Actress Shabana Azmi is the latest in a long line of actors to lose and gain kilos on demand to lend weight (pun intended) to the characters they play. Azmi dumped the idea of wearing a body suit to play a fat mother in Gurinder Chadha’s It’s A Wonderful Afterlife. She put on 25 pounds in three months, and is getting back into shape now.
In a similar vein, Hrithik Roshan also gorged on vada pav and oily food on the set of Guzarish. He was aiming to put on 5 to 7 kg to look his part. But in two-and-a-half months, he was back in shape. But while it’s all very well for actors to tweak their characters to play heroes or villains, changing their body shape for a role involves a certain amount of risk.
Gaining or losing more or than 10 per cent of your body weight within a short span is not healthy, says Dr Shashank Shah, consultant, Obesity Surgery, Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai. "But gaining or losing weight within the range of 10 per cent is normal and happens if there is a change in one’s lifestyle, illness, reduction or increase in physical activity." He adds that a gain of more than 10 per cent of body weight is tough to reverse.
Also, say doctors, weight gain and loss should be a gradual process. Instant excess weight gain can cause problems like pressure on the joints. Instant weight loss can cause deficiencies in the body. “Abnormal weight loss is when one loses weight at a fast pace. Generally, people crash diet or eat medicines that burn fat, but this causes nutritional deficiencies. These medicines also have side effects like anxiety, depression, palpitation, outbursts and mood changes. They put pressure on the heart,” says Dr Sandeep Buddhiraja, head, internal medicine, Max Healthcare, Delhi. Doctors point out that a good speed to gain or lose weight is 1 kg a week. Also, when you starve yourself, you tend to lose muscle mass, says celebrity trainer and owner of Barbarian gyms, Satyajit Chourasia. “That causes the skin to sag and you become weak,” he adds.
Doctors say the risk factor in gaining or losing weight rapidly depends on how one is trying to do it. Gaining weight by adding fat and calories is not a good idea, points out Dr Shah. “There is a risk of contracting ailments related to excess weight gain and the symptoms of obesity – high cholesterol, lethargy, urgency to pass urine, dysfunctional ovaries and pressure on joints start to set in,” says Dr Buddhiraja. The situation gets dangerous if the person has a medical history or is genetically predisposed to certain ailments. Doctors confirm that one get a DEXA scan done to discover one’s bad fat percentage.
Another way of adding bulk is by increasing muscle mass. This is how actor Atul Kulkarni gained 15 kg to play a wrestler and farmer in the Marathi film Natrang. He explains, “Muscle gain means that the weight of muscles and bones increase and you do away with bad fat while exercising.” Dr Shah says that it takes time – six or more months to increase one’s weight in this fashion. Also, adds Dr Buddhiraja, beyond middle age, it gets difficult to gain weight by increasing muscle mass.
As a last word, Shailesh Parulekar cautions that one shouldn’t try rapid weight loss or gain at home. “It cannot be done without expert supervision,” he advises.
From fat to fit
According to celebrity fitness trainer and owner of Barbarian gyms, Satyajit Chourasia, Hrithik ate everything that would make him gain weight while preparing for his role in Guzarish, from vada pav to pizzas. Says Chourasia, “He stopped working out and just ate and chilled out. Within two to three months, he gained the required weight and weighed over 80 kg. After he completed the part for which he had to put on weight, he resumed his exercise and diet regime to get his weight back to normal. He did that easily within a month because his fitness levels are high and his muscle memory is good.”
Chourasia adds that the actor didn't try and gain more weight because then it would have become very tough for him to reverse it. “And, as an actor known for his fitness, he couldn’t have taken that risk,” says Chourasia. Hrithik started doing cardio and stretches in the mornings and weight training in the evenings. “He also ate at regular intervals. What he ate was closely monitored as eating right is very essential,” he says.
I was monitored 24/7: Atul Kulkarni
I put on 15 kg for my role as an amateur wrestler in the first half of the Marathi film Natrang. Then, I lost 17 kg for the second half of the film where I play a nachya, an effeminate character in traditional Marathi tamasha. The weight gain took 40 days and I lost weight in the next 40 odd days.
My preparation for the role started as soon as I signed the movie. My fitness instructor Shailesh Parulekar, owner, Parulekar’s Gym and Fitness Centre, chalked out a detailed diet and exercise programme. Since I was supposed to gain 15 kg, I started by building up the capacity of my heart. I couldn’t just randomly put on weight because I am playing an amateur wrestler in the ’70s. Then, wrestlers were quite round and didn’t have machine-made bodies or six-pack abs. But I also couldn’t have a flabby body as I play a farmer. So I was required to have a body that showed the impact of that work in the field, and also look like a wrestler.
My final look was a result of 70 per cent diet and lots of rest and 30 per cent exercise. Because I needed to lift weights, I needed eight hours of sleep so that my body could recover. Shailesh conditioned my heart before we started the weight gain regimen. He made me do light cardio, like walking. This, he told me, increases the heart’s capacity to take on weight and pump more blood. I was to eat every three and a half hours. In my diet, the quantity of carbs went on increasing. For weight gain, one must do cardio in the evening and for weight loss, in the morning. So, while gaining weight, I did weight training in the mornings and light cardio in the evenings. I was advised to eat and then go to the gym as the body needs fuel to lift weights.
I felt huge after I gained weight as I was never this big before. My thighs started to rub against each other and my arms brushed my sides while I walked. I started walking with my legs apart. This worked for my character, as I started walking like a wrestler. I started snoring very loudly too. Apart, from that, there were no health effects, because I was monitored 24/7, like I was in the ICU.
For weight loss, I flipped the exercise regimen. I would do cardio in the mornings and circuit training in the evenings. Circuit training is doing repeated exercises on machines without rest. It tones the sagging skin when one starts to lose weight fast. When, I was 85 kg, Shailesh would make me run on the ground. He said if I would have worked out on the treadmill, I would have had a hairline fracture. While running on the ground, the ground works as a shock absorber. Only when I came down to 70 kg, was I allowed to use the treadmill.
During the weight loss regime, I consumed lots of fibre like veggies, fruits and carrots. Except saturated fats, I could eat anything, even rice and potato. I started having dinner early, by 8 pm and ate every few hours. But I could do both, losing and gaining weight in such a short span, because I was always regimented. I had no toxins in my body – I don’t smoke or drink and always eat my food on time.