“My contribution to Liger would be the maximum (laughs)! After all, Vijay Deverakonda’s role is that of a UFC fighter and he can only pass off as a fighter when he’ll look the part.” This is what Kuldep Sethi said at the very onset as Bollywood Hungama exclusively spoke to him about transforming the dashing actor in the much-awaited upcoming film, Liger. The celebrity fitness trainer also opened up about his acting aspirations, his beginnings and a lot more.
EXCLUSIVE: “A week before the NUDE photoshoot, I cut down Vijay Deverakonda’s carbs completely” – Kuldep Sethi
How did you get a chance to train Vijay Deverakonda for Liger?
I have been training Vijay Deverakonda since 2018, but it was on and off. He was playing a lover boy in most of his films and he had never taken up a movie that required him to have a ripped physique. He used to travel extensively too. So, he’d train for a month and then would be out for work or shoots for two or three months. He was a complete fresher, so to say, when he approached me and signed up for Liger in December 2019. I met director Puri Jagannadh sir who explained to me his role and the requirements. I assured him that it’ll be done. Vijay’s personality and height made him ideal for the role. Also, I didn’t want him to be hefty, as it usually happens in such films. I wanted him to be more like an athlete wherein he can jump and do kicks easily and look ripped. For me, the most important thing was to come up with a proportionate body. Be it his neck muscles, shoulder muscles, mid-section, leg, calf etc, you can see how well-defined his body looks throughout the film.
How long did it take and what was the process like?
We started training in January 2020. I made him put on a lot of muscle mass for which we had to feed him a lot of chicken and rice. In the morning, he would eat oats and brown bread with peanut butter. We also gave him 10-15 eggs. We used to give him sweet potatoes if he would get bored of the usual meals. And then of course he consumed protein shake as we needed to up his calories and muscle mass. In the middle of January, we went to Bangkok where he trained in martial arts. I also travelled with him and continued his training. When we returned in February is when the makers shot one of the fight scenes in Mumbai. It was the first schedule of Liger. Then in March 2020, the lockdown happened. Things came to a standstill for a few months. Gyms were the last ones to open up. It was a difficult time as we could not do the workout that we intended to do. We did not know how the schedule was going to be. 2020 was a big mess. We’d do a few workout sessions at home. 2021 was a little better though that year too, we had a lockdown and things went haywire for sometime.
So if I exclude the lockdown period, I’d say that the total time taken to transform him has been around 6 months. During the training period, a lot of people in the gym would tell me that ‘He’s transforming so well’. In the last three months, we would see significant changes in him every week. This is when I had the idea of coming up with a 12-week transformation Liger programme. Once a person signs up for it, they’ll get access to information on how I trained him, what his nutrition was, etc.
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Vijay Deverakonda also did a nude photoshoot for Liger. Did it take any special effort on his part for it, since this is where he was supposed to show his entire body?
When it comes to the photoshoot, you can play around with the nutrition better rather than on a video. When he was shooting for the fight scenes, he was taking a good amount of carbs as he needed the energy to do the fights. If you see, you’ll realize that he won’t look drained anywhere in the film, and the same goes for the photoshoot. His face looks fresh and his eyes seem sparkling. That was the power of nutrition and moreover, I also micromanaged what he was eating, what his sodium and vitamin intake were etc. A week before the photoshoot, I cut down his carbs completely. He was getting very minimal carbs, that too only from vegetables. We were able to thankfully pull it off and get that intense look which was required.
Were you aware that the makers were going to do a nude photoshoot with Vijay Deverakonda when you came on board?
We knew that we wanted the best physique. I was the one who told Vijay that I am going to give him the physique that will be the best in India, not just in the South. Most of the films here will have the target of achieving the best physique among actors in the South. But since this is a pan-India film, we thought that we should aim for the best physique in India. And the nude photoshoot was not planned when I came on board. It happened because Puri sir saw that Vijay was in the best physique. This is how they thought of the photoshoot to take maximum benefit out of his physique.
