Bollywood's leading actors are hitting the gym as never before, adding brawn and biceps to their on-screen repertoires and winning a legion of new fans in the process - including other men.
The latest weight-training convert is Aamir Khan, who enlisted the help of physical trainer Satyajit Chourasia two years ago to get in shape for the film "Ghajini", which is released on December 25.
AdvertisementHis daily four-hour regime appears to have paid off.
Giant advertising hoardings show a shaven-headed Khan, who plays a man with memory loss who tattoos himself and takes Polaroid pictures to remember people and places, stripped to the waist, exposing a finely-ripped torso.
The 43-year-old said the film's director A. Murgadoss told him to bulk up because it was essential for the character.
"I too felt that I will not be able to do justice to my role if I am not in this shape," he said this week.
Asked whether his new look could help boost box office takings, he said it was creating "a lot of buzz among viewers, which is good for the film."
Historically, the muscle-bound macho hero has never been in vogue in Bollywood.
Instead, leading men were as likely to be measured by the manly thickness of their chest hair or how they carried a tune or moved in the set-piece song and dance routines.
Eyeing the success of Hollywood's Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1980s, Bollywood's Salman Khan and Sanjay Dutt began working out, winning accolades and a dedicated fanbase.
But it was not until megastar Shah Rukh Khan got a "six pack" for his 2007 blockbuster "Om Shanti Om" that muscle tone became a must for aspiring Bollywood actors.
Actor John Abraham enlisted the help of Hollywood personal trainer Mike Ryan to prepare for appearing on camera in only a pair of swimming trunks on Miami beach in the film "Dostana", which was released in October.
"I went on high protein and vigorous training to get that kind of look," he said. "It was essential to work out more because I had little time on my hands and had to get that kind of muscular look to complete the film on time."
His new look has won him a legion of new fans, including in the gay community, he added.
"Earlier some women used to make a pass on me but now even men make passes at me," said Abraham, who has been nicknamed "The Hunk."
Satyajit Chourasia is full of praise for actors he has worked with, from Aamir Khan to Saif Ali Khan and Zayed Khan, as well as Hrithik Roshan and Ajay Devgan.
"All the actors are very dedicated. They don't skip their exercises and maintain themselves which you can see with their looks on the big screen," he said.
Demand is now so high that Chourasia said he has had to open a second gym in Mumbai, two in his home town of Nagpur, some 900 kilometres (560 miles) east of Mumbai, and two in the Indian capital New Delhi.
But having a perfect physique can have its disadvantages.
British director Danny Boyle has said that casting a Bollywood beefcake as the lead in his hit film "Slumdog Millionaire" would not have worked, even though Indian actors had the talent.
Instead he cast a skinny British Asian actor, Dev Patel. The film is now a hot favourite at next year's Oscars.
"You know when guys can't put their arms down cause they have all this muscle mass? They're 18; they're only just beyond kids - and their heads are really small," Boyle told The Huffington Post on November 25.
"They haven't put any weight on their heads. So you've got these tiny little heads and big bodies; that was just wrong for the film."
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