India has long defined national well-being by the stomachs of its people. Hunger was once such a national crisis that during the 1970s the Indian government set minimum standards for daily calorie intake that are still used to measure poverty. Malnutrition remains a pressing national problem, and yet after two decades of rising economic growth, India’s middle class is now dealing with rising obesity, including among children.
Bollywood, of course, is India’s dream factory, more interested in fantasy than reality. Beginning in the 1990s, actors like Sanjay Dutt and, most famously, Salman Khan began muscling up, mimicking their peers in Hollywood, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Men across India were soon mimicking the Indian stars. Fitness centers, once almost nonexistent in India, quickly spread.
Rachel Dwyer, a leading scholar of Indian cinema, said early male stars like Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand never took off their shirts or drew attention to their bodies. Now Indian actors are waxing their legs or chests and posing for suggestive photographs. A fit body, Ms. Dwyer said, has become a status symbol. “The muscular body is very much a class thing,” she said. “The whole fitness cult in India is a marker of upward mobility.”Page 2 of 4 | Prev Page | Next Page