In Conversation with Capt. Sangay Tsheltrim: From NDA IMA To Bollywood

From being a Bhutanese army cadet training at India’s premier Tri-services institute to serving his Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuk as an elite bodyguard, before eventually moving on to represent his country at the highest levels of bodybuilding. It is safe to say that Sangay Tsheltrim has lived an incredible life. Following his success as a professional bodybuilder, he went on to be the founder of his own gym and demolish box office records in the Bhutanese film Industry. The former Bhutanese army man is now locked and loaded to make his Bollywood debut, in Salman Khan Starrer ‘Radhe’.

Being a man who has climbed great heights in multiple specialised domains and industries, Sangay reached out to SSBCrack in a humble attempt to share his life experiences and insights to  SSBCrack’s young readers who are on their journey to don the uniform and serve their country.

Capt. Sangay Tsheltrim on the sets of Salman Khan Starrer ‘Radhe’

Q: Firstly, what piqued your interest to join the Royal Bhutanese Army, and how did you go about applying for the National Defence Academy?     

The people of Bhutan have immense respect for Army Officers, this stuck with me as a young child, and it became my dream to wear the crisp and incredibly suave army uniform and serve my nation. Given my passion, it was only natural for me to apply for the National Defence Academy following the successful completion of my 12th through the Royal Bhutan Army HQ in the capital city, Thimphu.

 Q: Being from Bhutan, is it safe to assume that you were perhaps not acquainted with the intricacies of the selection procedure, assuming so, how did you go about the preparation?

I was fortunate enough to be staying with my uncle who at the time was a Major in the Royal Bodyguards, so with his guidance, I underwent, over three months of physical training whilst preparing for the written exams.

 Q: Run us through your SSB experience? Was it any different from cadets from India?  Looking back what could you have done differently during your SSB?      

While I am not entirely acquainted about the SSB procedure in India, however in Bhutan, we have a physical test, a GK test, current affairs proficiency, medical evaluation and a viva. The physicals did not pose a challenge as I was always fairly sporty and athletic as a child. My preparation paid me well as I stood 4th place out of over 500 candidates.        

 Q: Describe your initial days at the NDA, the initial culture shock; tell us about your experiences, and the friendships forged?                    

The initial days were indeed difficult. I struggled to cope up with the timing and the enforced discipline. Being an insomniac, my sleep schedule was wrecked and it made me irritable at times. My initial connect with my coursemates came slow. I initially thought them to be immature. However over the course of time we bonded magnificently and the camaraderie developed, forging us into brothers-in-arms. One of my most heart wrenching moments came when I was separated from my coursemates and moved back to my country, it was the last time I saw my course mates.              

Q: Tell us about some of your fondest memories from both your time at the NDA and the IMA?      

My fondest memories from both my time at the NDA and IMA come from the gruelling group punishments. That’s where we developed so much of course spirit and boding which I feel would never happen if we were not punished together, I believe true bonds are forged through hardship that has been my takeaway from my training.   

Q: Tell us about your time at the Royal Bhutanese Army? How did you become a part of the elite Royal Bodyguard of Bhutan?     

I was commissioned into the Royal Bhutan Army in December 2005, my stint there was fairly short as I got selected to serve in the elite Royal Bodyguards early into my military career. I served in the regular army for about two-and-a-half years being deployed along the northern borders of China and Bhutan. Most of my tenure went undergoing basic officer courses like the Young Officers Course and the Commando course. My military career fast tracked in March 2008 when I was sent for temporary duty to perform close protection duties for former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It was during my time as a close protection specialist for the erstwhile Indian Prime Minister; I caught the eye of the deputy commandant of Royal Bodyguards and then immediately got recruited in June 2008.

Q: Given your unique career track, could you tell our readers about your journey? What prompted you to transition from the military to bodybuilding? How did you train to prepare for Mr Asia, how much did your training at the NDA and IMA and your time as an officer in the Royal Bhutan Army help you in your training?      

I passed out of NDA and IMA with distinction, passing out as a DDC from the NDA and as a Junior Under Officer (JUO) from IMA. Being a boxer and a member of the academy basketball team, I can tell you that I was in great shape. My existing fitness levels helped me excel in the commando and YOs course.

