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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

Kunal Kapoor opens up about his fitness, body transformations and diet

All actors these days are able to change their body shapes at will to better suit a movie role. For this they have to master themselves physically and mentally, in ways that take the usual gym-diet routine to a whole new plane

brunch Updated: Apr 23, 2017 13:50 IST
Lubna Salim
Lubna Salim
Hindustan Times
(Subi Samuel)

Here’s what most wannabe actors heading for Mumbai and Los Angeles don’t get. Sure, if they’re successful they get fame and fortune: the two biggest rewards of a career path that can be more evanescent than any other. But along with the fancy cars, fancy mansions, and fans comes solid hard work: work that often goes above and beyond the call of duty, in ways that often affect the actors’ health.

Actors play roles. Occasionally, they play two roles in a single film, for instance, if their characters have to age, or dive into flashbacks. And they have to be the characters, which means, often, completely changing the way they look and live so that their audience never, for one second, gets the feeling that what’s happening on that screen is just an actor acting.

All actors these days are able to change their body shapes at will to better suit a movie role. The key words here are ‘at will’, because if they really want to give a role their all, they have to master themselves physically and mentally, right from the start, in ways that take the usual gym-diet routine to a whole new plane.

We’ve all gaped at Aamir Khan, for instance, in his Dangal roles: gaining so many kilos to successfully pull-off his role as a paunchy, fleshy former wrestling star, but also changing for a few scenes as the wrestler in his prime. Preparing for these roles in ways that would not harm his body too much took him months, all to give an audience a couple of hours of entertainment. Was it worth it? In terms of acting cred, certainly. In terms of box office returns, oh yes, baby. In terms of health? Well, only Aamir and his family can answer that question.

Before Aamir in Dangal, there was Farhan Akhtar in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. The actor-director trained with such dedication that he could run about 100 metres in just 11 seconds – the speed of a national level athlete! 

Then more recently there’s Kunal Kapoor who bulked up for his film Veeram. Kunal admires Hrithik Roshan for his body, and Akshay Kumar for making fitness a part of his lifestyle. “Akshay is incredibly strong,” he says. “He trains to actually be physically strong, not just to look muscular.”

He isn’t the only actor willing to ignore the limitations of body shape and a skeletal system created by genes: all actors are transformers today. It’s good for us; we get movies that blow us away. Is it good for them? Let them tell you.

It took Kunal five-and-a-half months to put on 12 kilos
It took Kunal five-and-a-half months to put on 12 kilos

Kunal Kapoor on how he had to get bulked-up without going to the gym

It took me five-and-a-half months to put on 12 kilos of lean muscle. I dropped 12 per cent of my body fat, and it was not easy, considering I have an uncontrollable sweet tooth,” says Kunal.

The actor gave his body a 360-degree makeover to play a 16th century warrior in Veeram, the trilingual historical drama directed by National Award-winning filmmaker Jayaraj. And then, he had to sweat it out for a completely different movie. 

For Kunal, acquiring the desired body for his role was daunting. “I had to look physically intimidating and almost like I could bulldoze people, but Jayaraj sir didn’t want me to look like a warrior built in the gym. So he didn’t want any of that six-pack stuff,” explains the actor, who also trained in Kalaripayattu for the role. 

The idea was to build a body that was aesthetically good-looking and fit to fight. “We experimented with different things like push-ups in Olympic rings and flipping tyres. I worked with kettle bells and weighted pull-ups till my arms fell off. In the gym, we stuck to basic exercises like bench presses, squats and of course, Kalaripayattu. The workout included weapons training as well,” says Kunal. 

Solid hard work

A dictionary could give a whole new meaning to the word ‘dedication’ when it comes to an actor working out for a role. Every day, Kunal hit the gym first thing in the morning for two hours, beginning with cardio, and continuing to strength training, functional training and other body challenges.

In the afternoon, he’d head for 90 minutes of martial arts training with weapons, and then end the day with 30 minutes of cardio. 

The difficulty level increased when he had to work out even while filming. “It was very challenging because we were shooting for about 18 hours every day,” he says. To deal with it, he had to break up his workouts into short blocks: before breakfast, at lunchtime, and after the shoot. The last one, he says, used to be particularly taxing because he just “wanted to hit the bed and fall asleep.” 

Mind over matter

Hard as the workouts were, for Kunal, the most challenging part of body transformation was his diet. “When you’re trying to build muscle, your diet is the biggest change you’ve got to make and I’m a foodie!” he says, laughing wryly. “For four-and-a-half months I lived on fish, egg whites, chicken, broccoli, oats and sweet potatoes. When I finished the film I never wanted to see these foods ever again.” 

 Strength to strength 

Fitness has been an integral part of Kunal’s life since his teens. As a child, he was constantly ill, but that changed when he started working out. 

“At 16, I went to a gym for the first time. It was one of those old-school akharas where I did an hour of dand baithak,” reveals Kunal. 

His latest favourite form of exercise is mixed martial arts, something he began eight months ago as part of his training for an action film.

He’s also done gymnastics and yoga. “I keep challenging my body and changing the workouts,” he says. “I also read up on fitness to keep abreast of all the new things people are doing, and I incorporate these into my workout.” 

As a result, despite being on the wrong side of 30, Kunal feels stronger and fitter with every year. “I can do a lot of things now that I couldn’t do in my teens,” he gloats.

From HT Brunch, April 23, 2017

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First Published: Apr 23, 2017 13:50 IST

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