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Standing backstage trying to take it all in, Sheru Aangrish may have had his first chance to actually relax for a moment and enjoy the results of two-plus years of hard work. But the promoter would have none of that. There was too much at stake to rest on his laurels. The time for that would have to come later. Much later.
With an abundance of planning in the books, Aangrish knew full well that his job was far from over now that the inaugural IFBB Sheru Classic had started. Quite the contrary, his responsibilities had just begun. Hosting a professional bodybuilding show in Mumbai, India, presented itself with a plethora of concerns unbeknownst to most promoters. “There was huge pressure,” Aangrish recalled. “There are always challenges when you have a show for the first time, especially flying all of these big names—40 to 50 people from the industry—to India. But there were also security concerns because of some bombings in Mumbai a few months before that.”
Not one to take that lightly, Aangrish was very cautious and preemptive in taking extra security measures that were coordinated with the Indian government. Besides that, every athlete had his or her own private security and manager to keep an extra close eye on things.
The 2011 Sheru Classic went off without a hitch and was a huge success when all was said and done. It is now a regular part of the pro bodybuilding circuit’s annual schedule and deservedly so. But even though Aangrish may have been under the obvious pressures that come with pulling off a show, the 34-year-old was facing some of the more obscure kind—holding up the reputation for a country that spawned the very sport that graced it’s stage.
IN THE BEGINNING…
Most pundits will point to Eugen Sandow when giving credit to the original pioneer of bodybuilding. But the Prussian whose name and likeness adorns the sport’s highest trophy may not have had the opportunity to become memorialized at every Mr. Olympia competition if not for a group of zealous men in India some 700 years earlier.
Stone weights—otherwise known as nals—have been traced back to the Asian peninsula as far back as the 1100s, and with them came the first training and diet techniques. Physical culture, as it was known at the time, was practiced by people who wanted to develop their bodies for a number of reasons, particularly to stay healthy and enhance stamina.
The first known gyms were located in India and were far from uncommon. The sport grew, and by the 16th century, it had become the country’s national pastime. Under British rule, weight training and its popularity waned, but a revival of sorts took place following Sandow’s 1904 visit.
During the Roaring ’20s, while Americans were violating prohibition in speakeasies, a Burmese man named Chit Tun had settled in Calcutta and introduced muscle control to the world. He also wrote a book entitled Barbell Exercises that was released in 1926, in which he wrote (as it appears):
“I have built up my physique chiefly by the use of the barbell, and the exercises given are the very ones I have been practicing. No one need fear of overstraining himself by using the barbell, as long as he follows the directions given here. Rightly handled, the barbell is the best possible apparatus, as it can be adjusted to suit any individual, as well as to the strength of the different sets of muscles.”
Tun goes on to give pointers, such as exercising in front of a mirror, displaying photographs of well-developed men in your exercise room for inspiration, and drinking plenty of fluid after exercising, with the ideal choice being milk, with water as second choice. Through the 1940s, exercise equipment in India was still reminiscent of the sport’s auspicious beginnings, with the sumtola (Indian barbell), stone balls, stone wheels, ekka (heavy pillar-like club), karela (club), and gada (mace) being commonplace.
An Indian received worldwide recognition in 1952 when Monohar Aich was named Mr. Universe. The 4'11" resident of Calcutta began training at the age of 15 and is still going strong today—100 years young! The prototype of the vacuum pose may have taken place with professor J. Chandrashekhar, who was profiled in the February 1954 issue of Bodybuilder Magazine performing a similar exhibition using extreme muscle control in his abdominal section. So it goes without saying that India has had a big part in paving the way for many a bodybuilder who may be totally unaware of her history in that aspect. But Aangrish is cognizant of his home country’s part in the sport he lives and breathes, and he has steered that passion into running a top-notch show.
FIRST TIME AROUND
The idea to hold an IFBB contest in India was spawned in 2009 when Aangrish pitched Jim Manion. The Prez gave him full support and the strategy was different from what would eventually come down the road.
“Last year in Mumbai we had an exclusive crowd and didn’t try to attract the masses,” Aangrish recalled. “We concentrated on the celebrities and Bollywood of India and the audience was 1,100.” An intimate yet powerful gathering, nonetheless.
But Aangrish also took notice of the nearly 3,000 people standing outside hoping to get in, giving him the indication that the next venue would indeed be a lot bigger and also ensuring that the big names continue to be a part of the lineups. Logistics also played a part in some of the challenges that had to be met. “When you’re flying a big name from America to another continent for almost 12 hours, there are concerns for their comfort and diet,” Aangrish said, “so we had to take care of everything—all the food and amenities—to ensure that they arrived here in their best condition.”
