Heartthrob Bilal Ashraf made jaw drops with his fitness transformation that premiered with his film Superstar.
Here he speaks with Mehek Raza Rizvi about the gruelling process and what being fit means to him
The last time we spoke, you mentioned how hard you were training to get fitter for your role in Superstar. The effort has evidently paid off and youâ€™ve received a lot of praise for it. How does it feel to have achieved your goal?
Well, I donâ€™t know about praise, but it does feel great to have accomplished something I put hard work in. The fitness of my character, Sameer Khan, or the song â€œDharak Bharakâ€ may seem like a very small aspect of the movie in its entirety, but it took a year to achieve.
Itâ€™s always good to be healthy and in shape, so itâ€™s something that benefited me on a personal level too. At the end of the day, nothing tastes as good as a six-pack feels.
Run us through your training routine. What specific role did diet play in the process?
My training routine looked different every day, based on my work schedule. There were days I trained three times a day, but then there were also days I skipped. In fact, the last 20-21 days I couldnâ€™t train at all, because I was constantly shooting â€œSuperstarâ€ and had no energy by the time I would get done.
To be completely honest, Iâ€™d say training is definitely important, but only 20%-30% of the process. The real key is nutrition. I was on a very strict diet with limited water, controlled food and no sugar. Itâ€™s pretty scientific and calculated. All credit goes to my trainer, Faisal Shafi, for pushing and pulling me in the right direction.
Was working on your fitness a requirement communicated to you by the makers of the film or was this a personal impulse?
It was a bit of both. My director, Ehtesham bhai and producer, Momina Duraid, both thought it would add an interesting facet to Sameerâ€™s character. I was on the same page.
How did you stay motivated? What advice would you give others to stay on track?
The easiest way to stay motivated is to set a goal and then determine a timeline for it. It could be for anythingâ€”getting fit, achieving something in your professional or personal lifeâ€”whatever it is that you want to work on. Start working backwards once you have your eyes set on the end result and itâ€™ll help you stay focused. Thatâ€™s what worked for me. Although, I wish I had more time to rest while I was on my fitness journey. Off days are extremely important when trying to build a physique, but I think thatâ€™s where Faisal really held me together.
How do you feel life has changed after adopting a healthier lifestyle?
Iâ€™ve packed on a few kilos now that the film is out and Iâ€™m not being as careful with my diet. However, once you know what it feels like to be fit and wake up with a six-pack every day, you can never completely go back to old, unhealthy patterns. Your mind is constantly pushing you to beat your last accomplishment and set new goals.
Adopting a healthier lifestyle has been life changing for sure. I have more energy, I feel less lethargic and get more done in a day. Honestly, I donâ€™t crave junk food or anything unhealthy anymore. Itâ€™s not just about looking a certain way, being cognisant of what youâ€™re consuming is valuable for your heart, your mind and every other bodily function. Feeling stronger is a great feeling.
When celebrities give in to the pressure of looking a certain way, it curbs the conversation on body positivity. How do you respond to that criticism?
If an actor loses or gains weight for a role, theyâ€™re just doing their job. Itâ€™s our responsibility to do justice to the project weâ€™ve signed and get into character to the best of our abilities. In no way does it signify we endorse body exclusivity. Our transformations may also be temporary, just to fit the characters we portray. The intention is never to set an ideal or make the audience feel pressured. At the end of the day weâ€™re playing someone else on camera, not ourselves.
â€œItâ€™s our responsibility to do justice to the project weâ€™ve signed and get into character to the best of our abilities. In no way does it signify we endorse body exclusivityâ€
Whatâ€™s next after Superstar?
Lots of travelling and rest. I also want to give time to my family.
Is not appearing on TV a conscious decision? Can your fans expect to see you in a drama serial any time soon?
Itâ€™s not a conscious decision. If Iâ€™m offered a drama serial that touches my heart, of course Iâ€™ll do it. As of now, however, I havenâ€™t come across anything that I felt as strongly about, as I do about cinema.
So many celebrities went public with their relationships this year. Is marriage on the cards for you anytime soon?
I guess youâ€™ll have to wait and find out!
Janaan, Yalghaar, Rangreza or Superstar?
Mahira Khan, Armeena Khan or Urwa Hocane â€“ your favourite costar?
Biggest lesson you learnt this year?
