Yo Johnny Bravo! A philosophical take on the art of muscularity

Sunday, 23 March 2014 - 7:40am IST | Agency: dna

Is it about shape or form? Guys who pump iron know shape is what they have but form is the perfection to aspire for, says Naval Ghiara

Four Indians have been Mr Universe: Monotosh Roy in 1951, Manohar Aich in 1952, Prem chand Degra in 1988 and Hira Lal in 2011. The first two were 'Bengal Tigers', the last two 'Loins' from Punjab. (from the east and west corners of India, aptly perhaps for they were muscled to the edge and not muted exemplars of some subsumed middle geography.) I remember meeting Degra the year he became Mr Universe. He was quiet and gentle, and had a personality that did not cast a shadow, or so I thought till he shed his clothes and took to the stage, revealing muscles that all men have but none in that shape or that form.

Muscle-wise, he was the most clearly expressed idea of a man that I had ever seen then, or since, even considering the classical male torso in the Louvre.More recent attempts at muscularity by middle-aged Indian film stars have not been particularly distinguished by the standards set by Degra, but the fact that the attempts were made is interesting. And ironically, that they all tried it makes them all the more similar rather than different. Plastic male stars to join the plastic female ones. All shaped and formed in the same mould.But does shape and form mean the same thing? Take a definition from a world far removed from muscles: the Museum of Modern Art. MoMa's glossary of art terms says, "Shape is the form or condition in which an object exists or appears" — hopelessly mixing unlike philosophical terms together like the sweet, sour, salt, hard and soft items in a Bombay bhel puri.The men and women who pump iron know shape is what they have but form is what they aspire to, perfect and just beyond reach.

"Very few people reach their correct form," says the trainer at one of Pune's edge city hotels that caters to software geeks, "because they don't balance workouts between large and small muscles and between muscles that oppose each other."He looks at me speculatively as I wipe the sweat from my face, having come off the treadmill after an hour. "Running does not build muscle," he continues. When I respond that the way he looks he probably doesn't even walk, he laughs. He is 6 ft 3 inches tall he says and weighs 100 kilograms, all of it muscle. How long did it take him to get to this form I ask him. And did he know he looked like an American called Johnny Bravo? "Ten years", he says, answering my first question, "working out eight hours a day, bench-pressing twice my body weight. And eating protein, LOTS of protein."

He then says, "Johnny Bravo! I like that! Say it again!" I don't say it again. Neither do I confess that I just named him for a cartoon character. I skedaddle, mumbling about a meeting with a foreign visitor called Geoffrey Hill; ashamed I had made fun of a simple man who had set himself the goal of achieving his form and actually shaped up. What should a man make of remorse, that it might profit his soul? Of course, the only heavy lifting that Geoffrey Hill ever did was literary, philosophical, incorporeal even. But in their own ways JB and GH are on the same quest because as Plato first said it (not really, but almost!), when we take a property that characterises a man, and separate it from that man, and consider it by itself, we are thinking about a "form".

Body building is fascinating, seen through such a lens, simply because it is then an attempt by a human being to approximate the muscularity that he is developing as closely as he can to a Platonic "form" of muscularity that is "transcendental" and "pure." No bodybuilder is seen as more transcendental and pure than Arnold Schwarzenegger, now. But that wasn't always so. When documentary film-maker George Butler was trying to raise money for Pumping Iron, his cult movie on bodybuilding, in the seventies, one investor told him he would be laughed out of the film business if he ever made a movie on Arnold S. Before Arnold, bodybuilders were seen as "grunting homos" who could not "even walk straight", had "no brains" and "got really fat" once they began to age.In short, there was no one that was a token of the archetype, who exemplified "form" till Arnold came along.When Arnold S competed for the title of Mr Olympia, in 1972, the venue was a matchbox-sized Brooklyn hall and the grand prize was all of $1,000, which would still be worth well under $10,000 in spending money today.

