MEET—-Mr. India V.M. Basheer
Little do we realise what surprises await us in the future. During the Mr. India competition held at Chennai in 2005, members of Team Masters sat next to this great ambassador of bodybuilding and fitness, knowing little about his accomplishments or greatness as a person.
At the 2009 Jr. Mr. India competition held in February at Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, we once again noticed this gentleman sitting with VIPs.
When we approached him for an interview, he calmly agreed and told us to come to his hotel room the next morning.
Even as he spoke, we found that the man was more than an accomplished star in the galaxy of bodybuilding and kind of missionary.
Read on to find why V.M. Basheer is known as a ‘one-man army’ in his native State of Kerala.
V.M. Basheer: I was not naturally ‘blessed’ to build a great body. People who saw me in my childhood would have never believed that someday I would be a four-time Mr. India. I had to struggle a lot to build muscle, strength and good health.
Team Masters: What?!! But, you always looked like you were a gifted bodybuilder!
VMB: For that, you need to know about my family, surroundings and childhood. I was born on May 25, 1962, in Valappadu, 25 km from Trichur, Kerala. I have an elder brother, V.M. Shaukat Ali, and a younger brother, V.M. Shahul Hameed. The age difference between each of us is about 10 years.
All the people in our family have very slow metabolism and carry more than the permissible amount of body fat. I was determined not to get fat at all. That drive is what helped me achieve something in the field of fitness and bodybuilding.
TM: What made you start weight training and who was your idol? Arnold Schwarzenegger?
VMB: Though I admired Schwarzenegger, my heroes were labourers, whom I regularly watched while going to school. All their muscles, from head to toe, were hard and rippling with life as they did unbelievable physical labour. Those images made me feel that I too should build a body like theirs, a Tarzan-kind of rugged frame, and become strong.
TM: When did you start working out and how did you learn about training? Which was your first contest?
VMB: I started working out at the age of 14. I followed big and strong persons wherever they went. I observed how they ate, how they trained and adopted all those principles. After three years of hard training, I entered the Mr. S.N. College competition and won. I weighed about 53 kg.
TM: Were you into other sports?
VMB: As I was interested in strength, I stayed involved in weightlifting and powerlifting. I was also into martial arts. I proved that weight training would not make a person muscle-bound, by performing well in martial arts. I was quite good in the iron game as well.
My one-rep maximum on Squats was 180 kg, on Bench Presses (I was little weak) 90 kg, and on Deadlifts, 170 kg. I used to do Clean and Jerk with 95 kg.
But, I suffered a knee dislocation during martial arts practice and was forced to take a two-year lay-off from all sports. Once fully recovered, I put all eggs into one basket and started concentrating on bodybuilding.
TM: Did your injury hamper your training?
VMB: That is the benefit bodybuilding training offers. You can train around the injury and avoid painful exercises. I perfected my form on Squats and could do almost all leg exercises in textbook form. But, the injury taught me to be careful and listen to my body. I could regularly do Squats for 8 reps in perfect form using 160 kg.
TM: What was the reaction of people around you when you started to train and compete?
VMB: Oh, that was hell. You just won’t believe the amount of resistance I had to counter. I could not hear even one person speak good about weight training….you know, all these myths that the one who trains with weights will get impotent, infertile, heart problems, etc., the list was endless. When several ill-informed doctors also spoke like this, I felt very upset. I wanted to know more about the science behind weight training. I am extremely thankful to my elder brother who got me an issue of Joe Weider’s Muscle and Fitness. It had a story about a champion who suffered serious spinal cord injury. His case was considered finished by several ‘expert’ doctors. However, there was one doctor who said that the man could still make a comeback. The champ trained carefully, following his therapy, and won the Mr. America title. This came as a big relief and eye-opener to me. I at once realised that some so called ‘experts’ could also be wrong. The more I studied about the benefits of weight training, I was convinced that this form of exercise was a boon to mankind. My sister-in-law also helped me a lot with my diet and encouraged me like I were her own son. I knew that I needed good English skills to understand all the scientific research that was published in M&F. So, I worked hard on even improving my English knowledge. That’s when I understood the importance of education and communication skills. Any person will need it to help himself and others. I eventually completed postgraduation.
TM: Yeah, please continue…what were the titles you won and which years?
VMB: I am unable to recollect all of them…I have won several shows…I competed in 65 kg category and won Mr. Trichur, Junior State Championship, Mr. Kerala and Mr. Calicut University. I then competed in Mr. Kerala Olympia, which is considered a very tough contest and open to all champs. I won that title, not once but five times. Once I got a job in Railways, I started competing only in the Nationals.
TM: Didn’t you try to go up to the next weight category? Perhaps you could have looked freaky and big.
VMB: I was committed to competing in 65 kg category because I was sure to win in that class. To establish oneself in a particular weight category, it will take a couple of years. I could not afford to take any risk. I was quite happy. Maybe I could have been better in 70 or 75 kg class, but that’s fine. I have no regrets.
I then won Jr. Mr. India in 1990, but had to work harder and longer to win Mr. India. I finally won the title in 1994. Ever since, I have always placed in top three. Several times, the victory margin was very close when I finished runner-up. I competed in Mr. South Asia in 1998 in 70 kg category and placed—–.
I also entered Mr. Asia in 70 kg class and placed sixth. I was a semifinalist in World Amateur Championship (Mr. Universe) held in Jordan. I did the impossible in 2004. I got to my best condition at that year’s Mr. India and won. I was over 40.