No matter how much you promote a film, or how big a cast you have, at the end of the day, good content is all that counts
A secret trick you use to ward off the nerves before a shoot?
Listening to good music and surrounding myself with the right kind of people
Favourite song from Superstar?
â€œBekaraan.â€ It was the first song we shot and also the first time I shared screen space with Mahira
â€œAt the end of the day, nothing tastes as good as a six-pack feelsâ€
â€œKisi cheez ko pakray rakhna â€“ umeed; kisi cheez ko chorh dena â€“ yaqeenâ€ (To keep holding on to something is hope; letting go of it is faith)
Who would you say are your closest friends in the industry?
Iâ€™ve become very close to my â€œSuperstarâ€ family â€“ Ehtesham bhai, Mahira, Azaan Sami Khan and everyone else. Apart from them, Gohar Rasheed is very dear to me, as are Armeena Khan and Kubra Khan
The last time you lost your cool?
During a promotional shoot for â€œSuperstar.â€ It was a really stressful day and we were functioning on very little sleep
The most outrageous rumor youâ€™ve heard about yourself?
That Iâ€™m married and have children
Interview by Mehek Raza Rizvi
Photography by Shahbaz Shazi
Most of us have the urge to get fit, but very few have the motivation to follow through. What drove you to adopt a healthy lifestyle?Â
The moment I turned thirty, I realised being overweight made me susceptible to multiple health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure and knee/joint pains. The thought of having to deal with any of the aforementioned ailments or letting the quality of life I lead get affected is what scared and motivated me to get into shape.
How often do you work out and what exactly do you do at the gym?
For the first six to eight months I used to workout five days a week, but now Iâ€™ve cut it down to three days a week. My training includes a combination of everything and I seriously never know what my trainer has planned for the day. I trust him completely and he decides what exercises I should be doing.
Did you make any major changes in your relationship with food?Â
Diet is the main element if you want to shed weight. I strongly believe 80% of the process includes monitoring nutrition, while 20% is exercise. I didnâ€™t follow any specific diet plan but changed my eating habits completely. Iâ€™ve shifted to healthier options and avoid carbs. You need to do something thatâ€™s sustainable and make it a lifestyle.
Whatâ€™s your take on fad diets like keto?Â
I havenâ€™t tried keto myself, but know people who have and the results are phenomenal. Personally, I donâ€™t think fad diets are for me though; they just donâ€™t make sense or appeal to me. I feel there are no shortcuts if you want long-term results.
Drastic transformations involve a change in your lifestyle for good, so itâ€™s better to adopt eating habits that are realistic and maintainable.
Your transformation is incredible. How long did it take you to get to your current weight?Â
Iâ€™ve been working out regularly since two years and started watching what I eat a year and a half ago. Weight loss isnâ€™t an overnight process.
Do you still have any fitness goals to achieve?Â
Yes, of course. I want to lose another ten kilos.
Have you managed to drop a steady amount each month or were there times it got frustrating?
It gets frustrating every now and then. For example, my weight hasnâ€™t dropped in the past five months. Itâ€™s like Iâ€™m stuck. One canâ€™t lose hope and give up though.
How do you manage to remain consistent? Are there days you lose motivation?Â
There are definitely days when I feel lazy. However, if I end up skipping a day at the gym, I try to make up for it by controlling my diet more than usual and not eating carbs at all.
How do you think your life has changed after your transformation?Â
I was always very comfortable in my skin, even when I was overweight. So I wouldnâ€™t say my confidence got a boost, but Iâ€™ve seen an immense change in how people view me now.
What advice would you give to those struggling with their weight?
You need to be consistent and ready to work hard. Thereâ€™s no magic potion or shortcut to losing weight. Change your entire lifestyle and make peace with it.
Interview by Mehek Raza Rizvi
Who says gymwear has to be boring? With fitness being on everyoneâ€™s mind nowadays, athleisure is on the rise. Browse through for some funky looks
Models: Arsalan Ihsan & Tara Rajput
Concept & Photography: Arslan Manzoor at 360 Degrees
Wardrobe: MANGO at AK Galleria, Haraka & Koyo by Lulusar
Styling: Areesha Chaudhry
Hair & Makeup: Mansoor Khan at 360 degrees
Coordination: Murrad Rahim Khan at 360 Degrees