Models face ramp smut

Ramp is not just about glamour. It has a dark side too. White Heat

india Updated: Jan 04, 2006 16:07 IST

Foreigners and even small-town girls seeking modelling work in metros are at risk from wolves in clients' clothing. What are the problems and the solutions? If you don't have a friend or family in the city, don't tell people while networking, say agency managers.

Less than a week ago, in a seedy bar in West Andheri, a South African model walked in to meet a client for an advertisement. One-and-a-half days later, she was dumped outside her apartment after being repeatedly raped. Is this an isolated case of rape or part of a larger circle of threat in which aspiring models often find themselves entrapped?

Many of the white-skinned models in India are from the poorer former Soviet nations and many work without the right papers. "Not every one of these models is working with a valid work per mit, something that closes the doors of most established agencies, leaving them with little choice but to approach lower-rung model co-ordinators (most of whom double as pimps) or work on their own," says a model co-ordinator.

"Local co-ordinators who deal in shady work don't feel the need to get income tax PAN, proof of six month's residency and service tax numbers before going into business," says Sabrina, of Sabrina Modelling Agency.

And because established agencies like Elite and Matrix are choosy about the foreign models they employ in India, the rest must use alternative routes like waiting endlessly at fashion week venues, turning up at every society event in town and answering classified ads seeking `well-endowed', beautiful young girls between 18 and 22 for a big music video/modelling break. It is here that the trouble starts brewing.

Take Russian model Masha Patek. She has lived in Mumbai for three years now, but the agentless girl continues to get obscene phone calls in the middle of the night. "We circulate our comcards (photographs of models with phone numbers) in the market, and somehow somebody gets hold of the number and I get innumerable calls from sleazy people who either want to `meet me for dinner' or have `work for me but want to meet me first'," she laments. "And going by the reputation of the cops, I don't even feel like approaching them."

The problem, as a middle-rung northeastern model says on the condition of anonymity, is not limited to foreign models alone. Non-Mumbai and non- metro girls are just as much at risk.

While most in the modelling field agree with Pankhuri Singh, Elite India's marketing head, that networking at parties is not always bad, the fact is that only an established agency can "take care of you and tell you which party to go to and which people to meet", as Singh herself points out. When a model does not have an agency looking out for her, she could well be walking down a very shady alley.

There have been numerous instances of aspiring models, after answering classified ads, either being filmed in the buff or being molested on the pretext of landing advertising assignments or music video work.

As for the groups spending at least 12 hours a day hanging around fashion week venues, there is an aura of desperation about them that marks them out as easy prey. These women drift into escort agencies (something that to the average Indian male means suppliers of `easy to bed' women) or are used as miniskirtwearing props in everything from business parties to auto expos where men try to get fresh with them (someone at the auto expo in Delhi, a couple of years ago, had actually pulled down the skirt of a model standing by a car). A couple of models at a lingerie show in Mumbai walked the runway in almost seethrough garments for a paltry Rs 100 each, just for the taxi fare back home. At parties, scribes are constantly accosted with questions like, "What do I have to do to make the pages of your newspaper?"

"There was this Bollywood co-ordinator, who once wanted to meet models 'one by one', a clear indication that he was up to some nonsense, as casting is never done that way. There are many other standard statements that give away the true intentions of a client. This is a surefire way of watching one's step," says Sabrina.

How does one manage without an agency? "Quit, if you don't have an agency," says Sabrina. It is a tough and risky world, she adds, where only the talented can survive, and unless ambition is combined with reality checks, a girl could end up in situations far worse than she could imagine.

Jennifer Mayani, who came from Chile and admits to having made it big by `working the room' at parties, has a few words of caution for aspirants. "If you don't have an agency, never tell co-ordinators or any client you meet at a party that you live alone in the city. I told a lot of agents that I have come to visit my g randparents," she says. "It's a dangerous world and if you don't ignore lines such as, `Come to my place and we can discuss assignments', you are in deep trouble."

"If you aren't getting a break, somewhere down the line, you have to realise that things aren't working out. You can consider other fields like photog raphy, designing, make-up or choreog raphy," Singh says.

Unfortunately, not many aspiring smalltown and firang models are listening.

Watch out for Party venues: Check the reputation of a venue. Call partygoer friends and figure out if you are the only one going to that place

Drinks: Never take a drink from a mere acquaintance, especially hard liquor.

Promises: If someone offers work, keep his business card and check up on him before contacting him.

Auditions: As a newcomer, never attend auditions alone. Go with friends.

Information: If you are single in the city, it is not wise to let it be.

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First Published: Jan 04, 2006 12:52 IST