MEET– ‘Mr. India’ M. Arasu
Bodybuilding fans always refer to certain era while talking about the development of the sport – the Arnold era, known as the Golden Age of Bodybuilding; the Lee Haney era, a period when modern bodybuilding stars were born; and finally the Dorian Yates era, which saw the emergence of monsters and freaks.
In India, especially down South, when fans talk about evolution of the sport, it can be classified under two categories – ‘Before Arasu’ and ‘After Arasu!’
Some of you may consider this an over-rated compliment. But, people who have been following the sport very attentively will accept that it was after arrival of this individual on the scene that bodybuilders from South, especially Tamil Nadu, started rocking the bigger shows.
With that point made clear, I think it’s time I introduced M. Arasu, ‘Mr. India’ and true ‘Maker of Champions,’ to all my readers.
Team Masters: So I finally have got a chance to learn more about you brother. I myself have been waiting to hear how it all started…you know, stuff like how you turned things around down south…let us begin with the usual questions. Tell me about what I already know, like your background, etc.
Arasu: I was born and brought up in Alandur, Chennai. My father Mounaguru was a businessman and my mother Angamma, a housewife. I was their eldest son. I have a younger sister and brother.
TM: Your date of birth?
A: It’s August 28, 1973.
TM: Oh really, my son was born on August 24!
A: You know what brother, my wife’s date of birth, our wedding day everything falls in the same month. Come August and it’s celebration time at our house all through.
TM: That’s nice, I’ll keep that in mind to send you a wish in time from this year. Alright… now if I remember correct, you started training at Rank Gym in Alandur, right? Who was your inspiration?
A: My uncle [father’s elder brother] was a bodybuilder. He was my first idol. Even before I joined a gym, I used to do some exercises using the weights he had at home. I started regular training in 1988. I first worked out at Atlas Gym for sometime before I joined Rank Gym.
TM: I believe it was totally unexpected that you entered and won your very first competition as a student of MCC, Chennai, right?
A: Yeah…I was working out reasonably well and was looking good. I went to watch a sports meet at the University of Madras where a University-level competition was being held. I casually entered that and won.
TM: I remember reading in ‘Bodybuilding Master’ magazine that you did not know how to pose and imitated what others did. But you won the first prize because of an outstanding physique. Ok, please continue…
A: I gained more confidence and kept training hard. My then coach was an advocate, Satish. He had a very good physique and helped me a lot. I then entered a Mr. Madras competition [now Mr. Chennai] conducted by Vikram Gym in 1993 and won gold.
TM: You also won gold medal in All-India University Championship right?
A: No, I was fourth that year. I met ‘Mr. India’ Satyanarayana in 1993, who became my coach. It was under his tutelage that my body improved dramatically and I won silver at my very first Mr. Tamil Nadu show that year.
TM: Where was it held and what category did you enter?
A: It was at Dasaprakash and I did the show in 80-kg category. My next meet was the All-India University in 1994 in which I won silver. The next show I eneterd was Mr. South India 1994 in Palakkad and placed third.
TM: You also won Junior Nationals in 1994 right?
A: Yes. It was held at Kalaivanar Arangam in Chennai and that victory helped me to learn a lot and reshape things a bit… you know, like what you asked a while ago as how I turned things around and stuff like that…
TM: And how may I ask?
A: I was selected to participate in ‘Mr. Asia’ and attend a selection camp at JCT, Hoshiarpur. It was there I met the big names of the national bodybuilding scene. That came as an eye-opener.
TM: I still don’t understand.
A: You have to realise that not many of us, even the well-educated, were aware of magazines such as Muscle and Fitness or FLEX. We used to train on empty stomach and do a lot of volume training. We had no idea of supplementation. I learnt all that only at that camp.
TM: Whom did you meet there?
A: Oh, it was an awesome line-up including Prasad Kumar, Vitendar Singh Pawar, Anandan, Paulie, Prakash, A.K. Rari, Yogesh Sanan (all ‘Mr. India’ winners). Along with me in the juniors line-up were Manjit Singh and Sengupta. I learnt a lot from all my seniors. Each one had something new to tell me. I saw Prasad and Vitender using protein powders. I learnt that you have to eat some protein and slow releasing carbohydrates an hour or so before a workout and consume top class protein and fast-acting carbs immediately after a workout. I learnt how to manipulate water, get more muscularity and gain size. Unfortunately, I could not participate in the ‘Mr. Asia’ meet…but the experience at the camp was worth a fortune!
TM: How did it help you?
A: Until then there were only two big names from Tamil Nadu who had won more than one ‘Mr. India’ titles – G. Ekambaram and J. Muniappan.
Ekambaram was a person who maintained a low-key profile and Muniappan was working in Bangalore. As a result, not many of Tamil Nadu competitors had any National-level player whom they could look up to for guidance. I was the first to win a medal at the Nationals after these two great champions. I readily shared all what I had learnt with anyone who approached me for help. That was the starting point. I soon had a lot of competitors queuing up for instruction. A couple of them even won senior ‘Mr. India’ more than once, a title which I myself am yet to win!
TM: You haven’t won that title?!!!
A: What you usually call ‘Mr. India’ is officially known as Senior National Bodybuilding Championship. There used to be another National-level championship held along with Senior Nationals every year – the Inter-State National Championship. I have won gold in that.
[Winners of that competition were also allowed to use the title of ‘Mr. India.’ Eventually, that show was separated from Senior Nationals and is now being conducted as ‘Federation Cup.’ – Team Masters]
TM: How and when did you get a job in ICF? Do you have anybody to thank for getting you a placement?
