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If anyone has seen Yalghaar’s trailer and newly released film poster, they’ll have seen that Bilal Ashraf looks like the kind of soldier one would feel safe with. He has a friendly smile, thanks to his dimples, but an intimidating persona thanks to his new, bulked up avatar. We caught up with the actor to discover how he got ready for the role of a life time. 18 stitches in the head and several broken bones later, Ashraf reveals that getting ready for Yalghaar was one of the toughest things he’s ever had to do.

“The most challenging thing for me with Yalghaar was staying fit. I had to bring myself down to 8 percent body fat. I trained with the SSG commandos. I fired live weapons, bombs, rockets. You name it and we’ve done it. I had to jump out of a helicopter. I don’t think anyone in Pakistan has ever done that. It’s taken a lot out of me but I’m very, very proud to be standing at this platform because I share screen space with some of our legends like Shaan Shahid, Humayun Saeed, Ayub Khoso and Adnan Siddiqui. I think Hassan Rana has done a fantastic job in bringing all these actors together for Pakistan,” he said.

Ashraf mentioned that he had to bring his body fat percentage from a regular and healthy 16 percent to an unnatural 8 percent. Was that a requirement of the role or something Ashraf decided to do on his own?

“I think it was a bit of both. My director wanted me to get extremely fit. When he said fit, I didn’t realize what he meant by ‘fit’. So I went for my first spell and I was sent back because I wasn’t fit enough. I regularly run 22 rounds of a cricket ground so I thought I was fit but it wasn’t that. I had to go through intense training with the SSG soldiers. I was living with them, eating what they eat and sleeping when they sleep. Hence, I was able to pull off everything that you’ll see me doing in the film.”

As commendable as this achievement is, we wonder how healthy it is to bring the body down to such a low fat percentage. The healthy range of a human body’s fat percentage is anywhere between 16 percent and 24 percent and Ashraf was dangling on a very low 8 percent. Is that something one can maintain on a long term basis? “Not for a long duration, no. But for short bursts it’s okay,” shared Ashraf, where he described that by short bursts, he meant a couple of months. “I brought myself down especially for the poster. I thought that Inshallah, aagey bachay dekhein gey,” he added jokingly.

In terms of diet, Ashraf shares that everything was different for this role of a lifetime. “I was on boiled food for two years. No salt, no bread.” But Ashraf reveals that the tough part wasn’t losing all the weight, which took him a mere 6 months. “The tough part is maintaining the weight. You have to work and shoot, people are eating around you and you have to control yourself and stick to your diet food. It’s tough.”

Did Ashraf avail the help of a nutritionist or a dietician? “I would like to mention my trainer, Faisal Butt, and Anil, my physiotherapist, who’ve been with me in all this. I’ve gotten a lot of injuries during this film. My head got busted open, I got 18 stitches. I broke my wrist. But it was all worth it.”

Ashraf concluded the conversation by giving some health tips. “Stay away from protein shakes. It messes up your stomach and gut. Please, don’t use steroids or protein shakes. Your kidneys are really affected by all this. Your life can get ruined if you mess up your health. Currently we have a lot of bodybuilders who don’t have the proper knowledge and it results in lots of deaths as well. Please keep it natural, keep it lean and keep it clean.”

  • This article was first published in Instep on Sunday, May 21 2017.