How stars trained for 10 great Bollywood sports films
India's actors practiced for hours on the pitch, turf and track to transform themselves from 'reel life' celebrities to real life champions
MS Dhoni: The Untold Story grossed Rs 830 million (US$12.5 million) in a week — the biggest opening of 2016. The film, based on the cricketer’s rise from ticket collector on the Indian Railways to leading the country to victory in the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2011 and the Twenty-20 World Cup in 2007, has caught the fancy of cricket-crazy Indian audiences. Actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who plays Dhoni, has found a new foothold in Bollywood after starring in the film.
However, the role was not an easy one for him: he had to rigorously train on the pitch to make his role authentic. Former cricketer Kiran More coached him for hours and he had to perfect the “helicopter shot” for which Dhoni is famous.
But Sushant is not alone. All Bollywood actors in memorable sports films have had to undergo rigorous training. Here’s how they did it:
- Chak De India (2007)
India has long been competitive at hockey, but the cricket-obsessed nation was skeptical when Shah Rukh Khan appeared in publicity posters surrounded by a women’s hockey team. To the surprise of many, Chak De took India by storm — it remains simply the best sports film ever made in the country.
THE TRAINING: There were two types of hockey players in the film: actresses who had to learn hockey and hockey players who had to learn acting. Both sets had to undergo four months of training on the field. They also had to follow a strict diet to look athletic. Former hockey player Mir Ranjan Negi and former chief national coach Maharaj Krishan Kaushik trained the on-screen team and helped Shah Rukh Khan understand how things work on the field.
- Iqbal (2005)
Iqbal, a deaf and mute boy with an uncanny talent for cricket, fails to win a place in a cricket academy. That’s when he meets former cricketer Mohit, who is a drunkard. The two form a wonderful bond that finally delivers Iqbal a place in the Indian national team.
With Shreyas Talpade playing Iqbal and Naseeruddin Shah in the role of Mohit, this was a heartwarming story of a mother’s conviction, the love between siblings, personal reinvention and victory against all the odds.
THE TRAINING: Shreyas Talpade always wanted to be a cricketer so he played the game quite vigorously through his teen years. However, he still had to fine-tune the way he played and raise his skills to a higher level.
- Bhag Milkha Bhag (2013)
This biopic has become a cult sports film in India because of its sheer authenticity. To play the runner of the title, Milkha Singh, Farhan Akhtar trained for a long time in advance, transforming his own physical appearance in the process.
THE TRAINING: Farhan Akhtar went through rigorous training and a very strict diet for 18 months to achieve the muscular-yet-lean look of a track athlete. Farhan’s personal trainer, Samir Jaura, helped in building up his muscles and Melwyn Crasto, athletics coach for Central Railway, ensured he looked like a true Olympian when he was running. Farhan worked out for four hours every day, combing running with stretching, cycling, altitude training and circuit training.
4. Kai Po Che! (2013)
This film tells the story of three friends who start a business selling cricket goods. It is badly hit by the Gujarat earthquake but things take a happier turn when they meet an extremely talented young boy who helps them to surmount their challenges, transcending religious differences along the way.
THE TRAINING: Before starring in Kai Po Che! Sushant Sigh Rajput used to be rather fond of aloo parathas (pancakes stuffed with spiced potato mixture). But he gave them and all other fried foods up to make this film. Not a fan of gyms, he restricted his visits to four times a week and incorporated martial arts, horse riding, ballet and lawn tennis into his fitness regime.
5. Lagaan (2001)
This 2001 release is essentially about how a group of farmers took on the British Empire through cricket. Easily one of Aamir Khan’s best films, it’s one that Indian audiences have watched again and again. Ashutosh Gowariker established himself as one of the finest directors of India with Lagaan.
THE TRAINING: Aamir Khan transformed his body completely for the film Ghajini and his fitness regime ahead of his forthcoming film Dangal is also much talked about. However he didn’t have to work out too much for Lagaan, in which he played the role of an amateur village cricketer.
6. Mary Kom (2014)
This film was such a runaway hit that it’s claimed Priyanka Chopra made more money by acting in it than boxing champ Mary Kom earned in her life.
Priyanka did put in a lot of hard work to train herself and create a physique that would allow her to fill Mary’s shoes. One of India’s greatest boxers, Mary Kom rose from a humble background in Manipur. She had the determination to return to the ring after giving birth to twins and went on to recapture her world championship title.
THE TRAINING: Mary Kom was probably Priyanka Chopra’s most difficult role solely because of the rigorous training she had to go through. Samir Jaura trained Priyanka for the role. He wanted to keep her body “feminine” but toughen her up and he managed it in four months. Priyanka has a naturally slim body so she didn’t have to go on a diet but she found the hours of circuit training tough.
7. Paan Singh Tomar (2012)
This is the true story of an athlete who worked in the Indian Army and was a National Champion in the steeplechase seven times in a row. However, the brutal murder of his mother and a family feud transformed him into a bandit. The film opened at festivals to critical acclaim then became a runaway box-office hit when it was released commercially.
THE TRAINING: Perfecting the steeplechase was a hard task for Irrfan Khan because it takes a special kind of agility. To make the film authentic, the team shot in the army barracks of Chambal and Roorkee where Pan Singh Tomar actually lived. Before filming began, Irrfan Khan had to recover from breaking his ankle during training.
8. Freaky Ali (2016)
Released this year and based loosely on the American film Happy Gilmore, this movie starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui failed to set the box office on fire but Nawaz did win a lot of accolades for his performance. He plays the title role of ‘Freaky Ali’, an extortionist who overcomes the odds to become a very successful golfer.
THE TRAINING: By his own admission Nawazuddin Siddiqui isn’t much of a sports enthusiast. But playing a golfer meant learning the game — hardly an easy task. Nawaz triumphed, however: critics said his swing looked better than those of many accomplished golfers.
9. Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (1992)
If this 1992 film changed the way India looked at teenage love, it also showed that a film based on the sport of cycling could appeal to a mass audience. Containing all the ingredients of a “masala” film (one packed with different, varied elements), it inspired a raft of future filmmakers.
THE TRAINING: Apart from doing fitness training, actor Aamir Khan had to master the right cycling techniques. During shooting, he was often spotted cycling around various locales getting into character.
10. Sultan (2016)
This movie starring Salman Khan has been one of this year’s biggest grossers. While the storyline was somewhat run-of-the-mill, it was well-made and Salman clearly put the work in to make himself look like an authentic wrestling champ and MMA fighter.
THE TRAINING: Salman Khan got the renowned Hollywood fight choreographer Larnell Stovall to train him up. Salman has always been a fitness freak but for this movie he had to bulk up with the right diet and exercise, strengthen his core and practice 150-200 kicks every day. He combined four hours of daily MMA practice with weight training.