Remember the demure and enigmatic Kiran, wearing a white salwar suit, in ‘Mohabbatein’? She was the love interest of Jimmy Sheirgill in the movie, and later of all the boys in Y2K! Another hint needed? Or, do you have the answer? Well, let’s rewind to Year 1998, to the ‘Chhuimui Si Tum Lagti Ho’ girl, who sneaked into everyone’s hearts with the song and went on to cement her place with her stint in the film.
Preeti Jhangiani, the then 19-year-old became a Bollywood sensation overnight, but as time went by she faded out of the limelight.
Still, that smile hasn’t changed over the years. And Preeti is back in action – and how! She has completed shooting for a couple of movies and also a show, but most importantly, the ‘Chhuimui’ girl is all set to enthral fans with a ‘Panja’ challenge as well!
For, the 42-year-old Preeti is now the biggest promoter of arm-wrestling in India. Along with her husband Parvin Dabas, an actor as well, launched the Pro Panja League (PPL) in 2020. The couple is now working on fixing dates for the league this season.
From playing a shy girl’s role in ‘Mohabbatein’ to being the face of an aggressive contact sport such as arm-wrestling, Preeti has come a long way in her professional career. IANS got in touch with her and spoke about PPL as well as her acting projects. Excerpts:
Chetan Sharma (CS): Preeti, you are back in action and recently you have been appointed president of the Maharashtra Arm-Wrestling Association. How and when did this love for arm-wrestling begin?
Preeti: Yeah (smiles!), we’ve just made a very, very exciting announcement recently. We’re gearing up for our first season (of PPL), which will take off in some time. As soon as the dates are finalised, we’ll announce them and yeah, so we’re gearing up for the exciting season.
When was the first time we saw a ‘Panja’ match? Well, we were invited as guests to one of the nationals, which was held in Delhi. When we saw that match and we saw the players, and there were like more than 1,000 kids in that room, all athletes. We didn’t even know at that time that ‘Panja’ or arm-wrestling was so huge. And not just in the North, later, we found out that it’s popular all over India.
Our athletes, not just our star athletes, are from all over India. They are from Kerala, which has a huge pool of champs, fantastic players, both men and women, and from Madhya Pradesh, UP, Gujarat, Assam, the Northeast, Haryana, Punjab, Maharashtra.
CS: How did you take the call to launch PPL and take arm-wrestling to a new level?
Preeti: The pool of players is huge and there’s a huge level of interest and passion for the sport. And the federation has been conducting amateur tournaments for so many years. So, that’s when we realised it’s huge, but that was not the only reason for taking up the promotion of ‘Panja’.
That’s a big decision and it was not taken lightly, not just because there are so many players and because they’ve been conducting championships for so long, but because when you watch the sport it’s so exciting.
I think when you’re sitting as an audience, you just want to jump up and join the athlete on the table because everybody feels they can do it. Panja is something everybody feels they can do and they have played. So it’s a very exciting sport to watch.
CS: There are already several leagues going on in India. What do you think needs to be done to promote PPL, and the challenges ahead?
Preeti: Do you think any other league can boast of more than 250 million views across social media in less than four months? No.
So, I think we are being able to promote it in the right way. We are trying to promote it not just by putting in money because I don’t think that’s the way it works.
You have to be innovative about how hou promote your so-called product. We don’t see it as a product, we see it as a sport that people want to watch. It has an intrinsically Indian base.
Everybody in India knows about ‘Panja’. We’re trying to promote it innovatively. And by being on Sony, I think we’ve been one step ahead now on promotions.
CS: How many federations are there in India other than the one in Maharashtra? Are there plans to establish more such associations?
Preeti: None. See, in every sport in India, this is an issue. Many little federations crop up. I am right now a part of a state federation. It is an issue. Yes, in many sports there are many legal issues going on as well.
CS: What about recognition from the Sports Ministry?
Preeti: We are working on that as well. I can give you clarity on the entire issue in maybe just a month. We are completely and almost done. So, let me give you clarity on this point by the end of the month.
CS: What is the process of getting into a team or the competition? Are there any special requirements?
Preeti: We already have our players — the 180 players who are going to participate in the league are already selected through our national tournament, which was held last year in Gwalior, where they had more than 800 to 1000 participants selected from the federation.
Yes, those are athletes who are a part of the federation with whom we are affiliated. From them, we selected 180 top athletes, who will be a part of the six teams that are going to be a part of the league. There will be six weight categories for men and two for women.
Men, women and specially abled. This is a part of our league, which I really want to speak about, because women and the specially abled will get the same prize money, the same facilities. The number one seed, whether he’s male, female or specially abled, will get the same prize money as well the same facilities and everything else.
CS: How far have you progressed plans for PPL?
Preeti: I want to make it very clear that we’ve not started the league to promote ourselves or push ourselves forward anywhere on television or, you know, we want to push the sport. If we do take somebody on, we will try for somebody who is from a sport, who can inspire our athletes and who can stand for what the sport believes in.
Even if it is somebody who is from the world of entertainment, it would be someone who can be, who is, an inspiration, and who fits the spot and the passion and the power it requires. So yes, that’s on the cards as well.
CS: You have some Bollywood assignments in your kitty and now the PPL as well. How tough is it to manage the schedule?
Preeti: Yeah, that’s tough. It requires a lot of time management. Yes, I am continuing with my acting assignments as well. So is Parveen. He’s also doing some big shows on OTT right now. But our entire focus is on ‘Panja’.
I have just finished one film called ‘Mahapaur’, which is based on UP politics. I’ve also just finished another as well as a show called ‘Kafas’. And yeah, I’m currently shooting for another show which I’m not allowed to name. There is a lot of stuff going on, actually.
–By Chetan Sharma