A: As soon as I won Junior Nationals, I was given the job. I am grateful to ICF’s sports officer, Jagannathan. He was an Arjuna Awardee in table tennis. He was the one who helped me to enter service based on merit. There were some persons who wanted me to pay a hefty sum to get a government job like this. But, as I was financially very stable, I told them that if I had to enter service it should be based on merit and I would not like to sneak in. A friend of mine, whom I helped in contest preparation, tried to trick me out of my money…he told me that I would have to pay some official, not in cash but kind, to get a job…but, I caught him red-handed and that strained our relationship.
TM: That’s very unfortunate. Ok, please continue…tell me more about your career as a champion. I remember reading in ‘Bodybuilding Master’ magazine that you had to really fight it out a lot to win ‘Mr. Tamil Nadu.’ You often battled a champion called Shanmugam, who beat you a few times.
A: Yeah, I finally got him at the State meet held in Madurai in 1997. I won gold medal in ‘Mr. India’ Inter-State held at Kolkata that year and also entered Senior Nationals in the 90-kg category. I placed third in that event. Prasad Kumar was first and Sunil Aptekar, second.
TM: Do you agree with the judging?
A: Of course yes. I was never a victim of unfair judging, at least at Senior Nationals. It was unfortunate that I always ended up in 85-kg category. I just couldn’t bring down my weight to enter the 80- kg class, where I stood a good chance of winning gold. A couple of times I came down to that class, I looked too drained and placed fourth or fifth.
So, at my best shape, I invariably went against Prasad and Vitendar in 85-kg class. They were much better competitors and so I had to place second or third behind them.
TM: You have also won Inter-Railway Championship right?
A: I have won that title nine times.
TM: When I started going to competitions, I invariably used to see at least two or three competitors from your Gold Gym in every weight category. You were truly spinning champions from nowhere! When did you start Gold Gym and how much did you invest in it?
A: I started the main branch of Gold Gym at Alandur in 1996 at the cost of about Rs. four lakh.
TM: Hey, that’s exactly the amount I invested in my own Masters Gym which I opened exactly 10 years later brother!
A: But, I also spent some money on making alterations to my house. So you can’t say I used the entire sum, which I had got as loan, for my gym.
TM: Now you also own a hi-tech fitness centre, Ateliers Fitness Centre at Velachery. I believe it cost you quite a lot. How much did you spend on that?
A: It was a little over Rs. one crore.
TM: What?!!!!! You really need guts to start such a venture. What gave you the confidence and where from did you get so much money? Is the gym doing well?
A: I was born to reasonably well-placed parents. That was God’s gift. However, I availed myself of a very huge loan and also took help from some friends. I started this fitness centre to prove that I can cater for even the well-educated lot like IT professionals. I could see that there were only one or two professionals who knew their job in the present fitness industry scenario. All the rest are businessmen for whom fitness, weight training or bodybuilding means nothing. I am a professional and know my job. That confidence made me take the decision. Today, Ateliers Fitness Centre has stabilised and doing reasonably well.
TM: Let’s talk about becoming Secretary of Tamil Nadu Amateur Body Building Association for a second consecutive term.
A: I always wanted to help as many players as possible. Whenever I came across unfair decisions, I fought it out with the authorities concerned. Time forced me into taking up this responsibility to continue that fight. But, if I find someone who is determined to fight for the champions and up-and-coming competitors, I will immediately step down. I am not greedy about occupying any chair.
TM: But, it seems you have lost a lot of friends after taking up this post. Don’t you regret it?
A: Not the least. I became unpopular because some people didn’t want me to help the strugglers or be honest. I won’t change for their sake.
TM: The common man always associates bodybuilding with anabolic drugs. What’s your take on this?
A: I came to my all-time best shape at the 2003 Senior Nationals where I was second to Vitendar. I took it up as a challenge to see whether I could prepare 100 per cent clean. I won in that attempt, but had to spend over Rs. 2.5 lakh for supplements and quality food. You can build and sculpt a great body without drugs but not all persons can afford to spend for it. If our champions get a lot of sponsors, they don’t need drugs, I am sure of it.
TM: I whole-heartedly agree with that. It’s like what ‘Mr. Olympia’ Samir Bannout once said, ‘A champion’s body can be enhanced using drugs, but cannot be created.’
Ok… when you were elected secretary for the first term, you said in an interview to ‘Gentlemen’ magazine that you will do your best to get jobs for bodybuilders in police force. What happened to that?
A: The then police chief had very high regard for me. I spoke to him and the department was very keen about selecting for service a team of champs in several categories. I told some persons to seriously get ready. But, they did not pursue it. I can only initiate things. I can’t force them into something or keep driving them, right?
TM: That’s one thing our fellows themselves should realise. We can only teach them how to fish, but can’t fish for them…alright, only a few more questions…how did you train when you were competing and how do you train now?
A: Initially I never had any planned routine. After I met Sathyanarayana, I trained each muscle group three times a week. It was chest, shoulders, triceps on day 1, 3 and 5 and legs, back, biceps on days 2, 4 and 6. After attending the selection camp, I started to train each muscle group twice. These days I hardly find time to train.
TM: Ouch! That hurts brother… Now tell me who are your favourite students among the thousands you trained?
A: I don’t discriminate that way. Everyone is equal for me. I love all my champs equally.
TM: Last and final salvo – any plans of making a comeback on the stage?
A: I may, after a couple of years. Let’s see.
TM: Wow, I’ll be one of the happiest persons to welcome you back and cheer every pose you hit brother. I am thankful for giving me so much time for this interaction.
Tailpiece: Every time I speak to Arasu about our sport, I realise how badly he wants to do his best to help the competitors. But, for all that intentions to materialise, each one of us should shed his/her ego and relentlessly work very hard. If we claim that we really love this sport, this would be our contribution to it.
_ C. Lakshmi Kumar