On my transition from the military to body building, bodybuilding at least at the amateur level was a passion. I was in awe of people with muscular physiques from as long as I can remember and had always had the desire to sculpt one myself. However, I was an extremely scrawny person throughout my youth. I weighed a measly 55 kgs as an NDA cadet. Owing to the training at the NDA my body went through a phenomenal transformation during my first term. This sudden development of a muscular and chiselled physique inspired me to take this to the next level. Lifting weights soon became a hobby and I started lifting more extensively during my senior terms at the IMA. By then my weight increased to 65 kgs with a bulk of the weight coming from a rise in overall muscle mass.

At mighty Indian Military Academy

My greatest physical transformation came while I was doing my YOs course in Mhow. I worked out intensively during my time there worked out regularly and hoarded on eggs. I had gained over 8 kgs during the six months course. I was in awe of my own transformation. My initial year settling in at the Royal Bodyguards disrupted my workout regime and diminished my over physique. Realising the downturn my body was taking, I decided to join a gym and started an exhaustive research on diet and nutrition.

After pumping iron consistently for months, I decided to incorporate protein supplements to compliment my regular diet. The consistency and dedication paid off and I gained immense amounts of muscle mass. I took a call to join the National Bodybuilding Championships. His Royal Highness was very kind and immensely supportive towards my passion and granted me a paid leave for two months to prepare for the championships. I prepared well and stood 4th overall, beating lot of veterans of the sport. The following year in 2013, I was determined to win a medal. I worked hard with the support of his Royal Highness. I bagged a bronze medal in the National Championships. After my win, I was determined like a man possessed to compete for the International Championships and I wanted to represent my country and be the first Bhutanese to win a medal from at the Asian level.

It was this moment in my life where I had encountered my greatest dilemma. I had to choose between serving my country in uniform or serving my country at the highest levels of my chosen sport. I could not have it both ways, since both the specialist fields required unparalleled time and dedication. On one hand I had the most precious job to serve His Majesty, the King and the members of the Royal Family, on the other hand I knew I could win a medal for my country.

This is where I just closed my eyes and decided to resign and go for my goal. His Majesty gave his blessings and motivation to me and had always inspired me and gave me his unconditional support. He admired my physique which boosted my morale. So in 2013 I had to hang up my beautiful uniform and pursued my passion as a bodybuilder. I tendered my resignation in September 2013 and almost immediately went for a fitness and nutrition course to Bangkok for 45 days in October.

In 2014 I took part in the National Championships once again and secured  3rd   place. I got selected to represent my country for the Asian Championships, held in Macau. Despite preparing really hard, I still didn’t have the muscle maturity required, however won the first Bronze medal for my country, which is now a part of the national record. In December I participated in the World Championships for experience and came fourth. By 2015, I had learned what was needed for competing at the international stage. I dedicated three months of my life for the National Championships and I won gold in the heavy weight category.   

I got another opportunity to represent my country at an Asia level which was held in Uzbekistan. I gave my heart and soul to my preparation. With laser like focus I eliminated all distractions, never missed on my workout and diet. In October 2015, I achieved my dream, winning the first Gold medal for my country at the Asian level. I even won a silver medal in a different category during the same event.

Capt. Sangay Tsheltrim with his wife.

In 2016 I defended my gold medal in Bhutan and was done competing for the Asian championships. I now had wanted to win the title of Mr Bhutan. So in 2017, I was very confident and won the title fairly easily. The same year I wanted to win a gold in the World Championships. This was doable as there was not a major difference in the athletes competing at the Asian and global level. Unfortunately the competition didn’t go as expected and I was really disappointed with the politics in the sport. Dejected, I left professional bodybuilding and focused on new pursuits in world of fitness.

I give full credit to my training in NDA and IMA, for my bodybuilding success. The basic principle of mental resilience which I had honed from my training at the academy is something that gave the edge in bodybuilding as like any pursuit in life it is mostly mental. If you win the war in your mind, you won half the battle. Other military traits such as punctuality, discipline, military focus are what allowed me to be a champion. If I had not gone to NDA and IMA, I would have never who I am today.

Q: How did you transition into Bollywood? Was it something you always wanted to do?   

After moving on from professional bodybuilding, I got several offers to act in Bhutanese movies. Being a film buff, I’ve always had a fascination for acting however had never thought of  actively pursued it. Being an academy boxer and taekwondo, practitioner and an ace dancer, I felt I was adequately equipped to take on my next challenge, so I said to myself “ah what the hell!” and gave it a shot. Interestingly my first action movie named ‘Singye’, turned out to be one of the most successful action flicks in the Bhutanese film industry, in 2018. The movie earned me the   award for the best debut actor. In the beginning of 2019, I and my partner decided to produce an international movie in collaboration with my dear friend Haider Khan, who is Salman Khan’s personal photographer, and directs his promotional. Ecstatic he immediately got on board He directed our film.

