Sporting a sharp uniform with elegant make-up, 21-year-old Swati Saini stands next to a sleek-looking car with a wide smile on her face at the Delhi Auto Expo in Greater Noida. She has to keep that smile until she is allowed to head back into the greenroom.
The biennial exposition is one of the biggest automotive events in the country. Organisers expect a crowd of over 7 lakh this year over a span of five days to not only admire the vehicles on display but also the models who stand next to them.
“The client needs an ‘eye candy’ to be placed adjacent to the vehicle in order to attract the crowd. Some of them have very specific demands while others don’t really care as long as the girl looks presentable,” said Anuj Singh, a coordinator of the mega event.
Saini will be paid Rs 10,000 per day for being the “eye candy” of the event and, of course, for that perfect smile.
“We are treated like superstars with professionals doing our make-up and hair and beautiful dresses being customized for us. While standing at the pavilion, people click our pictures and want to talk to us. It seems like we are some out of the world creatures for them,” said Saini, a Delhi University student.
With all the attention, however, comes the problem of dealing with overtures from “lecherous men”.
“The stares and lecherous men are a part of the whole package. Bouncers are here and if anything goes out of hand, they are here to protect me. I don’t feel unsafe as the client takes very good care of us and having done the Auto Expo earlier as well, I recognise genuine vehicle fans from others who are just here to ogle at the women,” said Sara Naa, 22, a media student.
For the event-management industry, the Auto Expo is the most sought-after because of the high stakes involved.
“The international clients give us around Rs 30,000-50,000 per model per day, which excludes the make-up charges, stay and food. After the commission is cut, each girl can earn from Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000 per day,” said Dheeraj Chauhan, an executive of Events For All Pvt Ltd.
This lucrative opportunity attracts candidates in the hundreds, all vying to be shortlisted for the event purely on the basis of how they look.
“We start looking for girls in September and the short-listing process starts in October and goes on till December. The candidate’s height, weight and statistics are measured and then they are shortlisted on the basis of their posture and face value. Anyone who has a significant looking tattoo or mark on her body part which might be exposed during the show, like arm, leg, neck or face are immediately disqualified,” said Chauhan.
Most of the models at the expo are either college students or work full-time in the event business.
“I work as an anchor at malls and other shows all year long where I get paid `4,000 per day. For huge events like the expo, I don’t mind standing all day since the pay is almost double,” said Deepti Sinha, 22, a resident of Ghaziabad.
With payouts as they are, the work is equally taxing. The expo often is the most hectic, yet memorable, experience of their life.
“We have two days of training prior to the event, for which we are paid as well. After that, the day starts at 7.30 in the morning when we have to get up and reach the venue by 8 am and then get ready by 9 am,” said Sinha.
The event concludes at 7 pm and the stars of the show can leave the venue an hour later.
“Staying with a bunch of girls is exciting as it is almost living a hostel life. On the last night of the event, a glamorous party will be held by the client where we can all de-stress ourselves,” said Monica Ahuja, 20, a student at Delhi University.
Most of the women working at the Auto Expo are from Delhi and are accommodated at nearby hotels by the event company. Food is also complimentary.
“Standing in heels and smiling for at least five hours a day sounds simple but is strenuous. The moment we get a break, we rush backstage and fling off our heels...as it causes immense back and heel pain. Smiling too, as weird as it sounds, becomes tiring after a point as the facial muscles start cramping,” added Ahuja, a first-timer at the event and a resident of Chandni Chowk.
Meanwhile, some pavilions also have male models accompanying the girls. “For the boys, pay is very less. I am getting Rs 4,000 while the girl I accompany is getting Rs 9,000 to stand in front of the same car,” said Abhishek Sehgal, a model who dreams of making it big in Mumbai.