HT Brunch Cover Story: Is beauty a shallow pursuit? Grandmaster Tania Sachdev and pistol shooter Gauri Sheoran shift perceptions and shoot down prejudices
Looking good isn’t a prerogative of a few. These two women of sports show how substance and style go hand in handUpdated: Jul 27, 2019 22:37 IST
“Is that Kriti Sanon? You know, the actress?” asks a passerby in the lobby of the hotel we are shooting at in Delhi, looking at one of the two girls standing in front of a camera.
“No,” I smile. “That’s Gauri Sheoran. She’s a pistol shooter, a sportswoman. She won the gold in shooting at the seventh World University Shooting Championship in Kuala Lumpur last year.”
“Looks so much like Kriti,” the woman says as she bustles off.
I laugh. Bollywood does seem to be just as influential as it is projected to be. A passer-by cannot help but believe that any stylish young lady facing a camera must be an actress, and Gauri, the fashionable young lady in question, has told me already how closely she watched B-town stars while working out her style quotient.
Gauri’s companion in this shoot and interview is also turning heads. Tania Sachdev, International Master and Woman Grandmaster in chess, looks nothing like the nerd chess players are supposed to be, something that is frequently pointed out by fans on her Instagram account.
“No matter how you feel inside, no matter what’s happening around you, just get up, dress up and show up!” –Tania Sachdev,chess player
“Never seen such a beautiful girl playing good chess,” reads one of the comments on Tania’s account. “You can shoot anyone with your looks,” is a comment on Gauri’s Instagram.
They find these comments hilarious. “Why can’t a chess player, or any sportswoman, look as good as a Bollywood star?” demands Tania, as Gauri quips, “It’s almost 2020, guys. Get over it!”
“I follow Instagram accounts of Negin Mirsalehi and Olivia culpo for their style and am inspired by Serena Williams, Sania Mirza and Jwala Gutta” –Gauri Sheoran, pistol shooter
Basking in her most recent gold medal victory at the recently-concluded Commonwealth Chess Championship, Tania giggles as she says: “When I started playing chess, the first thing that came to everyone’s mind was the image of a very nerdy-looking person with glasses and braces. Thankfully, over the years, chess has evolved into a really cool game and chess players are seen as sexy and smart.”
Her journey with chess started at the age of six, and she won her first international title at eight. She won her Grandmaster title in 2005, was presented with the Arjuna Award in 2009 and has won the Commonwealth Chess Championship for two consecutive years now (2018 and 2019).
“There’s no bigger high than playing for your country, and when parents tell me that after watching my game, their daughters too want to play chess, it really makes me feel very proud,” says Tania. “The perception of sports and sportspersons is changing rapidly in India. And today, brands want to associate with all kinds of sportspersons, not just cricketers, and put them on magazine covers and billboards.”
Gauri was inspired by her elder brother who was already into shooting. Though she started at the age of 10, it was only in Class 10 that Gauri turned professional. She is now a member of the national shooting team that won a silver medal at the recent 10m air pistol event in the InterShoot International Airgun Shooting Championship in The Hague, the Netherlands.
“Today, sportswomen know it is not essential to maintain a tough or manly image to prove their dedication towards the game,” says Gauri. “Earlier, sportswomen wore tracks and tees even after their games ended. Now they dress up when going out. They’ve realised the importance of being well-dressed and groomed.”
In fact, 21-year-old Gauri, who plans to study fashion styling at some point in her life, believes sports icons need to present themselves well as a duty to the people they inspire. “Growing up, I looked up to Bollywood stars and tried to emulate their style,” she says. “I’d also advise my friends on accessories and shoes to go with their dresses.”
Gauri’s Insta feed shows her at her stylish best at the shooting range and while travelling. “My dad keeps showing me pictures of athletes from Jamaica who are always so well-dressed,” says Gauri and adds, “I want Indian athletes to look as good as those from the other countries do.”
Tania also enjoys dressing up and loves pretty clothes. “Fashion is not something I think about a lot, but I do make sure I dress well,” says the 32-year-old who is also a chess commentator and a Red Bull athlete. “My mother is a fashion designer, so I guess my love for clothes comes from her. Also, as a sportsperson, I think it’s our responsibility to be presentable and show a good image.”
Tania has an eye for style and doesn’t hesitate to discuss the clothes for this shoot with the stylist. “I have a clear idea of what I like and what I don’t like,” she says. “When I’m playing, I want to be comfortable in whatever I wear. When I’m going out with friends, I enjoy dressing up and shopping for good clothes.”
“Sportswomen are meant to wear T-shirts and tracks to look tough and manly? It’s almost 2020, get over it, guys!” –Gauri Sheoran, pistol shooter
Having travelled abroad regularly for her games, Tania is happy to see the fashion scene evolving in India. But one thing in particular gets her more excited.
Saris. “I love wearing a sari. I love all the different ways its worn, and I love all the different kinds of saris. A sari, to me, is not meant just for weddings. It is the coolest thing to wear for any occasion.”
Just dress up
Like other millennials, Gauri likes to keep herself updated about what’s trending. “I enjoy checking out new styles and trends, and even try the ones that are not too crazy for me. If I’m not sure about whether a look works for me, I post on Insta and ask my fans for feedback,” says Gauri.
“Fashion is not something I think about a lot, but I do make sure I dress well. My mum is a fashion designer, so my love for clothes comes from her”–Tania Sachdev,chess player
Like Tania, Gauri too spends time with the stylist discussing about where to shop and which brands to buy. Both Gauri and Tania truly believe in the power of retail therapy.
It’s no denying that social media is crucial to sportspeople today, and Tania and Gauri enjoy posting about their lives. “I also follow a few Instagram accounts, such as those of Negin Mirsalehi and Olivia Culpo for their style, and Usain Bolt, Abhinav Bindra and Anna Korakaki for sports inspiration,” says Gauri.
“Among sportswomen, I’m quite inspired by the style sense of Serena Williams, Sania Mirza and Jwala Gutta.”
Tania finds social media to be a good way to unwind after a long and challenging game, but consciously keeps away from it during a tournament. “Instagram is a great platform to interact with people who love the sport. It’s also a good way to follow other interests that you might have,” she says. “And when a tournament goes well, it’s inspiring to see people cheer for you and share your achievements. But when things don’t go well, it’s even more heartwarming to see them support you and push you to do better.”
She also enjoys posting pictures of herself when she’s all dressed up, but can’t claim to follow any particular fashion icon for style tips. “I prefer my own individual style, but I think Priyanka Chopra (Jonas) makes a good role model,” says Tania. “She never plays her Indian card, nor does she try to be anything she’s not. She just looks comfortable in whatever she is wearing. And that is my takeaway from her. Not to copy what she wears, but to carry everything with confidence and look comfortable in whatever I am wearing.”
So what’s Tania’s most important bit of fashion advice for her fans? “No matter how you feel inside, no matter what’s happening around you, just get up, dress up and show up!” says our smart chess champion.
And, our 21-year-old shooter can’t agree more!
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From HT Brunch, July 28, 2019
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First Published: Jul 27, 2019 22:35 IST