Some of the models that have come forward with the experiences while working at TFM.(INSTAGRAM/ DIET SABYA)
Some of the models that have come forward with the experiences while working at TFM.(INSTAGRAM/ DIET SABYA)

Over 30 models accuse TFM talent agency of non-payment of dues racking up to almost Rs 1 crore. Here’s the whole story

From unpaid dues from 2018, to threats of ‘gundas’, models who have worked with Ashish Soni-owned TFM/360 India have several sorry tales. Here is everything from the allegations made by the models, to the response given by TFM and designer-owner Ashish N Soni. Read on...
By Alfea Jamal | Hindustan Times, Delhi
UPDATED ON OCT 03, 2020 06:42 PM IST

The Indian film and modelling industry has quite a reputation, both good and bad, with people sharing experiences of lifelong friendships and burnt bridges that made, or ended their careers. However, over the past few months, over thirty models who worked with Mumbai-based talent agency TFM/360 India, owned by designer Ashish N Soni, have alleged that the company owes them lakhs of rupees (more than Rs 70 lakhs) in unpaid dues for shows, events and shoots that in some cases took place years ago and that the company has no intention to pay.

The incident was first brought to light when several models took to their social media handles and shared their experiences working with TFM, sharing how they hadn’t been paid for months on end, some have even claimed they were threatened with ‘gundas’ by upper management when they said they’d make the issue public. The incident was picked up by self-appointed Instagram-based fashion industry watchdog, Diet Sabya, which shared a post which revealed another side of the glamourous modelling industry. The post elaborated how TFM had deprived its talent of their rightful payment since 2018, often discrediting the model by claiming breach of contract, misbehaviour as a cause of non-payment.  

The post read, “Over the last couple of months, we’ve gone back-and-forth between 20+ creatives (models, make-up artists etc) and their talent agency, TFM. Mumbai-based agency, TFM allegedly owes them lakhs of rupees in unpaid dues. Multiple rounds of clarifications later the fact remains unchanged: Money is still owed! The bitter industry truth is that modelling/talent agencies are notorious for withholding money and TFM has been pulling this stunt since 2018 (shocking!). The models have finally had it and are no longer willing to wait for their own money. TFM agents did give us multiple reasons/explanations for the delay citing Covid economy, breach of contract, models misbehaving etc etc. Most of these explanations seem to be just excuses to buy time. Moral of the story? It’s a messy, and incredibly heartbreaking situation for these creatives, who are dependent on agencies for their livelihood. Discuss!!” 

ALSO READ | Dark and Lovely: Padma Lakshmi posts about colourism, Diet Sabya demands ban on Fair and Lovely

Since then, several models came forward with similar stories, and Diet Sabya has also shared videos of models that have worked with TFM and are still awaiting payment. While Diet Sabya has always been a page that calls out copycats and ‘gandi’ copies, over the past few months the page has racked up a new reputation for calling out companies, brands and employers for the mistreatment of employees, as well other social issues like colourism. Several models, in their testimonies, shared that given that they had their own bills and weren’t getting paid, they had to end their contract with the agency, which states that they cannot work with another agency during the three months after their contract with TFM is terminated, however, the contract allows them to work independently.

Diet Sabya, models get blocked by Ashish Soni, TFM on Instagram

In an interview with MidDay, model Arlette Grao, who was at TFM from 2016 to 2018, claimed that the company owes over Rs 70 lakh to the models, and that she didn’t receive any payment for all the assignments she did during her time there, which racks up to Rs 8 lakhs. “I have bank statements to support this.” She went on to add that she ended up quitting the agency and after the contractual cooling-off period (three months) was complete, she began to freelance, “Once I started freelancing, I realised there are multiple models whose payments are stuck with the company.” Arlette mentioned that make-up artist Donald Simrock who worked for Lakme Fashion Week two years ago is waiting on a payment, which according to Diet Sabya’s post comes up to Rs 9 lakhs. The model also added that in her case TFM cited breach of contract as the reason for non-payment of dues, “When I haven’t breached any clause. They are putting similar false allegations on my other colleagues.”

Arlette plans on filing a legal case against the agency, in addition to the two she has already sent to the agency since November 2018, adding that although she last communicated with Ashish Soni on September 17 and he didn’t respond, since the matter has been picked up by Diet Sabya, the Instagram page, as well as the models have been blocked by the agency’s page. 

Another model, Shivani Bafna, who also worked with TFM, took to her YouTube channel and shared her experience working with TFM. She spoke of her time at the agency in 2018, and having to wait on payments for months in 2018, she added that she clarified with her manager as well as one of the ‘owners’ Rishy Bartariya, that she needed to be paid. After months of polite following up and not getting anything except excuses, Shivani got exasperated and decided to share her experience with other models via a group text on WhatsApp. This however, did not sit well with Rishu, who allegedly threatened Shivani saying that if she puts anything on social media, or speaks up she would send ‘gundas’ after her. They even discredited everything Shivani said by saying she had breached her contract which is why she wasn’t paid. However, after filing a lawsuit, and a lot more persistence, Shivani got her payment of Rs 5 lakhs.

Ashish Soni and TFM’s side of the story

There are several such instances, and many models have already filed police complaints and sent legal notices to the agency, or are planning to. A written statement mailed to LiveWire by TFM stated, “Ashish Soni, on behalf of TFM/360 India, reassures everyone that TFM/360 India shall clear its dues as soon as possible as has also been done in the past.”

MidDay reached out to Soni, who said that the firm has been running in losses since it was set up five years ago, on account of which the foreign partner, who was the parent company, decided to pull out leaving Soni, a 40% investor in TFM, struggling to keep the company afloat. He added, “They wanted to shut it down. I took on their debt and ensured that the models’ income stays afloat. It was a liability and I have been running it for two years. Company records that are public will tell you that I haven’t drawn a single salary from the company. I hope to find an investor with deeper pockets for this agency. Till March, we had a regular cash flow but the business has been affected due to COVID. People are not in a position to pay up. To malign someone(for that), is out of line. I am willing to open this up for audit and if to prove my integrity, if I have to take a loan, I will do so.”

According to the written statement by TFM to Livewire, TFM/360 India has paid Rs 2.65 crore to several models in payments. The statement added that when the foreign partner pulled out TFM tried to recover as much as it could, but “due to the fact that TFM/360 India was owed a great deal of money and such money was not recovered within a considerable amount of time, the financial and economic health of the company worsened.” The statement also added that TFM’s management was never in Ashish Soni’s purview and that there were other people running the show, and in some instances clients also failed to pay the company on time. The statement also went on to say that now Soni is “taking steps to mitigate the damage caused by earlier mismanagement”.

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