“First things first, we do not offer fake brainless fight scenes,” declared the website of Aatish Academy for Performing Xtreme Arts about its fight choreography class. What they do offer are lessons on how to be a bad-ass on screen, even if you have no experience in martial arts. As I replayed sweaty clips of Kill Bill and Deewar in my mind, I realised that faux fighting would be a good way to burn a few calories. So I signed up for a class in the art of staged fighting one recent afternoon.
The Aatish Academy occupies an airy, spartan classroom on the second floor of the Andheri Sports Complex. It was empty except for an oversized punching bag and a huge red-and-blue foam mat. The previous session was just winding up and as I waited, a damsel grew increasingly distressed as she desperately dodged the trainer’s punches. My excitement gave way to a sense of foreboding.
Aatish Shaikh, the founder of the academy, is a martial artist and fight choreographer with credits a mile long. “At our academy we have a blend of traditional and contemporary forms of fighting,” he said. “The style taught here is a blend of kung fu, karate, kickboxing and self-defence moves.” The objective is to get students to focus on “the art of combat” instead of following the rules laid down by tradition, he said. But it all seemed too real for me and I wondered if I had signed up for the right class.
After a respectful bow to the teacher, I was put through a standard warm-up to exercise all my joints, followed by some stretching and bending. “It is very important for an actor to be flexible and to have a basic training before attempting a fight scene,” said Shaikh. “And they are realising the importance of such classes. From six in the morning to evening I conduct classes for so many television actors. Rakhi [Sawant] also comes here regularly.” Well, if Rakhi can do it, so can I.
The first step is to learn the fighting stance, the position from which all moves start and end. “In a real fight, you hold your hands up like this,” said Shaikh, holding his fists up to his face from an imaginary opponent. “But this is reel life, so we want to see your face.” He dropped his fists to shoulder level. The next step is learning how to throw a punch. “There are three punches called a jab, a cross punch and an elbow move,” he said. “Remember, the important part is to look like you’re putting all your energy into throwing that punch.”
He then taught me three kicks and four basic blocks that really got me going. I lunged across the floor, putting everything I had into my kicks. I swung my fists at the head of an invisible opponent and pulled what I thought was a smooth, backward dip to avoid blows. Suddenly, I found myself making strangely guttural noises. That’s when Shaikh yelled, “Break”, and I collapsed on to the multicoloured foam mat.
Now that I’d learnt the basics Shaikh demonstrated a sequence of moves with his assistant. That’s when things began to get scary. As one yelled and swung his arm, the other ducked and stepped back and then lunged forward with a lethal kick. It all looked quite dramatic and if one person moved in the wrong direction, the pain, I was assured, would be all too real.
So I practised: straight kick, block, jab, cross punch, duck and kick again. Shaikh encouraged me to go higher and sharper. I was beginning to get a little dizzy. As my legs began to tire, my kicks got lower and lower. All too soon, it was show time. I punched, Shaikh blocked, I kicked, he yelped with pain and then with a final punch he groaned and landed flat on the ground. He was motionless.
It didn’t matter that it was all an act. The sparring felt primal and though I hadn’t landed a single blow, my body felt purged. Though the session felt as much like an acting class as a fitness workout, Shaikh said that regular classes thrice a week provide as much of a workout as a kickboxing class. In addition to burning the calories, the classes also improve hand-eye coordination, timing, flexibility and balance. We didn’t get around to rolls and falls, but after a two-hour session I didn’t think my body could take anymore. Maybe the moves aren’t real but the energy that goes into mastering them is anything but fake.
Log onto www.aatishacademy.com or call +91 96191 22792 for details. R1,000 for a one-hour session of fight choreography.
By Neha Sumitran on March 02 2012 2.07pm