In April 2019, I came to Mumbai for a meeting pertaining to our project. During my visit, Haider took me to meet Salman sir as I was undoubtedly in my mind, his biggest fan from Bhutan. So I was on the sets of Dabang 3 in complete awe and next thing I know, we met over a cup of coffee and chatted for more than an hour, this was a highlight of my life! Salman sir was very kind and humble, and an extremely down to earth person. I took a picture with him and I was simply thrilled to have met my hero.

I had come back to Bhutan; I had gotten a call from the Mukesh Chabra Casting Company in July. They told me that I got an offer to act in a major high budget Bollywood movie and that Salman sir had recommended them that I be given a major role. I couldn’t believe the news; I lay awake in sheer disbelief. I was absolutely in pure shock. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever thought that I would get an opportunity to act in Bollywood! I hopped on a plane ad came to meet the director in Mumbai in August. Following my meeting with the director and producer, and reading the script, I signed the film contract with them. Owing my casting to Salman sir, I had gone thank him that night on the sets of Dabang 3.

Around mid-September I got a call from Salman Khan Films. This time it was an even bigger shock. I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing; I swore to god that this time I must be dreaming. This time they told me to come and meet the director, Prabhu Deva for the film Radhe, in which Salman sir was the lead actor. They said I have a crucial role. Once again I hopped on a plane to Mumbai and met Salman sir. He told me about the movie and how significant my role is. However I will admit really didn’t care about the significance of my role my role. I jokingly told my friends back home that even if I my role is to be there for a few seconds and get knocked out by Salman Khan I will consider myself lucky. So that’s how I am here now, shooting for Radhe.

I will take this opportunity to tell you that I am not here because of my talent; I am only here because of my luck, and the kindness of Salman sir. I am here because of all the blessings and motivation from my King, my wife who has always supported me, my daughter who is my reason to live and prove myself every day, my fellow countrymen who have always shown me love and respect, and perhaps most importantly my Instructors at the NDA and IMA without whom I would not have even been a fraction of who I am today.

It’s is now my duty, my responsibility to make them all proud and give back to the society at large. Though not in uniform, I still represent my country, I always have regardless of the domain I have been in, so I strive to remain worthy of the love and respect given to me by my King and my fellow countrymen, and will always do them proud.

This is an excellent opportunity for me and my country and who wouldn’t want to be in Bollywood? I have been Salman sir’s greatest fan, in fact, most of my countrymen are in awe of Salman Khan! This is something I had never really planned for but that is the beweuty of life, you never really know where it takes you! I could never have imagined that I would be in Bollywood, let alone sharing the screen with Salman sir.

Q: If you could go back to your 18-year-old self and told him about your unique journey what do you think your younger selves’ response be? Would he believe it? What advice would you like to give him, with the benefit of hindsight?    

My younger self would be in complete awe; his response would most certainly be “I wish I was him!” Yes, I do believe that if you told me my life’s trajectory to my younger self he would indeed be stunned, but he would believe it, because even at that age I knew that nothing is impossible in this world! Everyone has their unique and inspiring stories. I would advise him to set a goal, believe in yourself, focus and work hard. Last but not the least have patience.

Q: Lastly, what advice would you like to give our readers at SSBCrack?

My advice to the defence aspirants of India and Bhutan is simple; we live only once, so live magnanimously! Life is the most precious possession you have so treat it well, Life is extremely uncertain, you never know when it will be time to bid this beautiful world and our loving families farewell. So, do what you love and love what you do and do not be afraid to take calculated risks! Be kind and humble, and never relish in anyone’s defeat. Do your parents, your family and your country proud. Leave behind an unforgettable legacy, so that when it is your time to go die, you do not simply fade away with your ashes. Let people talk about the lives you have touched. Live a life worth remembering, one that will inspire the generations to come, do Lastly and perhaps most importantly, never give up, work hard like there is no tomorrow, and one day you will taste the fruits of your labour.

One of the popular NDA Cadet pictures is of Capt. Sangay Tsheltrim

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Once something is a passion, the motivation is there.

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