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No pain, no gain

Bikini babes today make headlines not because they ‘exposed’. It’s because their bodies are so superbly fit, writes Parul Khanna.

fashion and trends Updated: Nov 15, 2008 20:17 IST
Parul Khanna
Parul Khanna
Hindustan Times

Her abs are glossy, glazed with bronzer. Her legs are nearly perfect, say experts. Her back is arched and her bust is just right. She isn’t camouflaging her bikini-clad body in the waves of the ocean. She isn’t wearing a sarong. She’s standing tall, confident, showing off her body, the results of months of hard work and almost super-human self-control. She is the quintessential woman of the glamour world today.

Because these days, women who wear bikinis aren’t referred to as ‘bold’. They aren’t perceived the way they used to be perceived, as, well, not good Indian girls. If they make headlines today, it isn’t because they ‘exposed’. It’s because their bodies are so superbly fit that, in the health-obsessed age we live in, perfect bodies are something to talk about. And you can’t be sexy if you’re not fit.

“What I designed ten years back, which was then called bold or liberal, is now being worn even by school kids,” says fashion designer Rina Dhaka. “But the big deal now is about fitness. Actresses in the ’80s and ’90s were bold, but now with so many of them wearing swimsuits in movies, calendars and so on, the competition is to show how comfortable one is with one’s well-sculpted and worked-out body.”

It isn’t just actresses and models. All of us have begun to get the uncomfortable feeling that unless we’re trim, we’re not good looking. There are arguments for and against this statement of course, but the fact is that the fitness industry is booming and, as Rina Dhaka says, “they work out, indulge in all sorts of diets and then show off the results of their hard labour.”

That’s exactly why actress Mugdha Godse agreed to wear a bikini in the movie Fashion. “I wanted to show what an ideal bikini body is,” she says. And the fact, as model Shruti Agarwal tells us, is that a great body is fashionable. “To be in fashion, you need a genuinely good body. No one wants a photoshop job any more.”

But to translate what could be the perfect photoshop job into real life is, as Rina Dhaka says, hard labour. Two years ago, actress Bipasha Basu, who made headlines for her appearance in a bikini in Dhoom 2, told filmmaker Karan Johar on his talk show Koffee with Karan, that she’d never do the bikini regimen again. It was too taxing. Later, in another interview, she said: “Shooting in a bikini is not easy. It’s not about being self-conscious. It’s about the fitness level you have to reach. And three days of eating only oranges, working out thrice a day, going paranoid – ‘am I fat?’ – was too much. I did not want to look very oomphy. I wanted to look athletic.”

It’s one thing being fit. That’s good for our health. But it’s another being bikini fit – which is almost unnatural, if we’re to go by what the five women we’ve profiled below have told us.

Shruti Agrawal
“I craved for roti and milk”

When she was offered the chance to pose for the Kingfisher Calendar in 2006, model Shruti Agarwal wasn’t too thrilled with the idea. She wanted her parents’ permission to begin with, and she also wanted to know how aesthetic – as opposed to crass – the swimsuit shoot would actually be.

“It was only after I researched it by seeing who had posed for the calendar in previous years that I asked my parents, and when they agreed, I went for the test shoot,” says Shruti who has just signed a film opposite Himesh Reshammiya.
Which was when she realised what thousands of us don’t know. Even model fit bodies are not fit enough to flaunt a bikini. A bikini perfect body requires focused hard work.

“On the day of the test shoot all the calendar girls were told about their weak areas – parts from where we had to lose weight and also tone up. We only had three months,” recalls Shruti. “I drastically needed to tone up my waist and thighs.”
She didn’t need to lose weight, but with only three months to get in perfect shape, Shruti exercised twice a day, for 45 minutes in the morning and an hour every evening. And as for routines, she did everything, from yoga to the gym.

Since weight training doesn’t suit Shruti at all, she avoided it as far as possible though her trainer insisted on 15 minutes of basic weights every day to bulk out her too-thin arms. After that, she did 15 minutes of sit-ups, followed by a mix of yoga and pilates. And Shruti swears by the surya namaskar. “Two hundred and fifty repetitions of the surya namaskar were enough cardio for me,” she says. “I used to get all sweaty after it. Contrarily, I also felt refreshed.”