Timing is everything in bodybuilding, and the ideal date to schedule a show such as this would have to take place right after the Mr. Olympia. That way, the cream of the crop who competes only once per year will still be in contest shape. The top of the lineup was basically a repeat of the instant classic s even days prior at Orleans Arena and included a pair who had barely recovered from their recent battle.
“We had the rematch between Phil Heath and Jay Cutler, so the excitement was pretty high,” Aangrish said with accentuation. “Also, just take a look at the statistics. Cutler hasn’t competed in a show other than the Olympia since 2006, but he did ours.”
According to anyone who was there, the inaugural Sheru Classic was extremely entertaining and attracted what amounted to a who’s who list from the industry. “We wanted to make sure we have the best of the best athletes,” Aangrish said matter-of-factly, and when you can bring in many of the same people who had just competed in bodybuilding’s Super Bowl, then it is a job well done.
IN YEAR 2
Even when a contest is done properly the first time out of the box, there is always room for improvement to enhance the experience for the competitors and audience alike. Once Aangrish was convinced that this was a good match, he decided to market it in a larger fashion.
“This year, we moved the show to Delhi, which is the capital of India,” he said. “As far as the venue goes, it will be held at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, which has a capacity of 20,000 and just happens to be the largest of its kind in India.” The prize money is also improved, up $60,000 from a year ago to a total of $210,000.
With ticket sales beginning in July and going well, Aangrish quipped with full confidence, “We expect to fill all of the seats.” That will be a historic setting for the sport and a larger crowd than the Olympia and Arnold Classic combined.
“The potential is huge,” Aangrish added. “India has the second-largest population in the world and only 0.2% of the people [here] are involved in the health and fitness industry, with the trend going upward.
“We wanted to appeal to the masses [this year],” Aangrish continued. “And create a buzz for the next show. Every year we want to target bigger audiences.”
One way was to add divisions to the schedule, which held only two (men’s open bodybuilding and women’s pro figure) in 2011. This October, those two will of course be back, but they will also be joined by men’s 212 bodybuilding and women’s pro bikini. Expect that to grow in 2013.
“We will use the expo as a base to attract and educate the people on the men’s physique division with a male model search,” the promoter proudly professed, “and giving a platform to amateurs will help increase awareness and interest in fitness. This ‘Beach Body’ contest will also act as an introduction to men’s physique, and next year we will add that category to the show.”
The two-day event will be accentuated by the expo, which all the major supplement companies have committed to already. Besides bodybuilding, the expo will also hold a powerlifing competition in conjunction with the Indian Powerlifing Association. “All the state winners will participate, and the total awards will be $10,000,” Aangrish said. “We aim to give athletes from other sports a platform to excel.”
The lineup will be a star-studded one again and reminiscent of what will take place a week earlier in Las Vegas. In addition to Heath and Cutler, Kai Greene and Toney freeman will also return. But the crowd will also have the pleasure of seeing the likes of Branch Warren (who was out with an injury last year) and stalwarts who have been stamping their names on the sport’s landscape: Lionel Beyeke, Roelly Winklaar, and Michael Kefalianos.
Perhaps the tightest races the past few years have come from the 212 (formerly 202) class. Kevin English, Flex Lewis, and Jose Raymond have gone at it tooth and nail and nothing less is expected from the trio come October.
The women will also have some say in the excitement to take place in Delhi. The Nicole Wilkins/Erin Stern rivalry will surely continue once the figure Olympia dust settles. Similar to what occurred with the men, Wilkins was able to hold off Stern again, but the road gets harder with each contest. The bikini division has been wide open, and although Nicole Nagrani had seemed to set the early standard, things were shaken up when Sonia Gonzales won the 2012 Bikini International. The 2011 champion fell all the way to third place, with newcomer India Paulino taking the runner-up spot. Now all three will mix it up and leave no stones unturned.
Even with the loaded lineups, Aangrish knows that his work will be cut out for him again. But a hard job comes easier when there is true passion leading the way. “My love for the sport has been the same since I was a teenager,” he remarked. With that type of attitude, there is no way he can lose, and Aangrish also knows that others have his back. “I’d like to thank FLEX/AMI for being an official media partner of the show once again this year,” he said with a smile. “And I’m working closely with Robin Chang to see how we can promote professional bodybuilding all over Asia, not just in India.”
Maybe that relaxing thing will have to go on permanent hold.
2012 IFBB SHERU CLASSIC
Men’s Open Bodybuilding
Varinder Singh Ghuman
Men’s 212 Bodybuilding
Women’s Pro Figure
Women’s Pro Bikini