Vijay Deverakonda has had shoulder injuries, as per reports. How did you work on this aspect while training him?
His rotator cuffs are very weak. That’s his body type. Some people naturally have it. Before he started with me and before he became a prominent actor, he had an injury to his shoulder. So we had to be careful as we can’t put a direct load on his muscles. We had to strengthen the shoulder muscles all round. Before he came to me, his exhibitions and training were wrong. The imbalances of the muscles were too extreme. We worked on all these aspects and made it perfect. As the Liger programme also progressed, his muscle mass increased and once that happened, we had to be careful about his range. Or else, you’d become muscle-bound like a bodybuilder. I didn’t want that. I wanted him to be agile and with the best range in his body.
For his shoulder, we used to do a lot of thera band exercises before his workout and also warm up well. I used to press trigger points that would relax the muscles in certain areas. And then we’ll resume the training.
Mike Tyson has a cameo in Liger. Did Vijay Deverakonda go through a special training regime before facing off against the legend?
For that one particular scene, we did not really do anything special. He is not removing his shirt and he has not shown his physique in the sequence. By then, we had shot the fight scenes, which was the major chunk of the movie, where he’s only in a trunk. For those scenes, he was in the best shape of his life. And immediately after filming these scenes, we shot the Mike Tyson sequence, and also the nude photoshoot. So, he was already in his best shape and also confident. Imagine how much confidence he must be having that he was ready to go fully naked!
Vijay Deverakonda has got great feedback for his look in Liger. Has he spoken about it to you and has he thanked you?
He’s very happy about it and is always thanking me. When the poster came out, he had put out a story in which he had tagged me and thanked me. Closer to the release of the film, Vijay is going to launch my 12-week transformation Liger programme too.
Could you tell us about your beginnings and your association with Ram Charan, who I believe was the first celeb whom you trained?
I have been a national athlete since I was in school. In 2004, I started my journey as a professional trainer. In 2005, I started training Ram Charan. He used to visit this one particular gym where I used to work. When I started training, I didn’t know who he was. One of his friends recommended me to him. After training him for a week, this friend asked me if I know who Ram Charan is. When I replied in the negative it was when he told me that he’s Chiranjeevi’s son! This was a time when he had not entered movies. The same year, 2005, when his debut film Chirutha (2007) went on floors. Puri sir was the director and I have known him since then. I trained Ram Charan till Magadheera (2009).
You have also trained Anuskha Shetty, Raashii Khanna and Rashmika Mandanna. How was your experience working with them?
The one word I have for them is dedicated. I look at them and get inspired by them. I tell them sometimes that I wonder how they pull it off. They get up at 5 am. They report for a shoot usually in the mornings at 6 am. And for girls, they have to give a little more time due to their make-up. They finish the shoot by 6-6:30 pm after which they slog in the gym despite being tired. They get done by 8:00 pm. That’s like 14 hours of brutal hard work. On top of that, they have to look good and maintain their nutrition. It’s not easy.
You have acted in iSmart Shankar (2019). Would you like to act more?
Yes, iSmart Shankar was directed by Puri Jagannadh sir and he gave me my first break as an actor. I went for an audition and was selected for it. Puri sir was surprised and said, ‘You never told me that you want to become an actor!’. I replied that I wanted to see what my capabilities are. He was kind enough to give me a very good role. Later, I also did a role in A1 Express (2021). A few days ago, Sita Ramam (2022), starring Dulquer Salmaan, was released in cinemas. I play a sardar army guy in this film. I am also a part of an upcoming Telugu film, Tees Maar Khan, starring Aadi Sai Kumar. I am trying to get more roles. God willing, if all goes well, I’d like to become a full-time actor. As a trainer, it’s been 18 years and I have trained almost every single actor in the South. And I always wanted to act. Hence, I felt that before I become too old and people remember only for father roles, I thought it’s better to give it a shot now! I look good at the present and this is the right time that I can pull off action and other such roles. Nevertheless, I am going to retain and continue my gym, no matter what.
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