HT Brunch Cover Story: Golf and real life

Published on May 30, 2021 07:03 AM IST

Long before Rakul Preet Singh, 30, became an actor, she was a golfer. It’s a game she says, that taught her some important lessons of life

Rakul says she was pretty serious about golf, something she was good at since she was 14. She played to a single handicap, and competed on the junior circuit; Styling by Neerja Kona; Location courtesy: Boulder Hills Golf & Country Club, Hyderabad; Make-up: Azrah; Hair: Aliya Shaik; Spot Boy: Mohan Kumar A; PR: Meghna Chadha (Eshaan Giri)
Rakul says she was pretty serious about golf, something she was good at since she was 14. She played to a single handicap, and competed on the junior circuit; Styling by Neerja Kona; Location courtesy: Boulder Hills Golf & Country Club, Hyderabad; Make-up: Azrah; Hair: Aliya Shaik; Spot Boy: Mohan Kumar A; PR: Meghna Chadha (Eshaan Giri)
ByMeraj Shah

Somewhere in Hyderabad’s evening rush-hour traffic, behind the tinted-glass windows of her ride, Rakul Preet Singh peers into her vanity mirror, shakes her head, and tells you that she’d rather not show you her face. “This won’t do… my eyes are so red and my face is swollen… trust me, you don’t want to see me looking like this. Why do we need to video call anyway?”

You’re stumped. It’s not the conversation-opener you expected from a movie star – a glamorous one at that – especially since you’ve spent the last hour prepping to interview the most formidable subject there is: a gorgeous woman, and an actor, who, you presume, has plenty of experience reducing strong men into gushing puddles of putty, eating out of her hands.

And now, she’s got you on the back foot, feeling all remedial, as most men are wont to, when talking to pretty women who’re feeling poorly. Would she like to reschedule, you ask. Perhaps pick this up later after she’s taken a steam, and had a hot cuppa at home? “No, no, don’t worry, I’m used to this. Let’s just talk, I promise to be entertaining,” she says enthusiastically. Within the first five minutes of our chat, Rakul has not only set the terms of engagement, but convinced you that it’s the best course of action.

It’s probably not a gambit, you tell yourself. The poor girl has spent all day on location shooting for her next big film, Mayday, and the copious use of glycerin, that, she says, is responsible for those red eyes, implies some emotionally-wrought scenes. All those manufactured tears certainly don’t seem to have taken a toll on her spirits, you say, and she laughs. “I figured that one out long back. It’s a job, and I don’t bring it home. I’m acting all day, if I forget to stop acting once I’ve left the set then it’s hard to remember who I really am!” If she is putting on a show then it’s a darn good one. Her day began light years before yours: a workout at five in the morning, followed by a 15-kilometre cycle ride to the set, where she spent the entire day shooting – you certainly wouldn’t have blamed her for sounding a wee bit tired. “Don’t worry, I do this 360 days a year… I guess you could call me a workaholic,” says the 30-year-old in one breath.

In case acting didn’t work out, Rakul’s plan was to do her Masters in Brand Management; Skirt, Forever 21; Top, jacket and shoes, Asics (Eshaan Giri)
In case acting didn’t work out, Rakul’s plan was to do her Masters in Brand Management; Skirt, Forever 21; Top, jacket and shoes, Asics (Eshaan Giri)

The genesis of that unrelenting work ethic comes from competitive sport, more specifically golf, that Rakul pursued as an amateur in her teenage years. “Both my brother Amanpreet and I were pretty serious about golf. I was good when I was 14, played to a single handicap, and competed on the junior circuit,” she says, adding that, “…even then I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue as a career.” So, does she still play? “Well, I played at an event with Kapil Dev sometime back and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Told myself that I must play more often. But I manage no more than perhaps once in a couple of months.”

She manages to tee it up in Hyderabad and Mumbai, the two cities she calls home but, as an Army officer’s daughter, has trouble with regional identities. “See, I studied in over 10 schools, I speak English, Hindi, Punjabi, Telugu, and a bit of Tamil… so when someone asks me where I’m from, I just say I’m from India, you know!” You know all too well: as an Army brat yourself, that is your standard response to questions of identity. The walls have been breached, and journalistic objectivity well and truly decimated, you find yourself nodding your head so vigorously that it cranes your neck.

Considering that Rakul started her acting career at 18, the 35 films she’s worked on over the last decade or so make for a pretty impressive average. “I don’t think Gilli counts,” she says, referring to her first appearance in the 2009 Kannada flick shot while she was still at university. “I was in college when I was offered that role. I turned it down because I knew nothing about the South Indian film industry. But then I changed my mind because the producers were insistent, and the money would have allowed me to buy a car that my 2,000 rupees monthly allowance could not afford!” Predictably, the nuns at Jesus & Mary College in Delhi, where she was studying, weren’t impressed by the French leave that shooting entailed. “I thought about it and figured I should finish my graduation before pursuing films. In case acting didn’t work out, my plan was to do my Masters in Brand Management,” she says.

Quick five with Rakul
Quick five with Rakul

If the popularity of brand Rakul is any indicator, she’s been doing a very good job of managing her own image – à la Bollywood everywoman – as the most ‘normal’ actor in Bollywood. But rather than a carefully-crafted persona, Rakul’s public image does not appear disingenuous. Her YouTube videos that have won her a legion of followers online aren’t professionally-shot, sanitised broadcasts of her life – the kind her peers are likely to put out. Rather, you’ve got Rakul in an apron as an amateur cook, mixing ingredients and baking chocolate pancakes, or her make-up routines in which she appears, surprisingly, sans make-up, slathering on a homemade banana mask on her face. Fans, who log in to get a peep into her life, are rewarded with an unabashed candour, that’s quite refreshing, as it is rare, in the world she inhabits.

You can’t take the golfer out of a girl though. She comes back to the game when it comes to defining her mantra for life. “Golf teaches you that it’s all about the moment, focussing on the shot in hand. It also teaches you balance. You might get a hole in one but that could be a fluke. Next moment, you’ll lose a couple of balls and things will go downhill. On the other hand, things could be going quite badly but suddenly you’ll get an ace or a couple of birdies, and turn things around. Golf teaches you that you shouldn’t get arrogant, and at the same time, never lose hope,” she proffers sagely.

So, what hope do gentlemen golfers, potential suitors as it were, have, when it comes to getting to ‘play a round’ with her? “Pfft!” she says, pooh-poohing the question. “He doesn’t need to play, I can teach him golf! In fact, I don’t care what he does for a living, as long as he does it well. That’s what I live by,” she says with conviction. Right. That settles it. She might be Bollywood’s girl next door, but for most of us hapless golfers, she might as well be on the moon.

A golf columnist and television producer, Meraj Shah is a former editor with Golf Digest India. He’s played at 220 courses in more than 40 countries.

From HT Brunch, May 30, 2021

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