Want to be a model? Beware of con men, follow these safety rules
The lure of the glittering glamour world can be difficult to resist. A shot of your face splashed larger than life on a billboard or an interesting role in a TV commercial can novel-ishly turn around your life. You suddenly become a semi-celebrity, your fan following on social media dramatically increases, and your friends start seeing you in a new light. To get to the point where this can happen, all you need is that one lucky break — but when you have no clue how to get it, and yet the desperation doesn’t go away, be careful of your next step.
A number of gullible modelling aspirants are falling into traps set by smooth-talking, social media-savvy racketeers. Their victims are usually starry-eyed and ill-informed, often from small towns and desperate to make it big. Most of them haven’t heard the saying: “If an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
IT’S JUST SO EASY TO CON
In the absence of a regulatory body for modelling agencies, it’s easy for con artists to cheat the inexperienced hopefuls. Even when they’re fleeced, the aspiring models don’t approach cops, fearing harassment and ridicule. For them, wisdom comes too late, and at a rather high price.
Explaining the scam, fashion photographer Bijoy Raghavan says, “Shopkeepers or property agents pretend to be modelling agents or photographers. They pick up other people’s work and pass it off as their own. Abroad, you have regulatory bodies such as MAMA (Managers And Models Association). There’s no such body in India, which makes it easy for racketeers to operate.”
In their initial days, these young people have little or no support in terms of professional guidance. “Racketeers lure them in the name of getting them work, take the money, and vanish. In many cases, the scammers literally shut down their office and run away,” says Raghavan.
YOU DON’T NEED A CARD to work as a model!
One of the red flags is the mention of a modelling card; any agent who talks about it is a fraudster. Fake agencies tell you to pay for a model/artist card. They also ask for registration/membership fees that could be anywhere between ₹2,000 and ₹50,000. Genuine modelling agencies do not ask for any upfront fees. They take a percentage of your payment after you get some work.
Fashion photographer Praveen Bhatt says, “There’s no such thing as a registration fee for modelling. Also, you don’t require a model card. This is a scam. I can’t believe that people can fall for it. There can be no such thing as a model card, because there is no authorised body in India to issue such a card. Also, never pay money to someone who guarantees you work. Nobody can guarantee work in this field.”
PAID AUDITIONS? REALLY?
The fake agencies also ask models to pay for auditions. It’s not just the metros where such fake auditions are held. A 25-year-old from Roorkee, Uttarakhand, on the condition of anonymity, shares that a so-called modelling co-ordinator approached him on Facebook, offering to get him a break. An audition was held in a cramped, rented hall in a rundown locality, for which the ‘co-ordinator’ charged ₹500 per person.
“There were about 200 young people who auditioned for roles in serials, ramp shows and TV ads. The director of the company promised that he’d launch us alongside a big name from Bollywood. I went for the audition. After that day, we never heard from those people,” he says.
Genuine auditions are never paid, explains Pranav Awasthi, director, Glitz Modelling. “If anyone asks you to pay for auditions, understand that they’re fake. Most of them are staged with the intention of making quick money through cheating,” he warns.
TALENT, NOT MONEY, MAKES YOU A MODEL
Bhatt says that fake modelling agencies have mushroomed in India in the past few years. “It’s difficult to bust them as they operate through social media. They take advantage of the fact that young people are now desperate to become successful overnight,” says Bhatt. Every month, he comes across 10-15 cases of aspiring models being cheated by fake agents. Bhatt recently uploaded a video on Facebook, warning models to stay away from such agents.
Sleep with two people
Recalling this meeting with a fifty-something ‘coordinator’ with a paunch and multiple phones still arouses disgust. The writers of this report got to know about a person, based in West Delhi, who had allegedly cheated many models. When we called him, asking for modelling work, he told us to meet him at the parking lot of the Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts, Mandi House, central Delhi, the same evening.
When we reached, he was waiting for us at the parking, sitting inside his grey Zen. He insisted that we sit in his car and talk, but we refused. He got out of his car and took us to a tea stall. There, he told us that he was the head of a cinema artists’ and technicians’ federation. “We are government-approved. We issue artist cards that are valid across India. Our people are placed in popular TV serials,” he claimed. He told us that the artist card would cost ₹35,000. He also claimed that Gajendra Chauhan, actor and ex-chairman of the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, was his close friend. “I work with him to place artists in Mumbai. We’ve also tied up with CINTAA (Cine and TV Artists Association),” he said.
Then, the so-called agent explained how the casting couch would be inevitable in the glamour world. “If there’s a big banner, you sleep with at least two people — the producer and the director. It will happen after the contract is signed and you get the first instalment of your fees. Once you do it, work is assured,” he said. Next, he pointed towards some female artists hanging out at the tea stall, and said, “They’re successful because they slept for work. It’s simple. If there are two equally talented and beautiful artists, the one who agrees to compromise will get the project,” he said.
Following this meeting, the agent sent us a mail with images of semi-naked and naked women as ‘shoot reference’. He said, “I’ll shoot you like this. I’ll send the pictures to production houses looking for a female lead.”
When we called Gajendra Chauhan to verify the agent’s claims, the actor said that he didn’t know this man. “I don’t have any such associate in Delhi. I’m not aware of any such federation. This guy is fake,” he said. Chauhan also explained that no one could make an artists’ federation just like that. “They’d have to go through the Federation of Western India Cine Employees, the mother body of all Indian cinema associations; it has 22 associations under it. Artist cards made by random association can’t be valid,” he said.
