It’s 12.30 in the afternoon. Thirty-one-year old Leela Phad, a woman bodybuilder, has come all the way from Kharegaon in Thane to Shivaji Mandir in Dadar to participate in the state level bodybuilding selection trials.
If selected, she will head for the national trials in Vadodara where she can earn a berth for World Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Competion 2014 to be held in Mumbai in December.
The heat and humidity have broken everyone present at the venue into a sweat. But it has not deterred Phad from being in a happy and excited zone. She impresses the selectors with her muscular and well-shaped physique and is picked for the nationals. If she gets it right there, she will become first Indian woman to participate an international event — World Body Building and Physique Sports Competition 2014.
In a male dominated sport, Phad is one of the six women to participate in the Mahrashtra state trials. She, along with her competitor Natasha Pradhan, are applauded by the packed crowd not only for their well sculpted physique but for also posing well.
Women bodybuilding is a fledgling sport compared to men’s category in India. But things are beginning to look bright for the aspiring women bodybuilders as more opportunities are coming their way to showcase their talent. However, challenges remain for these women.
Take the case of Phad. She is a fitness freak who played kabaddi in college and then did powerlifting for six years in state and national competitions. She did not pursue comfortable job of a sales tax inspector even after passing her Maharashtra Public Service Commission exam as she did not want to shift focus from sports.
A trainer by profession, she got into bodybuilding only this year and aims to compete at the international event in December, however, her parents aren’t aware she is into bodybuilding.
“They know I am a trainer but they don’t know that I will be competing as a bodybuilder. They are conservative and don’t like women wearing that particular attire (bikini) on stage. Apart from that they are angry that I have not taken up the secure job of sales tax inspector and instead pursuing sports. They want me to save and not spend,” says Phad.
Phad has other problems too. Bodybuilders spend exorbitant amount of money on their diet and intake of protein supplements.
“I spend a good amount, about Rs15,000, on my diet every month. It’s a fix. You can’t tinker with your diet if you want to have a good physique. Also, once you take it up, you cannot quit.
“Apart from my salary, which I get from training others, my sister chips in by giving a part of her salary which helps in taking care of my diet,” adds Phad, who lives in Mumbai with her brother and sister while her parents live in Nashik.
For Natasha Pradhan, 31, bodybuilding is not only a passion but also a way to prove that “women can be better than men”.
A single parent, who lives with her parents, she wants to ensure a bright future for her daughter and that’s why is pursuing the sport competitively.
“I have always been an athlete since my childhood. However, this will be the first time I will be competing in a bodybuilding competition,” says Natasha.
A trainer by profession, Natasha is helped by her friend Sandeep Tambe and her personal trainer Ganesh.
“There is a lot of pain involved, but when I think about the stage, the pain seems nothing. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to prove girls are better than boys. As women, we did not have a platform to showcase our talent. But now I feel I can do something more than what men can.”
She adds, “I want to provide my daughter a bright future, which I think this sport will help me get.”
For Steffi D’Souza, who comes from a well-to-do family, bodybuilding is like carrying on her grandfather and former Mr Bombay Tony D’Souza’s legacy.
Steffi is more into fitness physique where a women doesn’t need to be bulky or muscular but works towards a well-sculpted and a good looking feminine physique.
“There were not many opportunities earlier. But now there are a few. This category is not only about bodybuilding, but also about fitness and modelling, something which is new in India. Women here are mostly scared to have a bulked up physique hence, this kind of fitness that also looks beautiful and also retains the feminine side, will help others to pursue,” says Steffi.
Steffi doesn’t have any problem as far as money is concerned. She has a sponsor and also runs her own gym.
“I get a lot of support from my family. I think other parents should also support their kids because its a clean and healthy sport,” she says.
Aspiring athelte Ashwini Waskar has participated in the national events. She believes the women bodybuilding is growing in the country.
“It is growing, slowly and gradually. It’s a tough sport for women where you need to do a lot of hard work and motivate yourself. Women need to workout harder than men as the structure of the body and hormones are not up to that level. Even the Testosterone levels are less compared to men. We also gain fat quicker hence, we have to be on a strict diet. It’s a tough sport and that is the reason why not many women pursue it,” says Waskar.
Indian Body Building Federation secretary Chetan Pathare agrees its a male dominated sport but the number of women participants are increasing by the day.
“This is the third year since we introduced bodybuilding in women category, however, it will be the first time that India will have a women category in an international tournament. It’s not that we do not have women bodybuilders, we have around seven or eight international level athletes, but the awareness is lacking.
“Having a women’s category and foreign female participants in World Body Building and Physique Sports Competition 2014 will be a milestone of sort,” says Pathare.
Talking about why women are reluctant about getting into these competitions, Pathare says, “Our biggest problem is that our culture doesn’t support women to wear the attire – bikini — that international athletes wear. We will have to be broad minded about this and help spread the sport. We want to revolutionise women’s bodybuilding by bringing in the fitness culture.”