Bloomberg Businessweek

Selling Muscles In Mumbai

As India gets fat, the Talwalkars gym chain aims to get huge
Rush hour at a Mumbai Talwalkars

One Friday morning in Mumbai, Madhukar Talwalkar, the 84-year-old director of the largest gym chain in India, enters the 206th and newest branch of his empire and pauses in front of a metal idol. Every Talwalkars fitness center contains a depiction of Hanuman, a monkey-shaped deity who, according to legend, once lifted a mountain. “He is a highly respected god,” Talwalkar says, admiring the figurine. “The god of strength.” Traditional depictions of Hanuman are stout and brawny, but this one is nearly steroidal, with a bulging V-shaped torso and two melonlike biceps. Talwalkar’s sculptor put Hanuman’s head on the body of a winner of the Mr. Maharashtra bodybuilding competition.

In the gym’s workout space, a dozen middle-aged Indians labor with trainers, as junior staff mop sweat from the floor. Three coaches wait impatiently for a group of panting women in saris to resume their situps, and a heavyset man in a polo shirt walks calmly on a late-model treadmill, which lets him escape Mumbai’s smoggy chaos for a simulated path through crisp Munich.

Talwalkar, who is 5 feet 4 inches, rushes past the customers and into an office, where he leans back in a chair and details his own fitness regimen. He’s one of 1,000 or so people in the world, he says, “who have never missed exercise.” Talwalkar works out at least once every day—sometimes in the middle of the night or on the side of the road, usually dressed in nothing but a bodybuilding slip. “I call it prayer,” he says. “If someone comes to visit me while I am doing exercise, my wife tells him, ‘He is in prayer,’ and nobody ever questions that.”

Across the subcontinent, Talwalkar is known as the entrepreneurial godfather of Indian fitness—something like Joe Gold, the bodybuilding fanatic who launched Gold’s Gym in California, but with the ebullience of TV fitness icon Jack LaLanne. While U.S. gym culture has thrived since the 1970s, India’s fitness industry was almost nonexistent until recently, when it exploded. Since the mid-2000s, the so-called modern gym sector has grown almost 30 percent, and the Talwalkars brand is dominant even as Western companies enter the market. “Our name,” Talwalkar

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