We then told the agent that Chauhan had denied any sort of partnership with him, and he said, “Toh isse aapko kya farq padta hai? Aapko toh kaam se matlab hai na?” Indeed!
Aspiring model Andrea Chu responded to a call for audition on Facebook, posted apparently by a model co-ordinator. “When I sent him my pictures, he said that I had a great face and he’d give me a jewellery shoot for a famous brand. Then, at night, he texted me, saying ‘no compromise, no work’. I didn’t know what he meant by ‘compromise’. He explained to me that I’d have to spend a night with the brand’s CEO. He said, ‘Every model has done this. Apko industry mein rehna hai toh compromise karna hi padega. I told him never to call me again,” recounts Andrea. When we rang up this model co-ordinator and asked him if this was true, he ranted, “Sab models apni razamandi se compromise karti hain, boyfriend badalti rehti hai, clients ko use karti hain. Mujhe nau saal ho gaye iss industry mein. Sabke baare mein bata sakta hoon. Koi dhoodh ki dhuli nahin hai.”
Aspiring model Sanjana Barua saw a few ads on Facebook, posted by someone who called himself a photographer. “He had created several pages, spread across Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, and states such as Uttarakhand and Punjab. He seemed genuine. We met at Hauz Khas Village, Delhi. He asked for ₹2,500 for the ‘model card’. He told me that ‘companies need to see your model card before they hire you,’” says Sanjana. She gave him the money, and he disappeared, and also stopped replying to her calls. Soon, he changed his number. “This guy has cheated many in the name of a model card. He follows exactly the same modus operandi with everyone,” says Sanjana, who reported the matter to the police
Sitting on a cold bench at the New Delhi railway station, Rose Alisha, 16, thought of taking the train to Dibrugarh, her home town, and never return to Delhi. Her modelling dreams had been shattered. She was told by agents and photographers in the Capital that she had a “chinki” face, and the only way to get assignments was to “please” clients. No one could break this rule. “They said talent didn’t matter. If I won’t compromise, someone else would. Those men could rape me with their eyes. I was broken. I decided to quit. I cried for hours. But something in me told me, ‘Achhe log bhi hain is duniya mein... I decided to fight back. I worked hard and proved my talent. Eventually, I started getting calls from reputable agencies,” shares Alisha, now 25, who has shot for top brands in Delhi. Her advice: never give in; work only with agencies of repute; without genuine contacts, you can land up in serious trouble.
THEY TOLD ME THAT ALL MODELS ARE INTO PROSTITUTION. YOU WON’T GET WORK UNLESS YOU SLEEP WITH CLIENTS RENEE KUJUR
Renee Kujur was 19 when she left her family back in Chhattisgarh to become a model. In the Capital, she ran into agents who asked her what was her “rate for one night”. She recalls, “When I refused, they said, ‘Who are you trying to fool? All models are into prostitution. Some charge ₹500, some charge ₹2 lakh.’ I was shattered. I naively believed them — that it was true — and cried a lot.” It was only when Renee met established models who introduced her to genuine agencies that she realised she was being trapped by fake agents. “I gained courage and started working. I shoot for top labels today, but it’s not like I don’t meet such men anymore,” she says. Many still ask her for nude pictures or demand a nude web chat before giving her work. One photographer, a well-known name in the field, touched her inappropriately during a recent brochure shoot. “I was shocked and angry. He tried pacifying me by saying that these things are cool with models,” says Renee. She blames a sick, regressive mindset for such incidents. “Many believe that all models are loose women who will do anything for money. There are master manipulators who will force you into believing that sleeping for work is the norm,” she says.
THE AGENT THREATENED ME WITH DIRE CONSEQUENCES AFTER CHEATING ME OF ₹21,000
Makeup artist Priyanka Sharma’s dreams of modelling came crashing down after a fake agent cheated her of ₹21,000 and threatened her with dire consequences. The man posing as an agent promised to launch Priyanka alongside celebrities. “He asked me to deposit ₹21,000 as ‘model card’ charges. He told me that a model card is like a licence without which I can’t do any modelling work. He promised to launch me through CINTAA (Cine and TV Artists Association),” she says. But even weeks after depositing the money into his account, Priyanka got no work. When he stopped responding to her calls, Priyanka realised that she had been duped. She texted him that she’d file a police complaint against him. The so-called agent then claimed that he was the son of a DIG and threatened her. Undaunted, Priyanka filed a complaint with the Cyber Crime Cell of Delhi Police. “The cops said, ‘Madam, jaane do. FIR karoge toh aapko hi problem ho jayegi.’ I feel so helpless about this whole episode,” says Priyanka. When we called the agent’s number, he sounded furious and denied everything.
THIS AGENT HAS BEEN CHEATING NEWCOMERS FOR YEARS. NOTHING HAPPENED EVEN AFTER I FILED A POLICE COMPLAINT
Racketeers often organise fake shoots and auditions as bait for aspiring models. Ashwini Kapoor did three shoots for someone who called himself a model co-ordinator, only to realise that he had been fooled. “I worked for three days. Those pictures never appeared anywhere. He had promised ₹21,000 for the shoot, but I didn’t get a penny,” says Ashwini, who filed a police complaint. He adds that the man who took him for a ride has been cheating gullible youth for years. “He is confident and smooth-talking — you end up being impressed,” says the victim. His advice: “All genuine agencies pay models for their work. Payments are usually by cheque. Always ask how much money you’re getting for the shoot, and the mode of payment. Try to get it on the record.”
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