On Sunday morning, 16-year-old Manu Bhaker clinched gold in the women’s 10m air pistol event at Gold Coast, Australia, during the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Bhaker, who is from Haryana, set a record score of 388 out of 400 in the qualifying round. In the finals, she surged ahead, bringing India’s gold medal tally to a total of 8 in her maiden Commonwealth Games.
However, Bhaker — who has two golds from 2018 ISSF World Cup in Guadalajara under her belt — will probably never creep up your FB timeline. Despite exhibiting her prodigious talent after just two years of taking up shooting, she will perhaps vanish from the headlines and the Twitter threads expressing their pride over her win.
In India, Bhaker is doomed to be another Ashwini Akkunji or Dipa Karmakar — two talented athletes whose names probably seem vaguely familiar to most 20-year-olds. Bhaker’s only hopes of becoming a household name rest in the hands of a filmmaker, who would then exploit a celebrity’s brand, gunning for another Dangal or Mary Kom. But then again, who are we to gauge an actor’s popularity against their work? The emphasis here is on the lustful eyes of the audience that elevate them to a position of reverence, where their fame can sustain itself.
Two eyebrow lifts and a wink is all it took for Priya Prakash Varrier to get Indians pumping and cheering after her. The 18-year-old Oru Adaar Love actress charmed millions after the release of the song ‘Manikya Malaraya Poovi’. Again, we are nobody to cap a celebrity’s fan-following. Varrier only serves as an actress and asked for none of this. And so what if she did? But the vehemence with which social media posts raved about her is proof enough that the only thing that matters to an audience is allurement. Why else must every Sakshi Chopra, every Nepali subziwali, every girl in SRK’s selfies, be talked about with such verve?
For a country that aims to empower its women, this attitude is destructive, to say the least. It is shameful how we choose to discount every other talent coming our way. It doesn’t just foster the sexist notion that the entertainment industry is the only place where a woman could find fame. It also cheats our sportswomen of the acknowledgement they deserve, without which, they may never raise the Indian flag at an international podium, proclaiming their one-sided love for the nation.