Something happened in 1994. I do not know exactly what. But if my research is accurate, it was in that year that people started using the term “six-pack” in reference to the human anatomy. Before 1994, the term “six-pack”, with or without hyphen or intervening space, meant many things; most famously, it stood for a pack of six beer bottles or cans held together with a plastic webbing of rings, or a paper carrier.
But it did not mean that thing that Shah Rukh Khan, Suriya or any of the other abdo-men shamelessly flaunt these days.
The six-pack phenomenon in India took off after Shah Rukh Khan’s Dard-e-Disco
Yet in a span of 16 years the six-pack abdomen has come to mean so much to so many men, and some adventurous women. It has become a visual certificate of physical fitness. A stamp of approval that says: “This individual has the time, determination and prosperity to artfully sculpt individual sets of muscles in his body. Imagine how his/her other muscles must operate. There is no need to think. You must procreate with this individual as soon as possible. Perhaps right now.”
In the Indian context, the six-pack phenomenon really took off thanks to that hideous song, Dard-e-Disco, from the otherwise delightful movie Om Shanti Om. Till then, while physical fitness was displayed and appreciated in films, in the form of Dharmendra, Salman Khan, or Suniel Shetty in his pre-extra-e period, it was always done so in a vague, amorphous sense. Yes, the hero was topless and he looked mighty fine, but there was no need to go into specifics. His fitness was collectively complete rather than specifically perfect. Example: Dharmendra’s towel and testosterone scene in Pyar Hi Pyar.
Shah Rukh Khan and Farah Khan made the Dard-e-Disco song exclusively about the former’s rectus abdominis muscle. And with that, they pushed the movie star over the fence. On this side of the fence were the vast majority of leading men: some pudgy, some thin, a few topless. And on the other side of the fence were abdomens and sex.
For many men in this country, this was the final wholesale violation of the decades-old pact between male movie watcher and male movie star.
Till the early 1990s, especially in the Malayalam movie industry I was most exposed to, heroes came in two sizes. There were the extremely thin, scrawny men with shirts open at the chest (pathetic) and there were the pudgy, full-bellied stars with shirts open at the chest (traumatic).
Yet viewers appreciated both completely. Many Malayalis, in fact, developed convenient shorthand to describe heroes who they admired, despite clear issues with metabolism or body mass index: “personality”.
“Yes, yes, Sukumaran is looking very fat in this movie. But what personality he has!” (it is hard to describe what “personality” really stood for. Most likely, it was a combination of hairstyle, voice, cut of collar, style of walking and fullness of moustache).
Thankfully, even the women bought into the cult of “personality”. This had many appreciable bar-lowering effects on the wedding and college romance markets. Viewer and actor were happy.
And then this whole six-pack abs thing happened. I speak for many men when I say we are upset by this trend.
Not just because we can no longer fall back on humour and sensitivity, but also because six packs are ridiculously hard to sculpt.
I am yet to meet a single person who is between abdomens—that is, between a family pack and a six pack. Either they have six, eight or even 10 packs. Or they spend their entire lives in futility trying to get some.
The problem is that unlike CAT coaching classes or Vedic mathematics lessons, you can’t just focus on one aspect of the body. You can’t let your butt and thighs go and focus all your workouts on your abs. The first step to a six-pack is to reduce fat everywhere.
The body, if you think about it, functions like the Sensex. You can’t boost it by just buying or selling one stock. You need to dabble in all of them. Similarly, you have to lose weight all over— butt, arms, thighs, double chins— before your abs will begin to adopt any shape.
And once you look like Dharmendra in Pyar Hi Pyar, then you start focusing on turning into Suriya or Shah Rukh Khan.
All this takes too long for anyone who has a job, a family or an iPhone with games on it, to achieve. I request all readers to focus, instead, on more achievable goals. Maybe an occasional run or swim would be good. Diet control is desirable.
But do all this not for your abs, but for your general well-being. Then one day, like Mohanlal and me, you will achieve an excellent personality.