By Malayanil @themalayanil
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Videographer / Director: Deepak Thomas
Producer: Aamir Bashir, Chloe Browne, Neha Routela
Editor: Sonia Estal
Outside of the gym Ashwini Waskar looks like any other Indian girl-next-door.
But beneath her traditional dress, the 32-year-old has a rippling physique that is worshiped onstage at prestigious bodybuilding competitions.
Just a year ago Ashwini was overweight and unhappy with her body.
But after embarking on a gruelling weightlifting routine and a high-protein diet she shed the extra pounds and developed impressive rock-hard muscles.
Ashwini has now quit her job as a senior research fellow at the Central Institute of Fisheries Education to concentrate on bodybuilding.
But the transition from career-girl to bodybuilder has caused controversy in Ashwini’s home city of Mumbai, with revealing competition attire causing a stir in the community.
Ashwini, who now works as a personal trainer, said: “While working I was becoming really overweight, so to maintain my fitness level I joined a gym.
“Out of enthusiasm I used to lift heavy weights and I followed a rich protein diet. That’s how my body became really strong”.
In February 2013 Ashwini attended a male bodybuilding competition and was captivated by the sport.
She said: “An announcement was being made there about the upcoming first national level female bodybuilding competition and they were asking if anybody wants to participate.
"So I thought 'why not give it a try?'”
Ashwini had just ten days to prepare - and had to persuade her wary father to allow her to don the skimpy bikinis bodybuilders are required to wear.
She said: “Nobody said 'why are you doing it? This is not meant for females' - neither my family nor my friends and colleagues.
"The only problem was to get into the sportswear, which was very revealing.”
Her brother Niranjan - who is now a big supporter of Ashwini's bodybuilding - added: "When I heard that shorts were worn in the competition I was a little worried. We are a middle class family."
After careful consideration, Ashwini’s father, Bhalchandra Waskar, decided to support his daughter.
Bhalchandra said: “The clothing is a part of the sport, a part of exercise. This is not something random, you are not selling your body, you are showing the world what you have earned.”
And with her family behind her, Ashwini has gone on to compete in seven bodybuilding contests – including an international competition.
But unlike male competitors, Ashwini has struggled to find sponsorship, leaving her father to foot most of the bill.
Bhalchandra even sold a treasured gold chain so that Ashwini could compete and now hopes that she can begin to make a profit from her hard work.
He said: “It is okay if no one helps my daughter. I am ready to sell everything, as long as she competes and places in the top three at competitions.”
Ashwini is extremely optimistic about the future of female bodybuilding in India and hopes to inspire other women to compete.
She said: “Girls are coming into bodybuilding and some women are being inclined towards fitness.
“I would really love to train a girl who comes up to me with a wish of participating in competitions.”
Ashwini hopes to get married in the future, but insists that her future husband respects her choice to compete in what is a predominantly male sport in India.
She said: “I am also waiting for family who will give respect to my fitness and bodybuilding career rather than telling me to stop it after marriage.
“I am a proud Indian girl. I want someone with an open mindset.”