While Nanjiani underwent a physical transformation to play a god superhero in the 2021 film, he had to come to terms with long-lingering issues related to food consumption.
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“Growing up, I was sort of raised to believe that the body was bad, that all of the body’s desires are bad, and that the soul wants goodness and the body wants bad. And so I guess my entire sense of humor is based around that dichotomy, too,” Nanjiani told NPR. “So the fact that I didn’t like any body jokes was because since I was a little kid, I was taught to sort of be ashamed that everything my body wants or does.”
The “Welcome to Chippendales” actor added, “It’s really cruel that we had such limits on how much we could eat because Pakistani food is absolutely delicious. I’ve always had a weird relationship with food. I’ve always had guilt or regret associated with it. I’ve always used food as a punishment or as a reward.”
He continued, “I didn’t really start thinking about it or trying to come to terms with it until after I was done with ‘Eternals,’ because doing ‘Eternals’ brought a lot of those issues up to the surface. I realized after that that I thought about food in a specific kind of way that I needed to explore and revisit.”
The preparation for playing real-life true crime figure and male exotic dance club founder Somen “Steve” Banerjee helped Nanjiani do “a lot of that work for me” when it came to addressing food concerns.
“I realized that I had been so rigid with food and used it in so many unhealthy ways and then forcing myself to eat unhealthy amounts of unhealthy food in a way got me out of that trap,” he said .”It’s still work to do, but it was freeing for months to just eat whatever I wanted, to eat as much as I wanted. It sort of freed me from some of the ways that I’ve been thinking about food.”
And even after Nanjiani broke the internet by showing off a toned and stripped-down, shirtless pic for “Eternals,” he didn’t feel “powerful” in his strength anymore.
“After that, it was by and large negative. In the beginning, having that reaction from people – I’d never had that reaction before and I think part of me had always wanted it — it felt powerful. It felt really exciting,” Nanjiani explained. “And then pretty quickly after that, it felt reductive, it felt naked, it felt vulnerable. And it made it so that the discussion of my body exists in the public sphere. It made it so that I can walk down the street and someone will just come up to me and say something about my body. That still happens all the time. I have a complicated relationship with it. I don’t regret releasing those pictures because they did change my life. However, I do wish it didn’t occupy as much of my head space as it does.”
The gendered double standard is also not lost on Nanjiani.
“I think I understand like .00001 percent of what women have been going through their entire lives,” the “Big Sick” writer said. “The big difference, of course, is that I don’t feel scared walking alone in a parking lot at night — you know, that power differential isn’t there. I feel like sometimes with women, men catcalling them or something feels a little bit like taking ownership of something that’s not theirs. Men are sort of, in a way, taking power away from women in that moment. I don’t have that. When someone comments on my body in public, I don’t feel that there’s like a power differential there, really. However, being reduced to how you look, that’s obviously still a big part of it.”
Read Nanjiani’s IndieWire interview about all things “Welcome to Chippendales” here.
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