No one expected Prashant Sawant to do well in life, leave alone make a name for himself. Growing up in a 10 ft-by-10 ft room in a Dahisar chawl along with nine others in his joint family, career planning or guidance were concepts alien to Prashant and his two brothers.
After Standard 10, this "very average" student joined a college in Goregoan only to drop out soon. One of his aims was to work in a ship but there was nobody to tell him how to go about it. His father Subhash thought his son would join his small, machine-parts workshop, and enrolled him in the Industrial Training Institute (ITI) in Borivali.
"My father did not have too much confidence in me those days and considered me a dumbo," said Sawant (28). "But the ITI course made me very disciplined and I passed with distinction."
Even as he was pursuing the technical course, he took the vital step of joining a local gymnasium in Dahisar. "As a child, I was very fat and desperately wanted to look good," he said.
What started as a fashion became a passion, which explains why he accepted the offer to be a part-time trainer in another local gym although the salary was measly. "They took me in as a trainer because I had a good body," he said, throwing a glance at his bulging biceps. He also worked as an office assistant for Rs 1,000 a month.
Soon, the 20-year-old got a Rs 3,000-a-month offer from 10, The Health Spa, a Bandra-based gymnasium. "Dad was not at all happy as he believed trainers had a short career," said Prashant. "But I decided to take the risk. My reason was that I would change my line later if it did not pay off."
The Bandra job put him in touch with the elite lot. "I met actors like Anupama Verma and Dino Morea and these people liked my style of training," he said. The exposure that he got in the Bandra gym convinced him about the prospects in the field of fitness and he did a three-month course in fitness from the LM Fitness Academy in Bandra.
He started putting in extra hours and training a handful of high-profile clients at their houses. The most high-profile was star Shah Rukh Khan. "He took me along to Madhya Pradesh when he shot for Ashoka and also to Malaysia for another film," he said about the most important breakthrough of his career. "Since then, Shah Rukh has been like a godfather to me."
Prashant changed jobs and worked at another gym in Andheri for a while. He bought a small flat in Dahisar for his family and his father was finally happy with the way his son's career was going. But not Prashant. "I wanted to open my own gym so that I could provide personalised training to clients for an affordable fee," he said.
He took loans, used up all his credit cards and borrowed money from friends. "To run an establishment in an unknown area is a challenging task," he said. "When I moved from Andheri to Juhu, I lost my half-a-dozen clients."
He started his Body Sculptor gym in Juhu in 2004, on the first floor of a building, a small garage serving as the cardio wing. He kicked off with just one home treadmill but later, a dealer gave him two more treadmills on instalment. "During the floods, all my equipment got damaged and then I had to rebuild the gym from scratch," he said.
Today, the state-of-the-art gym with more than 100 members, functions from two floors, and Prashant has a dozen people to assist him, including his wife Maya Pereira Sawant. "She is also a trainer and I met her at a gym," he said. "We got married three months ago. She trains several female celebrities including Shah Rukh's wife Gauri Khan."
A framed photo of King Khan has this signed message: "To Prashant, may my body be like yours. God bless you and all the happiness to you."
How did he help Shah Rukh achieve the much-acclaimed six-pack abs? "He has been practising vigorously for two years. His aim was to have the best body in the industry at the age of 40. He told me about his plan to show his body in Om Shanti Om in February last year.
We sat down and made a plan and when you have a committed person like Shah Rukh, it is easy to implement it. He used to practise for an hour and a half every day and shot the scene in August," said Sawant.
Besides Shah Rukh, he also trains celebrities like Hemant Trivedi, Aftab Shivdasani, Vipul Shah, Sharman Joshi and Nikhil Dwivedi. "A personal trainer is like a doctor," said Prashant. "You need to understand that you're playing with someone's body. So, you need to understand that person's body completely."
Owner of a film production house Kabir Ali, who stepped in for a workout, said: "The best thing about this place is that the service is very personalised. And it is a one-stop shop where you have dance, kickboxing, etc."
So, what does it take to succeed as a trainer? "Patience, talent and hard work," said Prashant, beaming at Ali's compliment.