At the audition, Shibla thought she wouldn’t have a chance. All around her were overweight women, just as the casting call had asked for. Shibla, who was then slightly above average weight, was not sure if she would be considered suitable. But surprisingly, the team that auditioned her asked if she could put on some weight.
Shibla had nothing to think about – yes, she said. When Kakshi: Amminippilla released, therefore, we saw a much heavier Shibla play Kanthi, disliked by the man she’s newly married to -- mainly because of her weight and also because he was forced into it.. It took Shibla four months to gain those 20 kgs, and just as long to lose it afterward.
“I was very impressed by the genuineness of the team. Sanilesh ettan (scriptwriter) used to say he wrote the characters of Amminippilla and Kanthi with his heart and to ask him any doubts I had about her. Kanthi is very happy about herself,” Shibla says, in an interview. Shibla studied Kanthi so deeply that to put on weight, she didn’t go about it the healthy way – she munched on sweets that she knew her character loved. She ate everything she had previously restricted herself from having.
“I was an overweight student in school. So even when I did school plays and won prizes for my acting, I didn’t think I could make it as an actor. That was the idea that society had always fed us, that to be in showbiz, you had to be slim and fair,” Shibla says.
Shibla, after losing the weight she gained for Kakshi: Amminippilla
She became an anchor on television instead and did small roles in movies that friends called her for – Cinema Company, Love 24x7. But then, movies in recent years have been throwing all stereotypes to the wind. There are middle-aged heroines, overweight ones, the colour of the skin not mattering as much as it did previously. Shibla waited for her day to come. And when it did, she hugged Kanthi close, calling the character the second-best thing that’s happened to her – the first being her son.
Few in Malayalam cinema have done what Shibla did. Mohanlal once played the obese Uncle Bun, but he was made up to look huge and had not gained 50 kgs for the role. Mammootty who played dad and son in the 1990 film Pampara looked double the size as the older man, but again, it was more stuffing than actual weight gain.
It is in recent years that actors have begun to seriously alter their bodies for the roles they play. For instance, Rajisha Vijayan went through a rigorous gym routine to lose weight for her schoolgirl character in June. She also famously chopped off her precious and much-admired long hair for the role. Jayasurya, known to go to any extent to play his characters with authenticity, once lost a lot of weight to be the unhealthy patient in Apothecary, and went through other difficult procedures to play a trans woman in Njan Marykutty. In the Tamil industry, Vikram lost about 25 kgs for the film I in 2015. Anushka Shetty gained 20 kgs for her role in the Tamil-Telugu bilingual Size Zero. She is said to have eaten healthily for the weight gain and refused to wear a fat suit for the role. And later, she went through a strict diet and exercise regime for her subsequent movies Baahubali the Conclusion and Bhaagamathie. Anushka also recently co-authored the book The Magic Weight-Loss Pill: 62 Lifestyle Changes.
Jayasurya in Apothecary and Rajisha in June
Shibla is also very sure that she doesn’t want to do another role like Kanthi. It was worth all the pains she took – going straight to the gym after the filming got over, doing all the weight training and cardio and following a no-sugar, no-carb diet till she was 63 kg (she was 87kg during the film). “The next one, I hope will be as far away from Kanthi as possible. There are so many different stories to tell. And you can use your body as a tool for it.”
"It is not advisable for anyone to gain or lose a large scale of weight in a short span of time," says Kochi-based nutritionist Priyadarshini. “I would say about 3 and a half kgs a month with a proper diet plan and exercise should be all right. But losing (or gaining) 10 kg a month is not possible unless you go for some 1000 calorie diet, which is not at all advisable. What you first lose is your water content, and then there could be muscle loss and only after that do you lose fat. In the case of women, it would also affect their menstrual cycle. When you work out too hard you are being harsh on your body.”
However, Priyadarshini adds that altering your weight over a period of time and following a healthy diet should not be a problem. Shibla gained and lost her 20 kgs over a period of four months each time, and with the help of a trainer (to lose the extra weight).