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Malavika’s Mumbaistan: A Wellness Pioneer

22 Jan 2023

With the unprecedented success and fame of being trainer to Miss India contestants under his belt, Mickey Mehta’s rise to pre-eminence in his field was a foregone conclusion.

Published in Hindustan Times

With the unprecedented success and fame of being trainer to Miss India contestants under his belt, Mickey Mehta’s rise to pre-eminence in his field was a foregone conclusion.

Backdrop: The late Nineties. Time: Mid-morning. Scene: A nondescript low-star hotel in Juhu.

Action: Under a blazing hot sun, a gaggle of 30 or so young women in leotards are being put through what looks like an intense boot camp, by a male instructor who has a striking resemblance to Freddy Mercury. The routine he commands is rigorous by any standard; they are required to jog in place, break into circuit training, followed by calisthenics then isometrics, then aerobics, then dancercises, and then start all over again.


Clad in similar attire, the girls are skinny, uniformly pretty and difficult to distinguish from one another. It is tiring just watching them; and just when I think they will collapse from sheer exhaustion, the instructor announces the day’s last routine — they will have to line up in a single file and run all the way up five floors to the hotel’s terrace through its narrow staircase and all the way down again, with 6 kgs of weight strapped on to their backs! This time I’m sure there will be a mutiny; but no, I watch incredulously as the girls muster up their last vestige of energy and queue up for their arduous hike up and down. “You’ll thank me when you’re wearing the crown,” their instructor calls cheerfully after them.


For these are no ordinary girls — each is a potential beauty queen and international pageant title holder, who is being put through rigorous training as a Miss India contestant. And the instructor is none other than Mickey Mehta who, along with a handful of elite nutritionists, cosmetologists, etiquette tutors orthodontists and even arts and culture gurus, has been tasked with polishing these rough diamonds into celebrated gems.


When he was nine years old, long before fitness became a byword and a brand and Talwalkars gymnasiums where sweaty beef cakes would pump iron on torturous machines was the only brush with fitness for many of us growing up in Mumbai, Mehta, who used to see his cousins working out at home, recalls asking his mother for a membership to a gym. It was a few days before his birthday and the most reasonable gym to be found had been the YMCA; but being underage, Mehta had been refused membership. “Disappointed, I came home with a long face and asked my parents to provide me some gym equipment at home,” he says. But again, there was to be disappointment. “Personal equipment cost a couple of thousands, and I realised that my parents’ salary was around a few hundred a month each,” he says.


It was then that his mother had suggested that he follow in the footsteps of his sister: “She is doing yoga at home, why don’t you look at her and learn?”


And that’s how Mehta’s tryst with fitness — which was to turn him in to a brand, a corporate entity and a household name and which in many ways mirrored the growth of Mumbai itself — began.


After completing school, he had joined a cousin’s martial arts academy and his formal orientation in fitness was to accelerate. “Normally one would do three one-hour classes a week, adding up to 12 hours a month, instead I did three-four classes a day, making it an 18-20 hours a week and almost a 80 hours a month,” he says, adding, “Thus, I got my black belt in around 18 months and somehow even found the time to enrol in programmes in various disciplines like health and nutrition with Dr Vijaya Venkat, and programmes in Naturecure, drugless therapies, calisthenics, agility drills and functional training, apart from my continued exploration of yoga and martial arts.”


To support this deep dive into holistic health, Mehta served various hotels as a health club manager, and it was on one such stint at a hotel in Oman where the former school swimming champion, who had been named by his father after the Hollywood star Mickey Rooney, found great success with his “Mickey Mehta’s Learn Swimming In 24 Hours” programme, which he later taught along with fitness and nutrition at a Juhu hotel for a few years, gaining much fame. That had led to him being signed on as one of the official instructors of the Miss India pageant, and from there, there was no looking back…


With the unprecedented success and fame of being trainer to Miss India contestants under his belt, Mehta’s rise to pre-eminence in his field was a foregone conclusion. Soon, his fitness empire straddled TV, radio, print and also digital media. Along the way, he pioneered the rise of the star personal trainer when he was signed on by some of the biggest names in India Inc, Bollywood and the corridors of Mantralaya; and professional engagements with the police, Army, Navy, Air Force, municipal corporation, immigration, customs and speaking invitations at leading educational institutions around the world followed, along with engagements across prestigious hospitals like The Tata Memorial and ambassadorships of campaigns like Fit India. Mehta had now become as rich and famous a name as some of the A-list clients who he trained.


And as a crowning achievement, next month along with his friend and celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor, Mehta will launch a book, his third, on a topic that’s on every one’s lips — immunity, making him, he says, another leading Parsi along with global immunity master Adar Poonawalla to address the subject.


 “Mickey Mehta’s uniqueness lies in his unique approach to fitness. While spirituality, work-life balance and health of the mind are buzzwords today, Micky has always approached fitness through the prism of wellness; even when he was training buff, overly muscular men for the Mr India pageant decades ago,” says Jamal Shaikh, editor of Brunch who had once helmed a leading fitness magazine.


This is what, Mehta says, his “Get Mickeymized” programme is about. “In the early Eighties, I had a choice to be just a martial arts/ fitness/ swimming / nutrition/ yoga coach… Instead of choosing one, I started propagating the concept of holistic health. It’s what I have been doing with corporates in the past year-and-a-half or two. It’s not about weight loss, it’s about evolution of the mind. Statistics say that today 45% of corporate executives need psychiatric help and 25% of them are already on psychiatric medicine and most of them are taking sleeping aids. Pressure and stress make people buckle in, crumble…,” he says.


Last week, when Mehta turned 60, the manner in which he spent his day was a paean to his holistic approach to wellness.


“I woke up with gratitude, bowed my head to the ground, surrendered to the will of Mother Nature,” he says. “Then, I lit some lamps at my altar and went to thank my mother and take her blessings.” Mehta spent the rest of the day attending to his clients and replying to thousands of messages that had poured in from friends and fans; and in the evening, he visited an old age home before returning to have dinner with his family.


“And then before I went to bed, I once again offered gratitude to Mother Nature for her blessings, and went to sleep energised, to get revitalised, and…”


“Mickeymized?” I prompt.

“Yes, to get Mickeymized,” says Mehta, smiling.


Published in Hindustan Times

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