TM: That was great. It just proves that if a person trains smart and takes care of his body, he can compete as a bodybuilder and win titles at any age.
And, by-the-by, any plans of getting back on the stage?
VMB: I would love to. But it’s too tough. I am not finding enough time to train for a show amid my hectic schedule. I run a chain of gyms, conduct diploma courses in fitness and weight training, train a variety of clients, including champions and am in charge of two magazines. I don’t think it will be possible for me to step onstage again.
TM: How did you train when you competed?
VMB: No two individuals should train alike. Training and diets should be tailor-made for each person. For major part of my competitive career, I trained each muscle group twice a week, using double-split training system (two workouts a day). I would do 3-4 exercises for each muscle group, 4 sets each exercise. Eventually, I started training all muscles once a week. As my metabolism was very slow, I used to do cardio several times a week. During contest training, I will begin with very light intensity cardio for 15 to 20 minutes to increase blood circulation and warmth. My body needed this. I would then train a muscle group or two for almost 45-60 minutes and end the session with 30 minutes of intense cardio to burn maximum fat. I never run as it may hit the joints very hard. I always recommend very brisk walking. This is how I would train 5 to 6 days a week to get to almost 4 per cent body fat condition. I measured it using skin-fold calipers. These days I do cardio thrice a week. I am not able to find time amid my hectic schedule to train for a competition and that’s why I said it would be tough to get onstage once again.
TM: How good was your diet?
VMB: I found that I could get good muscle growth eating just 15 to 20 egg whites maximum. I used to consume 500 gm of chicken as well. As my metabolism was very slow, carbohydrates were my ‘enemies.’ So carbs were always low on my menu. I ate fibrous vegetables, moderate amount of fruits, whole wheat and almost avoided rice and refined flour. I did not avoid fats totally, they were a bit low. I never bothered about water retention because I could always reach very low body fat level. If my body needed it, I would even add a little salt to my contest diet. As I said, every person is different. I also consumed protein powders which had at least 80 per cent protein.
TM: What training techniques did you use?
VMB: I used every single thing invented. My body needed change almost every workout and so I used the ‘Muscle Confusion Principle.’
TM: We know you own a chain of gyms all over Kerala. Please tell us more about that.
VMB: I was the first to start a huge fitness centre (two different gym under one roof) to cater to the needs of bodybuilders, martial artists and other sports persons. I proved that weight training was essential for all sports. It initially met with a lot of resistance. I waged a war as an individual against all obstacles and finally succeeded. I am grateful to my wife, Nadira Basheer, who has been extremely supportive in all my endavours. She is also qualified in several departments of fitness science and training women. She is a cosmetologist and manages a beauty centre. We offer diploma courses in fitness and bodybuilding, therapy and conduct classes all over Kerala. We are propagating the benefits of weight training wherever possible to create awareness. I am a national judge in Indian Body Building Federation, a full-time Railway employee and editor of two highly-respected Malayalam fitness magazines, ‘Muscle and Fitness’ and ‘Muscle Power.’ All these are fruits of constant wars with hostile and negative forces. In future, I would like to write an exhaustive book in Malayalam on A to Z of fitness. This is my ambition.
TM: That’s great, we are sure you will. Ok, please tell us about your children.
VMB: My son Sultan Basheer is in Standard XII. He is extremely interested in bodybuilding and fitness. I told him to complete his board examination, go abroad and study about fitness, therapy and nutrition, come back and help me establish rehabilitation and therapy centres all over. I want every person in Kerala to lead a fit, healthy and happy life. My daughter Sultana Basheer is 15.
TM: You were an excellent poser. How did you practice posing and how long would it take?
VMB: I practiced for several hours. Posing is pure theatre. Bodybuilding, if it should reach the common man, should be made entertaining. Posing alone is the tool to accomplish that. And, I generally did not pose to some film music. I used to get special music composed and recorded, each piece at the cost of about Rs. 10,000, and pose to that. I used to practice every new posing routine for 2 to 3 months before a show. Each routine would have about 300 to 400 poses, including transitions. I would always be given a chance to pose for 7 to 8 minutes and not just 45 to 60 seconds like other competitors.
TM: Incredible!!!!! Now tell us who among Indian bodybuilders would you rate as the best poser?
VMB: Mr. South India A.P Joshi and Mr. India Anil Rawat. Mr. India Mohammed Abdullah is also very good but I find him repetitive.
TM: On the future of bodybuilding in India…
VMB: I am sure it will grow. I am confident that the dynamic new president of IBBF, Ranjit Singh Mohite, can work wonders.
TM: Your message to our readers…
VMB: Utilise your off-season properly if you want to be a serious bodybuilder. Learn about all concepts of fitness and train and eat properly, according to your body.
If fitness and weight training have to reach every person, the concepts should be brought into educational curriculum. We need government’s intervention to achieve this.
Last but not least, I am very happy to see you (Lakshmi Kumar) do so much to promote bodybuilding and fitness without expecting monetary benefit. After a long time I am seeing a person who is like me. I also congratulate your team members for joining you in this mission. As the three of you are competitors, I wish you all luck. But, your mission of promoting the sport will face a lot of hurdles, especially when you are competitors yourselves. Do not lose heart. Fight through it and I am sure you will achieve want you want.
Tailpiece: Even as we left the hotel, Basheer’s words kept ringing in our minds, telling us that we had just started on a long journey. From now on, we cannot even stop to catch our breath until we have made ourselves worthy enough of his complements. We can say for sure that we will leave no stone unturned to take us to our destination.
_ C. Lakshmi Kumar