This year Mr Olympia will be in its 50th year and the prize money is already more than a muscular $1 million.In the three decades and more since Pumping Iron, bodybuilding has become big business worth over $5 billion globally. In India, the gym industry is estimated to be anywhere from Rs500 to 2,000 crore, depending on who is counting what. Though at only 230,000 regular gym-goers, we are apparently still not quite sold on the idea of the body built to show off as many of the 650 muscles as we can. In my memory of Degra though, on a darkened stage, with a spotlight on him, I could swear I counted them all.

Ooh or eww?
We asked a few ladies if they found the look appealing. Here's what they had to say...

Ooh or eww?
When I first met Rohan, I thought he was a tad too muscular. But over time, I found that he was disciplined and takes care of himself. I find that attractive. To many women, bodybuilding might seem shallow, but they overlook the fact that these men may turn out to be really caring and great boyfriends.
—Neha Sharma, advertising professional, Mumbai

But not everyone is swept off their feet...
I can definitely appreciate all the effort and hard work that men with buff bodies put in, but personally, I don't find them appealing. The reason I would not go on a date with a man who looks like this is because I think he would be obsessed with his appearance, which would be a turn-off.
—Prerana Sitaraman, communications professional, Bangalore

Then there are some who are curious...
A buff body is acquired with the help of extreme exercise and/or chemicals, both of which I find unattractive. I would like to go on a single date with such a man and would question him about why he got that way.Nomratha Fernandes

The business of bodybuildingWhat does it take to be a bodybuilder? Mumbai-based Karran Kharas, who is also a certified fitness trainer, details his obsessive quest for physical perfection and reveals in this piece that he spends almost his entire day building his body."Bodybuilding is an endless journey towards attaining unattainable physical perfection. How many hours do I spend on my body each day? As far as working out is concerned, it takes barely two-three hours of my day. But, as most bodybuilders would know, it's the rest of the day that matters most.

Everything from what you eat to how much you sleep matters. It's safe to say there's a certain amount of obsession required. No normal person would have what it takes to become a bodybuilder. Even if the person is genetically gifted, he requires the mindset needed for this kind of lifestyle. I'd say I spend pretty much the whole day on my body. Almost everything a bodybuilder does in a day has a purpose that helps him get better in bodybuilding terms.The workouts are the easy part. The real test is eating. Sounds strange? Try eating 300 - 400gm of protein everyday and you'll know what I'm talking about. Protein and good amounts of complex carbohydrates constitute the bulk of any bodybuilder's diet."

Here's my diet plan
Meal 1 :
Calcium citrate malate (Ccm) tablets (2); after half an hour I have six eggs in any form along with a bowl of oats and a fruit or two
Meal 2: Dry fruits with whey protein and fish oil capsules. Three scoops of whey
Meal 3: Six eggs in any form and some brown rice with any pulse
Meal 4: Pre-workout whey protein shake (three scoops)
Meal 5: Post-workout whey protein shake (three scoops)
Meal 6: 400 grams of chicken with some cooked vegetables and bajra roti
Meal 7: Zinc magnesium aspartate (Zma)
Meal 8: Casein protein shake (Two scoops)

Along with these I have other supplements like yohimbe bark extract - a herb - and ala or alpha lipoic acid. These prevent excessive fat gain that may occur in an effort to put on muscle.Bodybuilding requires your hard work, your dedication, your sacrifice and, most importantly, your own money, lots of it. It's one of the most expensive sports or lifestyles.Gym fees are about Rs2,000 a month. But supplements?

Those go up to almost Rs50,000 per month with the whey protein itself costing Rs10,000 per month. Chicken can cost upto Rs2,000 per week and the daily cost of eggs is Rs60.During competitions, costs go up as other supplements such as fat burners have to be used. Then again, there are things like tanning cream which cost about Rs400 – not much, but it is essential. Gym accessories constitute a minor chunk of the cost. Most of the money goes in maintaining the diet, which is a bodybuilder's most formidable weapon.

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