It happens with everyone. We watch a popular face on the telly, Google them for trivia, and the moment we learn their favourite colour is red we think we know that individual inside out. Speak with them one-on-one and you’ll be surprised by how much more there is to their story.
Similarly, a conversation with Sonika Chauhan – the talented model/Miss Diva 2013 finalist/tv anchor/and now, the spunky sports presenter for Pro Kabaddi League – reveals everything an aspiring entrant into the glamour industry should know but don’t..
What inspired you to participate in the Miss India pageant?
“My mother. She forced me into it. I was absolutely against it because I feel I am not a pageantry kind of a person… but my mom was a model before she got married, after which she had to give it up, because it was basically the norm back then for women to not pursue a career in modelling post marriage. She had even submitted the form for participation in Sananda Tilottama (my first pageant) without informing me! Every pageant that I have been a part of has been the result of my mother signing me up for them behind my back and leaving me no choice once I got selected (laughs).”
(Sonika – left- was a runner up in Sananda Tilottama 2010, the most prominent pageant in east India)
Many people think that all one needs to be part of a pageant is good looks. Is it really that easy?
“It’s not easy at all! It is very difficult when it comes to the many aspects one has to focus on at the same time – how much you work out, what you eat, your sleep cycle, your communications skills and awareness of the world. People just get to see the glamour part of it and not the effort that goes into getting there. Your lifestyle has to be very disciplined and you have to be very dedicated.”
“It is not easy at all… Your lifestyle has to be very disciplined and you have to be very dedicated.”
-about being in a pageant
Your first modelling assignment
“I think my first ever modelling campaign was in 2010 for a designer, and I had no idea about how to pose and what was expected. Thankfully everyone in Kolkata has been very nice to me, they directed me very well, told me who to work with and who not to work with. Be it the photographers or the makeup artists, they were all eager to help me out – I was treated like a baby when I entered the industry. In my first campaign I was shooting alongside two senior models, and I was very nervous about how I would perform.”
What was your audition for television anchoring like?
“Channel V was organising a Calcutta zone for India fest at that time, and they got a camera and told me to do a few interviews of the people attending the fest. They wanted to see how I introduce them and how I sign off. That was my first audition with Channel V and I got through.
Then NDTV got in touch with me, but I was in Kolkata and they were in Delhi. To make this interview happen I was told to write my own script and pretend that I’m interviewing Shah Rukh Khan. So I had to do the introduction and make up my own questions and interview this fake Shah Rukh Khan and mail this lengthy audition to them. I got through that too.”
(Sonika on a popular NDTV production)
Did you know much about kabaddi before hosting Pro Kabaddi League?
“Honestly, I didn’t know much about kabaddi before Pro Kabaddi League. As kids we knew of it as a fun and informal game where one touched their opponent and ran back to the other side, but its nothing like that. When I signed with Star Sports I had to through a rigorous one month workshop, because the rules have changed and its made more for tv now. My knowledge of kabaddi grew only once I signed with star.”
What did you speak about in your audition for a presenter for Pro Kabaddi then?
“The audition was about any other sport that I was better acquainted with. They actually test your communication skills, your language, your presence of mind. There is an ear-piece that we use during live sport through which the producers talk into your ears constantly, and you are talking at the same time into the camera and interviewing people – so there are four or five voices at the same time all over the place. They test how well you can coordinate among these at the studio. They put you in different situations and see how you handle them.”
(Sonika as seen presenting Pro Kabaddi League )
Do you actively participate in any sport?
“Yes, badminton and swimming. I had to give up swimming competitively when I was 16 due to an accident, but I continued to swim and play all kinds of sport at school, college, and club level post that.”
Do you think kabaddi popularity can match up to that of cricket anytime?
“Absolutely! the sport is only growing and we’ve already had our first world cup, there were 12 countries that are playing it, and we have seen it on tv. The TRPs are very good since the third season. It’s only going to grow now, and eventually become one of the biggest ones in our country. No sport that has been taken worldwide has not grown.”
Which teams are most promising, according to you?
“Pro kabaddi will be adding four more teams, as far as I know. Currently there are eight teams that participate in the championship out of which Puneri Paltan is my favourite. But Patna Pirates has won two seasons in a row, so they are a very strong team. Where the world cup is concerned, India and Iran are the two strongest teams.”
Do you think women’s kabaddi would be as successful as men’s kabaddi?
“We’ve already had a women’s kabaddi challenge in season 4 of Pro Kabaddi, and their matches were very popular. Those were held every third day of the Pro kabaddi, which means that we had a men’s match to begin with and then we had a women’s match, and the audience and viewers were still hooked to the second game. We started with 3 teams and even our women kabaddi players have won Asian Games and South Asian Games – they are amazing athletes.”
(Players in the women’s Pro Kabaddi battle it out in the stadium)
Your pick of kabaddi players who have the potential to achieve a stardom like that of, say, Virat Kohli in India.
“Rahul Chowdhury and Ajay Thakur.”
Which sports are your favourite?
“I love to watch swimming, that is my favourite sport. I started swimming when I was 3 or something. I actually follow a lot of sports – tennis, cricket, badminton. F1 as well.”
After modelling, pageantry, and anchoring, any plans of taking a chance in the film industry?
“I don’t know why everyone thinks that the film industry is the be all and end all of anyone’s career… as of now I am most content with sports presenting, but I’m not saying that I’ve blocked out the possibility completely. If an opportunity does come my way and someone wants to test me and I get through, I will probably do it, but I’m not desperate to be in movies and it’s not like I’m running around seeking auditions.”
Producers must be running after you with offers!
“I wish it was like that! But I’m very happy with my job as a presenter, my interest lies there, my passion lies there. It is said one should love what they do, and I love what I do.”
You have never not appeared lean ever since you came into the limelight – is it a result of genetics or are do you spend endless hours in the gym?
“While good genes is definitely an acting factor (I won’t deny that), I am completely into working out and have played sports throughout my life. It’s a very important part of my life, I work out 6 days a week, swim 3 times a week, play badminton 3 times a week. I make sure to fit exercise in my schedule no matter what, even when I have a date or any important event to attend.”
“Your lifestyle has to be very disciplined and you have to be very dedicated.”
Vjing, anchoring, pageantry, modelling – which has been most fun?
“I can’t decide between sports and travel and cars, because these three things are my most favourite things. God’s been great; I’ve managed to do all! Traveling all over the world, and driving the best Mercedes cars are experiences that I can never compare to anything, but being a live sports presenter has always been a part of my dream. These are the top most things in my life.”
Were your aspirations for a profession different in your growing-up years?
“I wanted to be a swimmer, I wanted to represent my country. That didn’t happen. After that I wanted to do advertising, I wanted to be behind the camera, and definitely not in front of the camera.”
What plans for future?
“Opening my own production house as a sports producer. I’ll be the one speaking into the anchor’s ears when I’m older and probably won’t be in front of the camera anymore.”
-by Zaiceka Ahmed