If Sonakshi Dabangg Sinha is a knockout as a boxer in her upcoming release Holiday, she has a Calcuttan to thank for helping her pack a Laila Ali punch.
Champion boxer Mujtaba Kamal, who until a few months ago was a trainer at Gold’s Gym in Alipore, has swiftly made the transition from a gym consultant to a celebrity coach with Sonakshi as his star student.
The 30-year-old, who started boxing at 10 in a Kidderpore club, came under the arc lights through Sanjay Dutt and Raj Kundra’s Super Fight League and hasn’t looked back since. “My friend Abbas Ali, who’s a trainer in Mumbai, invited me to try my luck here. Abbas has trained many celebrities over the past nine years. I work with him at Bodyholics, which Shahid Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha and many other Bollywood celebrities frequent. I train them in boxing while Abbas does the functional training,” Kamal told Metro from Mumbai.
Sonakshi, who has lost a lot of weight, enjoyed her boxing classes for Holiday so much that she has continued training beyond the film. “I have been training her for five months. There is no fixed schedule, sometimes it’s once a week, sometimes twice a week, it all depends on her schedule. She likes boxing. It’s great training her; she is very humble, sweet and a good learner. I don’t have to say much and it’s fun teaching her,” the proud coach of Shatrughan Sinha’s daughter said.
Kamal, who won 11 medals in 12 national championships and represented India at various international events till 2005, had been unsure about training a Bollywood star. But Sonakshi put him at ease. “I was a bit nervous as she is a big celebrity. But she has been quite easy to work with. She has no attitude and is down to earth. She has never called me by name, always addressing me as ‘Sir’,” Kamal said.
In Holiday, a remake of the 2012 Tamil film Thuppakki, Sonakshi plays a college-level boxer. So, bye-bye “masala hips” (ref: Priyanka Chopra on Koffee With Karan) and hello boxing gloves, opposite Akshay Kumar for the fifth time in her four-year career.
Kamal had designed a training regimen that wouldn’t strain her, only to discover that his celebrity student was above average. “I had started with the basics like footwork and the straight punch, hook and upper cut. I was surprised by her grasping power, she is a fast learner. Her footwork is very good and her favourite punch is the upper cut. Normally, fitness-level boxing is different but I am giving her professional-level training as she is enjoying it.”
A typical session with Kamal starts with warm-up drills like skipping and co-ordination moves, followed by skills training. Apart from Sonakshi, he is presently training Nikitin Dheer (Thangaballi of Chennai Express), stand-up comic and actor Vir Das and Marathi actress Sai Tamhankar.
Kamal credits his professional success to his rigorous training as a kid and then as a young boxer aiming to turn professional. “I used to train at the Kidderpore School of Physical Culture and my coach was Sheikh Mehrajuddin (popularly known as Cheena),” he recalled.
After winning several national events and boxing for India, Kamal tried to get a break as a professional abroad, including Singapore and Bangkok. “I shifted to Hong Kong in 2007 and worked there as a boxing coach for a year. I always wanted to get into professional boxing. I went to Singapore in 2010 and joined the Vanda Boxing Club. I became the head coach there for corporate fights (white-collar boxing). I was there for six to seven months,” he said.
He returned to Calcutta “to do something different” and sent his training videos to various places while looking for a job. One of the videos reached the promoters of the Super Fight League, which invited him to a 10-day session in Nashik. “I got a call from them saying that I had been selected to be one of the coaches for the league,” said Kamal.
Muhammad Ali and Naseem Hamed are Kamal’s boxing heroes. “I like their style and confidence. Normally, when you box, you got to have your guard up, but they never did. My coach would always scold me for it, but I like to box with my guard down too!” he said, ready to make his own rules.
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