Man who made Bollywoods Milkha Farhan Akhtar bhaag, on prepping Taapsee Pannu for Rashmi Rocket.
Endurance is a term broadly used to analyse an athlete's ability to perform a task over a long period of time, without tiring. While it is not a primary demand for a sprinter — for whom the bout of activity lasts a mere few seconds — one would still assume that the amount of endurance training given to a sprinter would be more than that given to an actor replicating one, for cinema. Imagine our surprise then when Melwyn Crasto, an athletic coach with the Central Railways since 25 years, tells us that he devotes more sessions of endurance training with Taapsee Pannu than he does with athletes. "An athlete is made to run a 100-metre race, and that's the end of it. But, an actor may only commence running when the director may cut the shot, complaining about an incorrect running form of either the actor, or another runner in the frame. This is something I learnt when training Farhan [Akhtar] for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Often, the actor is made to run repeatedly throughout the day. Even then, only half a race would be shot. Hence, endurance training is necessary for them to sustain such high levels of activity without compromising on the form," says Crasto, who would use therabands to couple endurance work with strength-related routines.
Crasto, who is also training Aamir Khan for Laal Singh Chaddha, has been whipping Pannu into shape to play a sprinter in the fictional tale, Rashmi Rocket. For the trainer, the grace with which an actor executes movements is of prime importance. "If it looks graceful, 50 per cent of my job is done, because, as with Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, the makers did not wish to appoint a body-double, or use VFX. In Taapsee's case, I had to remind her to keep her hands tucked in, and drive them up to her shoulders before driving them back."
It helped that Pannu, Crasto believes, is inclined to sprinting. He believes she has a high number of fast-twitch fibres, which facilitate the seamless execution of quick movements. "Ideally, it takes six months to prepare an actor for such a film. But Taapsee is a fast learner. We had to focus on her speed, strength and explosive power, and agility."
Sessions began by merely deciphering Pannu's weak-points, and rectifying them, before teaching her the technique of running. Crasto would be welcomed by the punctual actor at 6 am for sessions that lasted two hours. "Apart from circuit training, accelerated running enabled Taapsee to enhance her performance. This essentially involves placing three cones across her running path, asking her to commence running at a steady pace, and accelerating as she crosses each cone. This improves the form, and enhances speed."
Only a few weeks before the lockdown interrupted their regimen, Pannu had taken to running with spike shoes as she entered the last phase of her prep-work. "In competition, she had to be seen running in spikes. That's not something you can subject someone to at the onset since it can cause injuries. We had to up her workout routine to include core work, so that this leg could become easier," says Crasto, expressing gratitude towards the Central Railway Sports Association for giving him the nod to train Pannu.
Intricate athletic forms, including ballet and pilates, will stress on the importance of training the feet to generate the power to propel. "Foot gymnastics strengthens the ankles, shin, Achilles tendon and planta fascia. Those who don't practice it usually complain of pain because their feet are weak. Just like you train the biceps, and triceps, your feet too need work. It includes six drills, like taking small steps on your toes, and moving forward, and sideways, with similar movements. Another one involves walking on the heels; yet another has an athlete walk on the outer edge of the foot. These workouts take about 10 minutes."
A 20-minute warm-up routine precedes any activity, and includes repetitive movements of the major muscles of the body. "The warm up prevent the chances of incurring injuries, which was specifically important in this case since Taapsee had only four months to train, and we couldn't afford a setback. Also, it signals the body to prepare for the upcoming workout, thereby facilitating better performance," says Crasto, who would make the actor take to routine exercises like rotation of the hips, and shoulders, lateral movement of the arms, and 12 stretches, involving the shoulders, triceps biceps and the calf muscles.
Crasto compares running drills to the art of learning the alphabets, and hence, aptly calls them Running ABC. "It involves breaking down the act of running into small components that must be mastered before being put together for the final sport. There are about 14 drills, like high knees, butt kicks, lunges and then running lunges. The benefit of working with Taapsee is that her coordination is good. Being a squash player worked to her advantage, because she could pick up exercises that would take 15 sessions to learn, in five." However, given that Pannu wasn't trained for athletics, Crasto had to limit the distance he set for her drills, truncating it from 50 metres, to about 20.
It was also during these sessions that he watched her with vigilance and enabled her to train like a sprinter. "In the first 15 classes, we only focused on her form. We worked on shorter strides so that muscle memory could be built using the correct form. During these sessions, we rectified her technique and noticed aspects like whether or not her hip flexors were being employed, if her back was upright, and whether she was landing on the ball of her foot, and not the heel," says the trainer, who made Pannu work to only 60 per cent of her capacity so that she could be mindful of her movements.
"Once she nabbed them, we began to execute the final run. Once those fundamentals are in order, she will be technically correct, no matter [the distance] she is made to run." Crasto would wind up with floor stretches so that the actor could recover in time for the next session.
23 Number of seconds Taapsee took to run 100 metres in December
16 Number of seconds she took to complete it in March
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