Even as I sat watching the recently-held Mr. Chennai at ICF, the thought struck me again – I was yet to do an interview of ‘Junior Mr. India’ Y. Annamalai. That I had spoken to the man himself several times but couldn’t make it to his gym owing to some genuine reason no longer appeared acceptable. With a firm decision of meeting him at any cost, I spoke to Annamalai once again for an appointment and he was, as usual, too glad to oblige. Within a couple of weeks, I found myself talking to him at his newly-opened Sri Fitness Studio in Royapuram.
Lakshmi Kumar: Finally I am here sir, thanks for giving me time on a working day. Let me begin with the formal questions…
Annamalai: Yes, I’ll tell you all that myself. I was born on December 14, in Chennai. My father’s name was Yoganathan and my mother’s, Pushpa. My father was employed in a private company and my mother was a housewife.
L: Do you have brothers or sisters?
A: (With a broad smile) My parents had eight children, and I was the youngest. I have four elder brothers and three elder sisters.
L: Pretty big family…OK, when did you start training and who was your inspiration?
A: My brothers were my inspiration. They used to exercise and look good. I was thin and wanted to look like them. I used to lift the grinding stone at home and try to get big and strong like them (laughs). However, there was a very funny belief in our household. My body remained cool generally and never used to get warm very fast. In Tamil, they call it ‘seethala udambu.’ Our relatives scared my mother saying that if I grab iron, the cold feeling would affect me, get me down with fever and ultimately lead to death! It’s an irony that the same cold iron earned me recognition, a government job and helped me run a successful gym.
L: Nice. But, when did you start working out? Were you a fast gainer?
A: I joined Raghuveer Gym, the oldest running gym in Chennai, on December 14, 1986. I was not a fast gainer and had to struggle a lot to gain muscle.
L: What was your weight then? And who was your first guru?
A: I started competing in 60 and 65 kg classes. I was in 65 kg class in many of my earlier contests. I eventually competed in the 70 kg and 75 kg categories. My first guru was R.L. Thiruvengadam, who is now vice-president of Indian Body Builders’ Federation. He encouraged me a lot. There was a senior body builder by the name Venugopal, who also helped me. I am indebted to them and Raghuveer Gym.
L: When was your first contest?
A: It was a few weeks after I started training in 1986. Raghuveer Gym used to conduct a contest among its members and I entered that. However, I didn’t get any placing. (With moist eyes, Annamalai continues)…… when I came home that night, my father asked me what exactly I did at the contest and what prize I got. I told him that I didn’t get any prize. Being a very shy person, I also hesitated to drop down my clothes and pose in front of him. Seeing me hesitate, my father asked, ‘You weren’t shy posing before strangers but in front of me, your father.’ That was it… I slipped into my trunks and showed him my posing routine. My father got off his chair and said ‘How could those people deny you a prize? You perform so well! Come with me, I will ask the authorities at the gym. They can’t do injustice to you.’ I tried very hard and convinced him saying that I would win that contest the next year. (With tears rolling down his cheeks, Annamalai continues in an emotion-choked voice) As promised, I won my class in that contest next year and the overall too and my father was so happy. Legends such as Premchand Degra and Bhattacharjee were guests that evening and it was Premchandji who put the medal around my neck! My father died some years ago, but he saw me enter government service and make a name for myself in bodybuilding. He should have been a content man (sobs).
L: Who would you thank for all your victories?
A: I joined MFC, a fitness centre owned by the then Secretary of Tamil Nadu Amateur Body Building Association Thanigaivelu. He was my guru and I would have been nothing if he weren’t there to train me. His son T. Manivannan also helped me a lot. My victories started after that.
L: What all titles have you won?
A: (With a calm smile) I have won first place in Mr. Chennai 23 times; first place in Mr. Tamil Nadu 13 times; first place in Mr. South India 7 times; first place in Junior Mr. India in 1992 at Kanpur; and fourth place in Senior Mr. India in 1996.
L: Oh my God! That makes it an awesome 44 first place finishes!!!OK, which was your first State contest and what did you win?
A: It was the 1987 Mr. Tamil Nadu in Katpadi and I won bronze. It so happened that some people said I might get a job if I won the first prize in that event. So, I went and spoke to Thanigaivelu and asked him if he could help me win…the words he uttered that day came as an eye-opener and helped me all through my career. He said, ‘If I help you now, you will use me like a crutch. You will never learn to stand on your legs. No, I will not help because it’s unethical. Go and fight it out and get whatever you are really worth.’ These words made me work harder and harder the following years and helped me win more titles. I first stepped on the ‘Mr. India’ stage in 60 kg class in 1989, but didn’t get anything.
L: How would you train those days? You were always ripped. Were you doing a lot of cardio?
A: (Laughs) I never did any cardio. I had tremendous energy and worked out on a triple-split system (three times a day). At times, I would have just one cup of tea after a workout and by body would be ready for another session. My training partners couldn’t keep pace with me and I burned them out. My workouts themselves burned a lot of calories and got me ripped. I trained each muscle group thrice a week and grew.
L: Amazing! I remember ‘Mr. Olympia’ Dexter Jackson saying that until 2006 or 2007, he never did any cardio. But, he was already bronze winner at the Olympia. He had such fantastic metabolism and I guess yours would have been very good too. That you trained so much and still grew shows that you had excellent muscular and systemic recovery, which a lot of trainees might not have. Please tell me about your diet. How would you eat those days and did you use any food supplement?
