Modelling is fun — Ashwini

K. RAMESH BABU

“It all began after our doubles triumph at the Delhi Commonwealth Games. Jwala (Gutta) and I did a shoot for a magazine supplement, with makeup on and much prompting from photographers. Jwala moved far more freely, while I was more guarded,” recalls Ashwini of the quiet and reserved traits she typifies. By A. Joseph Antony.

Ashwini Ponnappa could well be the Ferrari of Indian badminton, all feline flair, yet packing punch and panache, carried over easily to the ramp. She may not launch a thousand ships, but should make a mark in modelling, where non-cricket sportspersons are rarely sighted.

“During a game, a fall needs only dusting off, but on the catwalk it spells disaster. Mercifully, there have been no awkward moments on either stage. While modelling for me is fun, to the professional it's a lot more serious,” observes the 2011 badminton World Championship women's doubles bronze medallist.

“It all began after our doubles triumph at the Delhi Commonwealth Games. Jwala (Gutta) and I did a shoot for a magazine supplement, with makeup on and much prompting from photographers. Jwala moved far more freely, while I was more guarded,” recalls Ashwini of the quiet and reserved traits she typifies.

An audio-visual TV commercial shoot for a Delhi real estate firm came next. “Dialogue delivery in English was a cakewalk, but tough in Hindi,” says the Bangalore-born lass, harking to her totally south Indian roots in breathtakingly beautiful Coorg, home to the martial race that produced famous Indian warriors, Field Marshall Cariappa and General K. S. Thimayya.

Some still photographs were taken of India's dominant doubles duo for Li Ning, their sponsor, comprising shadow movements. With no briefing, preparation or rehearsal, Ashwini walked the ramp, dressed elegantly, yet casually, to support People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

“I watched the others before me and simply did the same. I walked down till the end of the ramp, paused for a moment and headed back. That stroll was short but sweet,” she says.

From the ferocity of on-court smashes, she's genteel and gracious off it. “I like it when I can recognise myself. I hate makeup (she doesn't really need it). It's a lot easier smiling endlessly, say for a video than appearing serious in a still shoot, which needs a wider range of expressions or innovations,” says the fledgling model.

“Confidence is a must for both, although playing is a lot easier. While I'll chase more titles in badminton, I won't pursue modelling offers but instead wait for them to happen. After all, it's the game that's made me,” she reflects, leaving little doubt about her priorities.

She doesn't ‘skirt' the issue that raged recently in the sport. “It's smarter wearing attire meant for women rather than appear like men, although some see dressing up well as lack of focus. To each her own, but if skirts in squash or tennis don't raise eyebrows, why the fuss for badminton,” she asks.

Comfortable with natural light and a cause close to her heart, she kept her cool for a shoot on a Hyderabad terrace, tolerating temperatures well into the fiery forties. Her mother Cauvery launched a designer wear range themed a ‘revival of 70's' with Accedo and Manzoor Hussain in Hyderabad recently.

Posing for a professional shoot would be more challenging than say sitting for a family portrait or when taking those fun pictures with cousins in Coorg. “A smile routine is smooth but serious ones needed much guidance, hands shouldn't dangle awkwardly or come in the way, the head should be turned this way or that and feet should be in their proper place,” says Ashwini.

Unlike badminton where she has no role models, choosing to learn from seniors, contemporaries and juniors, she admires Lakshmi Menon and Lisa Hayden in modelling. Ask her how suited is she to modelling and she replies, “That depends on how others see or judge me.”

Ashwini Ponnappa on the ramp at the All Star Fashion show, conducted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to promote adoption of homeless dogs.-

Is modelling as taxing, tiring and frustrating as badminton? “Both are fun. Playing comes more naturally but posing needs conscious effort and is very different from what you regularly do,” she thinks.

Does she have a favourite photographer? “I haven't worked with so many to like them but photography can be fascinating,” she notes. So is there a favourite/ideal location for a shoot? “I'd love to shoot with animals around. I'd also have loved to be a vet, but the studies were quite demanding,” she admits.

When asked whether she would resist/avoid endorsing certain products/brands on any principle(s), as some did of cola drinks, her reply was more pragmatic. “I'll decide when the offers come but will be quiet till then to keep people guessing,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. “I am glad to have got the best of both worlds,” she says of her badminton career and modelling. To date, the sailing has been smooth and a career in modelling/endorsement is an option Ashwini is open to.

If ‘do unto others what you'd want them to do to you,' is a credo she abides by, the svelte shuttler is clear she won't go beyond a point. “Despite a very liberal upbringing, I value self respect immensely,” she stresses. But badminton comes first and in a country where cricket rules the roost, a shuttler need not be the only beneficiary when endorsing, but the sport could well gain too, she concludes.