Her arrows have not hit the bull’s eye with the regularity she would like of late, which has prompted archer Deepika Kumari to resolve that nothing will come in the way of her biggest sporting ambition — not even the lure of the silver screen.
Deepika had earlier agreed to play a lead role in Bisahi — a film to be produced by Suresh Seth Bhagat and directed by Manish Sinha — but pulled out before any of her scenes were shot. Though the archer liked the idea of the film — based on the social evil of witch-hunting — Deepika later decided that she would rather focus her energies on getting to the top of her sport once again.
“It was a good subject, but I soon realised that if I did the film, it would not be possible for me to do my best in training and competitions,” Deepika told The Indian Express. “When I had agreed to do the film, the archery competition schedule for the year had not been released. But once I knew that it was a long season, I realised I could not manage it. Bahut hectic ho jaata.
“Though the producers had said that I needed to work on the film for only 10-11 days, it would not clash with my competitions, and I had to shoot only on weekends, I would not have got any rest as the weekdays would have been consumed totally by my training,” the Jharkhand girl said.
Apart from the archery World Cups and other major FITA events, 2018 also has the Asian Games in Jakarta in a few months’ time.
Deepika then provided a peek into her mind, the big target she is aiming at in the distance. “I have told them (makers of the film) that I can only think about doing a film after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Till then, I will not be able to devote much time to anything else. “They were understandably disappointed with my change of heart and said they could not wait that long. I have not heard from them since and don’t know whether they have shelved the project or will carry on with someone else in my place.”
Deepika has good reason to focus on the big Games. If the former World No. 1 competes in the Japanese capital, it will be her third time at the quadrennial extravaganza. And despite going with great hope and expectation, she had returned empty-handed the two previous times.
After bursting on to the scene as a precocious 16-year-old who won two gold medals at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, Deepika was expected to contend for a medal at the Olympics. But she lost in the opening round of the women’s individual recurve event at London 2012 while the three-member team too bowed out before the medal rounds. The Indian archer attributed the fiasco to high winds, fever and a bout of stage fright.
Four years later, an older and wiser Deepika did much better in Rio, but a medal still eluded her. She lost in the pre-quarterfinals of the individual event and the last eight of the team competition. So, if the progression of her performances and results at the Olympics are anything to go by, India can hope for something positive from her in Tokyo. That’s why the 23-year-old from a humble background is not ready to take any chances with her dream.
While she is at the national camp in Jamshedpur preparing for the second World Cup of the season at Antalya (Turkey), there are some hushed voices inside the Archery Association of India that complain about Deepika’s attitude and perceived lack of seriousness about the sport. Perhaps one of the reasons for saying no to Bisahi was to put that speculation to rest.
“None of the coaches or federation officials asked me to refuse the film. I myself decided, after consulting people close to me, that it is not the right time for it,” Deepika said. “My practice and training are going alright, but my performance seems to be going down. It is time I rectified that.”
Though she will not be seen on the silver screen anytime soon, Deepika has already been the subject of an acclaimed Netflix Original documentary on her life, called Ladies First. The 39-minute film traces the archer’s struggles from her early days and won an award at the London Independent Film Festival last year.
“It is an inspiring story told in my words and those who know me closely. It tries to show the difficulties faced by woman sportspersons in India,” Deepika says.
Then she goes back to try and add another inspiring chapter to her life’s story.