Though Shruti managed to lose inches and tone up areas of her body that needed it, she didn’t quite make the perfect bikini model – though that wasn’t at all obvious to laymen like us when we saw the 2006 Kingfisher Calendar.

For the 2008 calendar shoot however, Shruti felt she’d done better. And that was because she was on a very, very strict diet. Following a diet chart created for her body type, Shruti was put on a protein-rich, carb-free routine for three months, during which she had one protein bar a day, grilled fish or chicken, salads and sprouts. No rice or roti, no dairy. Not even milk, which she loves.

“For breakfast, I had fruit, egg white and fruit juices. Sometimes I cheated and had the whole egg, but when I did that, I’d have to work out harder to compensate,” she says. Dinner was always a light meal, and always eaten before 9 pm. But though the diet was well planned and balanced, keeping Shruti feeling good and energetic, she missed the food she loves. “I craved roti, milk and chocolate,” the pretty model says.

It wasn’t enough to get in shape for the shoot. Shruti had to make sure she was picture perfect on the day of the shoot itself. “I avoided water,” she says, “Because it tends to bloat the stomach and that would show in the pictures. I also had a very light breakfast very early in the morning.”

The shoot went great and Shruti rewarded herself suitably after it ended. “I grabbed KFC chicken, a hamburger and french fries,” she grins. And she’s never returned to her bikini diet since. “I have no idea how people follow such workout and diet schedules for months. I can’t do it,” she says. “Before a big shoot, I do become more vigilant, but not ‘calendar time vigilant’. And I am definitely not as fit as I was then.”

Pia Trivedi
“I lived on protein shakes”
he’s an object lesson in fitness herself, but Pia Trivedi, often seen toned and bikini-perfect, wasn’t always this way. Having modelled in the fashion week of 2003, she was offered the chance to model for the Kingfisher Calendar of 2004 and though she worked hard towards the perfect body, she didn’t feel she’d actually achieved it. She got another chance in 2005, and that time, she says, she was “really fit”.

Which she must have been because since then, Pia has been a kind of ambassador for beachwear and bikinis. The shows Beach Diaries on Channel V and Dress Circle on ETC both required her to be in bikinis, so Pia is almost constantly bounding on and off her bikini fitness regimen.

The transition from model to bikini model goes like this. “The first time I only got three months to prepare. So I worked out twice a day,” says Pia. “Since I needed to lose weight, I focused on cardio and restricted my diet, which was very tough on me. Giving up food was mental torture, because food is a very important part of my life. I had to live only on boiled vegetables, fruits and salads.”

In spite of that, Pia wasn’t satisfied with her body. “I thought I looked fat in the calendar. My stomach and thighs sucked! Also, since I was very new in modeling, I had no clue about camera angles, so I Atul Kasbekar, the photographer, fired me many times.”

The next time round therefore, for the Kingfisher Calendar 2005, Pia made her fitness regimen tougher. “I stopped eating for three months before the shoot, which is the worst thing to do,” she says. “I almost lived on protein shakes. And as a result, my ribs showed. I went to the extreme and I don’t recommend it to anyone.”

The first thing she did after the shoot was demand butter chicken and rumali rotis. But since then, she hasn’t been so extreme.

“I don’t follow any diet and it’s been really long since I last worked out,” she confesses. “I tend to let go and then, before an important shoot, go in for drastic measures to get fit. Otherwise, I gorge on anything that is Mughlai and Punjabi, tubs full of ice-cream and glasses of cold coffee.”
Sounds like sacrilege…

Sriya Saran
"And then, I discovered yoga, and now everything is under control"
For this south Indian actress of Sivaji The Boss and Mission Istanbul fame, wearing a skimpy bikini for the cover of a popular men’s magazine was no big deal. Yes, she was just beginning her career in the Hindi film industry, but she believed that the days of slotting actresses into particular looks and roles are long over – and she was right.

“After the bikini shoot, Deepa Mehta approached me for What’s Cooking Stella?, I got an offer for an English film called The Other End of the Line, and I was also offered Ek, a mainstream flick with Bobby Deol,” says Shriya. “Nowadays, people see how fit you are for a role, not what is your image. Your image can change with the roles you do.”

So when she chose to do the magazine cover in a bikini, Shriya did it to show off her perfect body, not to pick up a glam image for herself. And her bikini-fit body came, she says, not from a sudden effort of months, but from lifelong activity.
While studying in Delhi, Shriya learned Kathak from Shovana Narayan, and also enjoyed swimming. But she claims she only became absolutely fit when she started yoga.

