Joining forces for this fully-packed new film—an experimental cut from a beefier feature documentary—directorial partners Hijra Collective and Elliott Gonzo set out to define one of India's fastest growing sporting obsessions: the engrossing world of professional bodybuilding.
Heading to the now legendary GM Fitness gym in India's southwestern state of Tamil Nadu, the London-based filmmaking crew met Aji—one of the area's up-and-coming stars—who led them through the complex and bombastic world of male bodybuilding competitions. All across India, men such as Aji are rejecting tradition in favor of a still poorly understood and niche sport that requires not only immense dedication, but flowing money. The protein-rich diet and relentless training sessions necessary to succeed can have a major toll on the men's bodies, bank balances, and relationships.
"For the young Tamil athletes, training and competition is everything—regardless of the skepticism felt by many of their friends and family," explain the directorial collaborators. "Bodybuilding provides a window into the aspirations of a new generation, who are willing to turn their backs on tradition and compete for a better life—even if it means sacrificing their health—in an uncertain and increasingly complicated world."
Having made two trips to India, Tight(ish) represents a taster for a fuller documentary, named Tight, which is currently in post-production. "This short gives a sense of the visual language for the forthcoming feature." Mist-soaked rainforests, oiled skin, and sensorial romps through Tamil markets merge together, highlighting the intense stimulation of the bodybuilding universe. At the same time, the collaborators point out that while the industry is clearly booming, what this means for masculinity and modernity in twenty-first century India is less clear. "As globalization rapidly transforms India's traditional, conservative society, young men are increasingly responding to a crisis of masculinity by attempting to shape themselves into superhuman muscle men.
"But can this provide them with the power, prestige, women, and wealth that they desire?"
"Bodybuilding is an art—and I'm an artist"
Photographer and Hijra Collective member Mark Leaver accompanied the crew to capture the Tamil bodybuilders in full training mode