Q. We don’t see much of you these days. There haven’t been many recent films featuring you, save for a handful of special appearances, nor any TV shows. Any specific reasons for this?
A. It has been like this for me right from the very beginning. I have not worked much on the screen ever since I started in the industry in 1995. I did a few television serials in the beginning, after which I started doing movies. I did one movie in one year, or one movie in two years. I still do the same thing—nothing has changed.
Q. So you have always been very choosy about the kind of work you do, post your screen debut in the video of the song “Made in India”, back in 1995?
A. It is not just about being picky; it is also about whom I want to work with, or how much time I have, or whether or not I can do something. Because there are so many things I want to do. I don’t want to be a career actor, or to be just acting in films all the time. I like other things also. So, I need to have time for that. If I am doing something and somebody offers me a film, I don’t do it. It is not my priority. There are different priorities at different times. So of course, I love acting, I love doing movies, but I do all this only when I can.
Q. One thing you’re certainly interested in, apart from acting, is physical fitness and running in particular. You’ve participated in several marathons in the past. How do you prepare yourself for such physically demanding expeditions?
A. I am always prepared. I don’t believe in training because the concept of training is, you prepare for a goal and then you stop. And then, you see another goal and then you prepare for it and then again you stop. So it is a wave kind of pattern. I believe in being constantly prepared for anything because my whole idea about challenges—like, say, marathon or running events—is that they make you feel more alive. They make you feel a sense of achievement. But the most important thing is they prepare you for life itself. Whatever challenges life will throw at you, you are more prepared for those. The whole idea is to challenge yourself with these kinds of events so that you become better prepared to deal with life.
Q. From the time you have became a promoter of sorts of physical fitness till today, have you seen any major changes in the way people perceive health and well being?
A. I am not a fitness promoter at all. I never started any sport because I wanted to bring any change anywhere. It just happened like that, and then it was an interesting aspect of what I am doing. Otherwise, I take up a sport because I love that sport. I have been in sports since the age of nine. I have represented India in swimming. I have represented Maharashtra for 13 years at the national level. I have been national champion in swimming. So sports have remained a part of my life since childhood. It’s only now that people have noticed it. And they think that I have adopted this and I have reinvented myself and all that. But it is not true. I have always been like this. It’s only now that the world is becoming more aware.
And most importantly the media, both Indian and global, is realising that fitness is something we need to pay attention to, and everybody is talking about it. And people have noticed it suddenly that I am also interested in fitness and that I am a sportsperson and this is what I have been doing. So I am not really spearheading anything. I started the marathon event Pinkathon because I have an event-management company and for me, it was an experiment to see how it would all work. And now I feel it [the Pinkathon] is something amazing, but it is amazing because of the women who participate in it, not because of me.
“The meaning of fitness is to be able to create a positive environment for yourself and for the people you love. Fitness is not about running 100km or lifting 40-50 kilos. It is about creating a positive environment that enables growth.”
Q. You started Pinkathon in 2012, and before that time we had never seen women participating in a running event in such overwhelming numbers. Back then, did you have any apprehensions that this event won’t generate a good response?
A. No, not at all. It started as an experiment. It wasn’t that I was wondering whether or not it would get enough participants. I knew women would participate, but we didn’t know how many would. And there were certain reasons as to why women were not participating in conventional events, and we wanted to find out what those were. So now we know what those reasons were, and since we have taken care of a lot of those reasons, the event has become very popular. The Pinkathon is probably the most popular running event in the country and the biggest as well. It involves eight cities and 70,000 women. It has really become something that women look forward to in all the host cities.
Q. How essential do you think it is for women to incorporate a fitness regime into their daily lives?
A. Well, it is important for everybody, not just for women. And it is not only restricted to India but women all over the world don’t take much care of their health, and they in fact feel guilty about spending time on themselves and not looking after their family. So it’s a simple no-brainer that everybody has to take care of their health. When women adopt a healthy lifestyle, they inspire their families by example. In such a scenario, even the children, as they are growing up, are growing up in a better environment and learn to value a healthy lifestyle. That is why it is more important that women are encouraged to adopt a healthy lifestyle and to start taking care of their health actively.
Q. These days, cases of body-shaming people are all over the social media. Don’t you think we have started to confuse physical fitness with the body size?
A. That has always been the case. It is nothing new and it is not only restricted to the youth. It is with everybody. Everybody confuses fitness with looks and shape and weight and size. But that is not the case. In fact, people are confused about who lacks fitness. It is irrelevant— the body size and body shape. Of course, being fat is unhealthy. But we must understand that fitness and health are two completely different things in any case. Being fat in itself is not healthy. We are not going into whether it looks good or not, but there is a health aspect to it. If you want to be healthy, there is a certain amount of fat that you can have and beyond that, it begins to affect your body functions.
Q. Apart from physical fitness, don’t you think the importance of mental health also needs to be emphasised more?
A. Physical fitness is not possible without mental health. So fitness starts in the mind. It doesn’t start with the body because even when you want to be fit, you have to first take a mental decision to be fit and decide what you are going to do and the steps that you are going to take. There is no such thing as physical fitness in isolation. You cannot be fit in isolation and say that you’re physically fit without your mind being fit as well or your mind being healthy or having an emotional balance—it is all linked. It is a very old saying that “a healthy mind resides in a healthy body”. So you just cannot have a healthy body without a healthy mind.
Q. So in addition to fitness campaigns, you have also been a part of endeavours that empower women. Fearless, a midnight running event, was one such initiative hosted in the national capital, where you stood by the women who came out to reclaim their rights and space. How important is it for a country like India to go full-throttle with initiatives like these?
A. I think whatever you believe in, you should give it a hundred percent. If you believe in something, you should do it. We have a foundation, which is called the United Sisters Foundation, where we talk about issues that concern women and that concern health. So when we are talking about health, it is not just about physical health, it is also mental health, it is emotional wellbeing, it is social health. It is the health of the economy, it is empowerment, and it is so many other things. We cannot have a healthy society without healthy women. We have a programme about menstruation, called Swabalamban. As for the Fearless Run, it was also about getting women to not be afraid of going out in the night, to regain that space because there are certain things you need to know and certain things that you need to do if you want to go out at night. Fearless doesn’t mean careless. It means that you have to take precautions and then do whatever you want to do. You should not stop yourself from doing something because you are afraid. You have to do what is necessary to enable you to do that and to empower you. So, the Fearless Run is symbolic of that attitude.
The meaning of fitness is to be able to create a positive environment for yourself and for the people you love. Fitness is not about running 100km or lifting 40-50 kilos. It is about creating a positive environment that enables growth. And how do you create a positive environment? It is a mental thing. It is not a physical thing. And when you create a positive environment, you will take care of your physical health too. The primary goal is to be mentally fit. Physical exercise is a device to empower you further. When you exercise or run, you feel a sense of achievement. You feel a sense of self-belief. You build self-respect, you begin to value yourself more.
Q. What after Ironman, a long-distance triathlon organised by the World Triathlon Corporation in Hawaii and Ultraman Florida where you covered over 500kms in three days?
A. Double Ironman probably.