“When you’re on a shoot, the schedules are very erratic,” she says. “So I could never practice dancing and my weight would fluctuate. And then, I discovered yoga, and now everything is under control.”

Yoga is part of her daily routine. Shriya does a mix of power yoga and Iyengar yoga. “These two disciplines focus on all parts of my body. The asanas helped me tone down my two most problematic areas – abs and arms.”

She also makes it a point to have dinner before 8 pm, because, she says, eating late makes your stomach bloat.

Still, in spite of her regular fitness routine, Shriya had to intensify her exercise and diet to be perfectly trim for the cover shoot.

“I lowered my salt intake since it makes the body retain water, and I drank a lot of water and juice,” she says. “I also avoided fruit. The only thing I couldn’t give up was sugar.”

Shriya begins her days on orange juice which she believes cuts fat, filter coffee and coconut water. Breakfast comprises egg whites, paneer paratha and sometimes dosa. The paneer paratha is not fried and contains no oil.

After breakfast, Shriya follows the now-famous frequent small meals diet plan. “I keep having salads and sprouts. My main meals are healthy and I make it a point to eat sabzi, roti and even dal. I don’t cut carbs entirely, and I drink milk every night, so you see, I don’t give up food but follow a healthy diet, combined with yoga.”

Dinner is mainly grilled chicken, chana cutlets and vegetables, and Shriya makes it a point to eat it by 7.30 pm. “I lost three kilos after I started doing this,” she says. “And I don’t feel deprived by my diet as I was never into junk food. When I was growing up, my mother used to make lots of interesting home-made snacks."

Shriya’s only indulgence is chocolate, but she doesn’t claim to possess super-human self-control. “I do let go occasionally. Once when I returned from a holiday in London, I was completely bloated. But then I started my routine again, and with yoga, I lost three kilos in 20 days.”

Mugdha Godse
“I carry soya sticks which I eat when I’m hungry”

Mugdha Godse had made her debut as an actress in the ’70s or ’80s, a bikini scene in a movie would have got her headlines for all the wrong reasons. She’d have been called ‘bold’ and slotted into ‘bold’ roles for the rest of her life.
But this is the year 2008, and even though Mugdha stepped on screen in a bikini in the film Fashion, not an eyebrow was raised. Instead, she’s been praised for her acting ability – and her bikini perfect figure.

This figure is the result of not a few months’ or a year’s worth of preparation, but a regimented, disciplined routine through much of her adult life. “I didn’t get the figure for a bikini overnight,” says Mugdha. “I have been looking after my body since I was 17.”

A summer job at a gym while Mugdha was in college gave her all the knowledge she needed to instill the tenets of fitness in her life. Also, her habit of swimming regularly – a habit instilled by her father – helped her maintain her body.
Since gymming gets dull after a time, Mugdha jazzes up her workouts with different types of workouts – 45 minutes of yoga or Kathak or gymming or jogging on the beach every day. Power yoga she dismisses as a new age fad, so she prefers the standard yoga asanas and surya namaskar. In the gym, Mugdha divides her work-outs according to the three areas of her body – legs, back and biceps, chest and triceps, with intervals of cardio, including Kathak.

She has also been on a high-protein, regimented diet since she was 17. Mugdha doesn’t binge on unnecessary carbohydrates – rotis and bread are okay, croissants and chips are sins. Breakfast consists of poha, or egg white, upma or toast, and coffee with sugar is her only indulgence.

“I eat every two to three hours to keep my metabolism going,” says the actress. “I carry soya sticks in my car and the moment I feel as though I’m starving, I binge on them. I never let my body starve.”

Lunch comprises grilled chicken or fish or sabzi and one roti. And dinner consists of idli-sambhar or salad and grilled fish again. When she’s hungry, she pops a protein bar. And she never touches rice. If this sounds too grim for daily consumption, Mugdha doesn’t find it so. She’s been following this diet for so long that she’s used to the discipline, she says. “I don’t crave carbs anymore,” says she.

But you shouldn’t give up carbs altogether, she adds. “An intelligent addition of proteins in the diet constructively utilise carbs and doesn’t let them turn into fat,” says Mugdha.

First Published: Nov 15, 2008 19:50 IST