Dedication is one thing and determination, another. And not many actors are able to employ both in their craft. Tom Hanks is definitely one of them. For his Oscar-nominated role in Cast Away, he gained several pounds to look like “an average American” and then promptly lost 25 kilograms to resemble a guy who’d make the film’s title more convincing.
Even Christian Bale accomplished something similar for The Machinist. In fact, he set the world record by shedding nearly 28 kg in order to fit the insomniac character he portrayed. Michael Fassbender followed suit with his Irish rebel who refused to eat and went on a strike in Hunger. That’s not it. Some gained weight as well. Russell Crowe turned pudgy with a raise of 29 kg in Body of Lies. At a relatively lower range, George Clooney put on 16 kg for Syriana while Matt Damon piled on 14 kg for The Informant. Hollywood is filled with such actors willing to push themselves to the extreme simply to upgrade a role. Well, they have company now.
Bollywood actors nowadays not only prefer growing their own moustache or beard but also are quite open to the idea of experimenting with their body types. However, apart from Vidya Balan, not a lot can be said about the present actresses since they seldom let the weighing scale wander. Coming back to the male actors, it’s a pleasant change from how things used to be not very long ago.
In the second half of the 20th century when Hindi film industry blossomed, it was a rarity to witness a shirtless actor. Even in a movie. And then Dharmendra walked along in Phool Aur Patthar (1966) to show us how it’s done. But then he had the physique to go with. Not many of his contemporaries could claim so. Small surprise why actors remained covered while their voluptuous female counterparts kept pushing the sartorial boundaries. Method acting understandably wasn’t in vogue. As a result, the concept of losing or gaining weight remained pretty much alien to Hindi cinema. But that was then.
Recently, Ranveer Singh bulked up for his part in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s 'Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela'. The actor, who gained some pounds for his last release 'Lootera', trained for months on end to ascertain his ripped muscles and six-pack abs are prominently displayed in it. Aamir Khan’s physique in the trailer of his upcoming heist movie 'Dhoom 3' is a far cry from the chubby Rancho of '3 Idiots'. Hrithik Roshan went through a strict regimen to build the kind of body his team thought would suit a superhero in 'Krrish 3'. Farhan Akhtar’s features in 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag' overshadowed the lanky Milkha Singh of his youth -- by miles, to be precise -- for a certain amount of cinematic impact. But who’s complaining?
Youngsters entering the industry today believe it’s a prerequisite to have a chiselled body. Be it Arjun Kapoor or Sidharth Malhotra or Sushant Singh Rajput or Varun Dhawan. What’s more interesting is their appetite to keep reservations out of the window.
Saqib Saleem of the 'Bombay Talkies' fame, approves of the ongoing development. The 25-year-old gushes, “I’m completely game for any such physique-related challenges. In fact, that’s what I love about my profession. If a script demands that I cut my hair or lose weight or gain some, I’m all for it.”
One of the reasons why actors feel the need to put themselves to test is the ongoing shift in perception. Earlier, physical attributes hardly made any difference. Small surprise why everyone from those with visible paunches to those with a skeletal structure were screen idols adored immeasurably by general public. There was no question of requesting them to “do their bit” for a character. With the exposure they have vis-à-vis global cinema, whatever’s happening as a consequence is a healthy trend.
Today, we have a 48-year-old Shah Rukh Khan sporting sculpted abs as long as it’s a script requirement. On the other end, a theatre personality like Neeraj Kabi got rid of 17 kg to portray a suicidal Jain monk in 'Ship of Theseus'. Similarly, there is Vineet Kumar Singh who lost 15 kg to essay someone so thin that he could “walk through the rain without getting wet” in 'Gangs of Wasseypur'. Even Karan Johar is losing flab for his acting debut in Anurag Kashyap’s 'Bombay Velvet'.
What’s worth noting is that Kabi took four months to achieve the emaciated physique required for the Anand Gandhi film and two months more to regain his normal contours. He underwent lightweight training and daily Pranayam to make sure his muscles remain intact and there is minimum tissue/ligament damage. “It was not an advisable move because I was 42 at the time and doctors were very skeptical about losing weight. But then, when you are in that zone with an amazing character in your hand, nothing else matters. I even turned vegetarian although it wasn’t required,” says the 45-year-old actor who recently lost nine kg to play Mahatma Gandhi in Shyam Benegal’s 'Samvidhan'.
Not everybody is a ‘loser’ though. Some gained too. Emraan Hashmi overcame inhibitions to exhibit his acting chops in Dibakar Banerjee’s 'Shanghai'. The actor was evidently out-of-shape in the film. What Anil Kapoor managed to do with 'Badhaai Ho Badhaai' more than a decade ago was remarkable. So was Abhishek Bachchan’s decision to go full hog for 'Guru'. Their turning fat for their films was as memorable as their shedding flab later.
Even the newbie Varun Sharma of the 'Fukrey' fame was asked to put on weight so he “ate after waking up and then slept only to wake up in the middle and eat again” so as to look like the way he did in the sleeper hit. Fitness trainer Abbas Ali focusses on the side effects.
“This ongoing fad has its roots in Hollywood. A majority of them would do anything to their body to make sure their performance is enhanced. But what we forget is they take a linear scientific approach towards their diet. A lot of methods employed are open-ended. An actor in Bollywood might follow a healthy regime but there’s always that margin of irrecoverable error,” adds Abbas.
All things shed and undone, health experts warn against taking shortcuts. Nonetheless, Bollywood actors seem to know what they are doing. The same can’t be said about their female counterparts though. When Vidya Balan or Sonakshi Sinha -- or for that matter, Huma Qureshi or Parineeti Chopra -- turns wafer thin to essay an once-in-a-lifetime role, then there might be a case. Or if Sonam Kapoor is asked to gain some unfashionable flab for a change. Remember how everybody reacted to Kareena Kapoor’s size zero avatar in 'Tashan'? Perhaps it wasn’t hard to accept that her physical makeover had very little to do with her role in that forgettable film. Or was it?