A: My best competitive season was from 2004 to 2007. I would eat and train like this while getting ready for a show:
Meal 1 – 4 slices wheat bread, 4 egg whites, tea without sugar
Meal 2 – 1 serving whey protein, 4 egg whites, 1 apple, a few chappatis
Meal 3 – 250 gm chicken, 1 cup rice, vegetables
Meal 4 – 5 egg whites, 2 slices wheat bread, 1 cup sweetlime juice
Meal 5 – 1 serving whey protein, Marie Gold biscuits
Meal 6 – 250 gm chicken, a few chappatis, 3 or 4 egg whites
I would also take some papaya or pineapple after sometime to help digestion.
Meal 7 – channa and some raisins
I first used supplements in 1999. I tried Twinlab’s Gainers Fuel. After that, I was using Taras products for some time. Ever since 2002, I have been using Millennium Nutraceuticals’ products.
I used to eat like this for only 30 days and could get ripped. In retrospect, had I dieted like what all our competitors do now, I might have got freakier in conditioning.
L: When did you open your Winners Gym? And when was this new gym inaugurated?
A: When MFC gym closed, Thanigaivelu wanted some of his students to open their own gyms. He and the then IBBF president, M. Kesavan, encouraged me to open a gym – I opened Winners Gym at Royapuram on March 2, 1998. Sri Fitness Studio was inaugurated in June this year (2012). There were no air-conditioned, high-end studios in this area and so we summoned all our courage, worked very hard and opened it.
L: I can see that your wife A. Kavitha is the proprietor of this studio. Tell me when did you both meet? I am sure it was a love marriage.
A: No, it was an arranged marriage. Kavitha is my sister’s daughter. The moment she was born, elders at our household decided that she would be married to me. We got married on November 12, 1999.
L: Oh, so you two must have spent very nice moments during all your school days.
A: (Laughs again) I am sorry to say ‘no’ again. I used to casually talk to her like ‘hai, how are you’ and the kind of stuff. We never went out anywhere…you are not going to believe this – we spoke to each other for several minutes only on the nuptial night.
L: That’s great and nice to see your wife supporting you so much and being so understanding. How many children do you have?
A: Two – my son Vignesh is 11 years old and is in Standard VI, my daughter Kaviya Sri is 5 and is in UKG.
L: When did you join ICF and what are you employed as?
A: I got the job in January 1993. Now, I work as fitter-general. A promotion is awaited.
L: I totally forgot to ask you this – how did you learn to pose so well. That your students like ‘Mr. India’ Mohammed Abdullah and Federation Cup (Mr. India) Gopinath are fantastic at posing speaks volumes of your training and influence. Who was your guru in posing?
A: I always loved posing. A former champion by the name of Jayaprakash from Coimbatore taught me how to pose. I worked on it further as I liked to be called a good performer. I enjoyed posing and wanted the crowd to enjoy it too.
L: I am sure you would have received great applause for your posing routines. I remember reading about a particular expo at Kamarajar Arangam in 1999…
A: Of course, I can never forget that. Your guru ‘Olympia’ Jai (K.P. Jayakumar) was the person who organised that demo. It had the full ICF team, including Arasu, Kumarananthan, Gerald, Vasanth, Jegannathan and myself. It was a two-day expo and I posed on both days. My routine which was choreographed for A.R. Rehman’s ‘Vandemaataram’ received tremendous applause. I take this opportunity to thank Jai once again for giving me that chance. Another event where I received great applause was the Mr. South India held at Palakkad in 1993 or 1994. It was an open stage and there should have been at least 7,000 or 8,000 people among the audience. I have never seen such a mammoth crowd. I am still amazed that people sat in endless rows from where competitors on the stage would look like ants!!!
L: Will you encourage your son to become a bodybuilder?
A: I will…and at the same time, I will ensure that he doesn’t get carried away by persons who give him wrong advice. I will see to it that he doesn’t abuse his body. I actually competed and won titles for a while like a madman just because I wanted him to see those victories.
L: I don’t understand.
A: I didn’t like my son to see his father flex all those muscles in photographs alone. I didn’t want him to feel that his father was a has-been. I seriously trained after my son turned 3 or 4 years old and won more titles, becoming bigger and better – it was all for my son. He came and saw me win several contests.
L: Wow, this is like Bollywood Baadshah Shah Rukh Khan getting into shape for his son and flexing his muscles in Om Shanti Om. But, your story is older.
A: Oh, is that so? I admired Shah Rukh’s physique in those photographs but never knew this story. That is a nice one.
L: Who are your favourite body builders?
A: Among yesteryear champions, it is Frank Zane. I love him for his beautiful shape, muscularity and posing skill. Among current pro bodybuilders, it’s Dexter Jackson. As regards Indian champions, I like Prasad Kumar, T.V. Paulie and Nageshwaran.
L: Would you tell me names of your best students?
A: Mohammed Abdullah, Gopinath, ‘Royapuram’ Raja (Physically challenged Mr. India winner), Sarath Priyan (Junior national medalist), Karthik, Chinna Durai, Durairaj, Ramesh, Vinoth, Nehru, Ilango, Guru, Balasubramanyam, Radhakrishnan – all State and South India champions. One of my champions by name Jeetu has also won the nationals.
L: Now, moving a little away from bodybuilding, do you follow other sports?
A: I watch cricket, like everybody else does. I was a kabaddi player in school.
L: Do you watch movies? Who are your favourite actors?
A: (With a broad smile) I do. I actually did a main role in a film titled ‘Adhisaya Ulagam.’ Unfortunately, that movie is yet to be released. I couldn’t pursue a career in acting because I won’t be in a position to give dates whenever producers ask for because of my job. So….I kind of let it go. My favourite actors are Kamal Haasan and Surya.
L: Thanks for giving me so many details. Before wrapping it up, what message would you like to tell our readers?
A: Don’t abuse your bodies. If you take wise decisions, you will be happy and successful. Thanks for the interview, Lakshmi.
- C. Lakshmi Kumar