The Ten Best is Film Companion’s monthly series, a cheeky but incisive curation of niche scenes in Indian cinema by the FC Editorial team.
I love to workout, not because of how it makes me feel while I am stretching, or running, or weeping in sumo-squat. I love to workout because of how it makes me feel afterwards, staring at my side-profile in the mirror to see if the elusive abs have surfaced. I love cinema too, but for the opposite reason — not as much as how it makes me feel afterwards, but how it makes me feel while I am watching it.
This is a list of these two things that I love, together — workouts in cinema that have stayed with me long after the marathon was run, for odd reasons. These workout “scenes” could be song-length or as you will notice, not more than a few seconds of screen time. But if doing planks has taught us anything, it is that time is only a construct.
1) The (S)exercise Song in Prem Aggan
This song, and perhaps this movie itself, was popularized among Gen-Z by Pretentious Movie Reviews (talk about the cultural impact of criticism), and we are all the more grateful for that. The entire song is an obvious exercise in double meaning, but we are not sure if sex is the implied or the intended meaning. You know, like your friend who cracks lewd jokes and thinks he is being subtle about it, but really, he might as well have a penis sketched on his forehead.
Are we going to make fun of this?
Are we going to listen to it on loop?
2) Salman Khan’s Temple-Gym in Garv
Imagine our dearest shirtless Sallu flexing his dumbbell-stressed muscles in an open gym in his edenic garden. Now imagine his mother (who else but Farida Jalal), poking her maternally affectionate nose in, to ask, “Tu abhi tak mandir nahin gaya?”
Trust Salman Khan to get on his knees (this is his mother we are talking about, you dumpster heads) and kneel in prayer. A confused Jalal wonders why his son is doing a full squat-kneel in front of him. Khan clarifies, “Dekh nahin rahe ho ma, mein apne bhagwan ki pooja kar raha hoon.” The temple and the dumbbell have forever fused into one in my head, and for that I have aadarniya beta Salman Khan to thank.
3) Patricidal Workout in Dangal
Nothing like some old-school patricidal emotions to go with the post-workout adrenaline. Amitabh Bhattacharya’s witty, rhyming lyrics (Sote jagte chhoot rahi hai / Aansu ki pichkari / Phir bhi khush na hua Mogambo / Hum tere balihari) go very well with the imposed feminism of Aamir Khan as Mahavir Singh Phogat, training his two daughters (Zaira Wasim, Suhani Bhatnagar) to compete in wrestling, often seen as the lair of men. It’s both endearing and worrying, crafting an entire song out of the pain that exercising produces without showing us the relief of dopamine that comes afterwards.
4) Barbells Transformed Into Lover in I
We have seen in movies, when people fall in love, they begin to see their lover’s face in everyone they meet. Shankar takes this one notch up (and feminists could argue several notches down) by making the lead actor, Vikram, see his lover, Amy Jackson, in all objects he encounters — from a Nokia phone, to a bike, to sprouts, and even the water bubbles from the nearby dhobi ghat.
But the best, shocking and thus most enduring image from the song, and even the largely forgettable movie, was when the gym obsessed lover, while lifting barbells with weights plugged on both ends, suddenly finds it transformed into his lover, Jackson wearing an outfit resembling the weights covering what must be covered, as they sway hips to Rahman’s techno beats. My eyes still pop at the sheer audacity and fun of this.
5) Beachside Manish Malhotra Outfitted Zumba in Rangeela
This was Ram Gopal Varma’s sexy-workout phase, before he axed the y and moved into the sex-workout phase. Right before Naach came Rangeela. Urmila Matondkar’s zumba with red frills attached to her hips, more sexible than flexible, brought oomph to poses which would turn most people into jelly. The Manish Malhotra red against the Bombay blue beach, and the unabashed fun and sexuality she inheres makes this workout seem more ooh than uuh. Forever grateful to the oomph goddess of yore.
6) Lakshya in Lakshya
The best kind of workout scenes, for me, are the ones that are inspirational without making you feel like shit. (Like the Tiger Shroff ones that make you look down at the tyres of stomach layering up, as he moonwalks on fire, carbs asunder.) The ones with accompanying music you can blare into your ears as you sweat into your treadmill. Lakshya’s title track is perfect. It is both transformational and inspirational. The song tells the story of a lost soul, played by Hrithik Roshan, who finally finds purpose in his life, through Javed Akhtar’s poetry strung to Shankar-Ehsan-Loy’s music. Get to the chorus, and I guarantee you’d want to increase the speed and incline on that treadmill, with a stoic Roshan’s image in army uniform.
7) Gym Sex in 4 More Shots Please
If health websites are to be trusted, on average, a 24 minute session of sex can burn as much as 100 calories for men, and 70 calories for women. I gather that the numbers would be switched around in this scene from Four More Shots Please, because Bani J who plays the gym trainer seems to be doing most of the heavy-lifting here while slamming her man against the locker room. The gym is perfect for sex, so the fantasy goes, and like the show itself, the scene takes us into that fantasy, as the CCTV video voyeuristically captures the carbs burnt in the locker room. It’s also why you don’t get a corresponding GIF for this workout.
8) The Mating Dance In Jodha Akbar
What starts of Jodhabai’s (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) sword-practice in the courtyard turns into a peacock mating dance when Akbar (Hrithik Roshan) takes over as her opponent, the talwar as their treadmill. This is helped by Ashutosh Gowarikar’s geometric articulation of space, and wind as a wing-man, blowing hair away, fabrics fluttering till, like a blessing, it falls on the two of them. The sexual tension in this scene, where the desire to showcase physical prowess, and desecrate the opponent who also happens to be the lover, is palpably erotic even as all clothes stay on, sweat stained.
9) Swimming In Dil Dhadakne Do
It’s entirely silent, when they first meet, except for the dog’s voiceover. Ranveer Singh and Anushka Sharma swim laps back and forth, towards and then away from each other in the chlorinated turquoise pool of the luxury ship. No goggles, no rubber caps (the other rubber caps will come in handy as the film progresses), abs and eyeliner intact, shot with such perfection that the water drops that hang on to Sharma’s ears look like earrings. My rubber floaters never did the trick with my cute neighbour in the past, I should try the Singh’s abs next time. It seems to charmed her pants off. His were quite low anyways, always on the precipice of nudity.
10) Forehead Kisses And Yoga-Stretch Hisses in OK Kanmani
When the 1 minute teaser for ‘Aye Sinamika’ dropped, I was struck, playing it on loop like the rat pulling the reward-seeking lever again-and-again. Yoga is lovely, love is lovelier. And the two, strung to Rahman’s music at its liminal best, showing a regular, modern Mumbai live-in couple, living life, just felt like a cool summer breeze. Adi’s antics as Tara stretches (Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menen), being lathered with forehead kisses and providing distractions, is just too beautiful. Sign me up for some Yoga!