Known to be a highly respected theatre director-actor, Neeraj Kabi in 'Ship Of Theseus' essays the role of, Maitreya - an erudite monk, part of a spiritual-atheist religious order that upholds a strict adherence to nonviolence.
The look required for the character of Maitreya, demanded that Neeraj embark resolutely on the task of a rigorous dietary and physical regime, and work towards losing a sizable amount of weight.
As the filmmakers researched over international actors' methods for weight loss, they were surprised to know that it was through inappropriate drug use and unhealthy means and so they immediately rejected the idea. Then they sought to find the right dietician who could assist in achieving the look desired; however the hunt was quite tough. Finally they met the perfect person in Bina Chheda who through extremely scientifically designed diet helped Neeraj to bring down his weight from 73.6kg to 56.3kg within four months! She gradually decreased carbohydrate intake (rice and chapatis), and eventually restricted the diet to meagre servings of raw vegetables and fat free skimmed milk, still keeping in mind a need for basic nutrition intake.
Apart from this was a rigorous gym routine, wherein Neeraj was required to wake up very early in the morning, and had to stick to precise timing for physical exercise and food intake. In fact, his shoot had to be factored around his precise timings, which he stuck to with a committed doggedness.
During this period, Neeraj was unable to take up any other work, and had to shut down the regular acting workshops he conducts. He simply didn't have the energy to take on any work, with the kind of diet and regime he had to keep. In those days, he lived in a manner very similar to Maitreya, and also dedicated himself to reading philosophy books that brought him closer to his character. He even stopped each non-vegetarian food or eggs, and espoused vegetarianism with a deeper understanding of violence and intent in nature.
Recalled actor Neeraj, "The dietician, Bina Chheda, had warned that age was a major factor in this process. If I was 25 or 26, I could have taken a lot more risks with my body. But, I was around 40, and there was tremendous risk to my internal organs if I did such an intense crash diet as was required for the role. To counter this, she recommended that I start doing intense gym training, to strengthen my muscles. So, the idea was to lose fat and build muscle."
He added, "In the diet, protein was very important - dal, threptin biscuits, skimmed milk (from milk powder). Non-veg (which has been my regular diet for years) and sugar were completely eliminated from my diet the day I started. This was a big switch. And food intake was gradually decreased bit by bit, so there was no shock to the system.
He further shares "The hunger pangs were intense. Sometimes I couldn't sleep because of the hunger. Sometimes, I was racked by fear - fear that I was damaging my body. I used a lot of breathing and meditation techniques to deal with the hunger pangs. It was a time when I really trained the mind, as there were people around me eating and relishing food all the time. What really kept me going was knowing that this was a once-in-a-lifetime role. This was something very amazing that had come to me as an actor, and that really inspired me. I also read a lot and became so much closer to the character and his philosophy. So much so that in the last week of my diet, I wanted to give up all food intake and just have liquids - because that is what Maitreya did. But, my dietician didn't allow it. She said it would be dangerous for my system."