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When the show ends

mumbai Updated: Jul 04, 2010 01:27 IST
Rochelle Pinto

Anna Bredmeyer quit walking the ramp when she turned 34. But even before that, the successful model had gradually moved into brand management. Today, Bredmeyer, 51, manages the menswear brands for the Mumbai-headquartered clothing manufacturer Badasaab Group. Mehr Jesia, 40, another top model, moved successfully into event management. It was her company that organised the Indian Premier League parties in April.

But for many models, life after the ramp is much more uncertain. From what has emerged so far, Viveka Babajee, a former model, who committed suicide on June 25 in her Mumbai flat in the suburb of Khar, was struggling to forge a new career. Babajee is now largely remembered for her appearance in advertisements for the condom brand in the 1990s.

The circumstances around her suicide are complex and unique, but the challenges she faced in stabilising her new career are more widespread among models.

That’s partly because they have to retire at an age when people in most other professions are still in the early stages of their careers.

“Their careers usually dry up by the time they get to 30,” said Kim Singh, 42, president of Stagecraft, a Mumbai-based modelling agency. “Their careers might last longer if they become big brands themselves. But those cases are very rare.”

Many models begin walking the ramp when they are very young, usually when they are between 16 and 18 years old. Singh’s agency, for instance, does not sign on models older than 22 years.

This means that at the end of their careers, models do not have much of an education to fall back on.

So what options can they explore?

Bollywood is perhaps the most natural destination.

“When I won Mr. India and started modelling, I saw that models like John Abraham and Dino Morea had already entered Bollywood,” said Viraf Patel, 30, a model and actor. “I also realised that a model’s scope was limited, so I started honing my acting skills.”

Bling Entertainment Solutions, a modelling agency founded by the fashion photographer Atul Kasbekar, 45, will not even sign on a young model unless it believes he or she has a future in Bollywood.

To prepare them for the switch, it enrolls its models in acting and dance classes early on.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to invest in a short-term career,” said Kasbekar. “Ramp modelling does not pay well enough to support people once their careers are over.” But many models either do not want a film career or are just not cut out for it. Yet few plan ahead, say insiders.

“Very few of my contemporaries consciously made plans to move on,” said Patel. “Yet right at the beginning, you need to have a clear goal for what you will do when your modelling career ends. If you don’t, you could flounder.”

Said Bredmeyer: “Most models live only for the day.”

Some models find it hard to decide when it is good time to move on. “Many are so used to the attention that they’re scared to quit,” said Bredmeyer. The importance of planning early on is only just sinking in.

Singh says his agency helps its clients invest and to structure their advertising contracts wisely.

“Otherwise, there is a temptation to blow up all the money at once,” he said. Kasbekar’s agency also encourages long-term financial planning. “We advise all our models to get themselves insurance covers and to invest,” he said.

The option of returning home to start over is not easy either, especially for those who have left small towns.

“If you get used to a particular lifestyle, chances are you won’t go back,” said Kasbekar.

Prejudice about the profession can make things harder.

“I know a model who wants to be an assistant director,” he said. “She’s very well-read and intelligent, but her looks work against her. People don’t take her seriously.”