worldwide, in spite of it being one of the curable cancers if detected early. The event had its second edition last year and did very very well, with around 2,500 people participating, including women from corporations, colleges and social platforms. Pinkathon is now spread across six cities, and is expanding to Ahmedabad and Chennai this year.

Gender equality is one of the social causes you care about. What motivated you to fight for gender equality, and to what extent do you think gender equality can be established in society?

I've grown up in a family where there was tremendous respect for women. It is only natural for me to feel outraged at the injustice women in India constantly face. I think it is the role of every citizen to speak up against injustice because true change can only begin with dialogue. I believe it is possible to have gender equality but for that to be brought about, we first need to create a lot more awareness through dialogue.

What would you advise young women who want to be aspiring actors, activists and/or entrepreneurs? How can they work against gender inequality to find success?

The most successful women in the world have grabbed every opportunity afforded to them, and have created opportunities for themselves, harnessing their fears and doubts as rocket fuel instead of rocks in their pockets. It is mostly hard work and perseverance that brings women to the top of their field. So focus on just working toward what you feel strongly about, with lots of confidence, and a strong stable mind.

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