HT Brunch Summer Special Cover Story: Model intentions

Updated on May 23, 2021 07:47 AM IST

Supermodel Lakshmi Rana has a two-point plan during the pandemic: To help aspiring models and give back to the fashion industry

Lakshmi says even though she was one of the top five in the Miss India pageant, where Lara Dutta and Priyanka Chopra won titles, she struggled to fit into the fashion industry for the first two years; Location courtesy: Roseate House New Delhi; Styling: Shivan & Narresh; Art direction: Samreen Tungekar; Make-up and hair: Sunil Gautam; Swimwear and kaftan: Shivan & Narresh (Rohit Chawla)
Lakshmi says even though she was one of the top five in the Miss India pageant, where Lara Dutta and Priyanka Chopra won titles, she struggled to fit into the fashion industry for the first two years; Location courtesy: Roseate House New Delhi; Styling: Shivan & Narresh; Art direction: Samreen Tungekar; Make-up and hair: Sunil Gautam; Swimwear and kaftan: Shivan & Narresh (Rohit Chawla)
ByFarhad J. Dadyburjor

Lakshmi Rana wants to get rid of the age-old, ragged clichés – that models are dumb, just mere clothes hangers, lacking any kind of personality or brain.

One of the leading models in the Indian fashion industry for over 20 years, Lakshmi came into the profession with just about enough know-how to get by and had to learn quickly on the job. Because, although modelling might be one of the most coveted jobs in the glamour world, there’s no guide or manual on how to become a model, causing many newcomers to fall through the cracks.

“There needs to be a change in the way models look at themselves. It is high time that we looked inwards and found other ways to make money; it is time to fall back on our other talents, especially now,” says Lakshmi, who habitually invests in the stock market and in properties to buffer her income.

Some of Lakshmi’s favourite things
Some of Lakshmi’s favourite things

Be the change

The pandemic has affected different people in different ways – and that doesn’t even include the people who have fallen sick. Models, paid per assignment, have had only minimal work since last March.

So, it was to give new models a holistic view of their world that Lakshmi launched her Wilderbee Talent Camp, right in the middle of the pandemic.

Lakshmi says there needs to be a change in the way models look at themselves and that it’s high time they found other ways to make money (Montu Tomar)
Lakshmi says there needs to be a change in the way models look at themselves and that it’s high time they found other ways to make money (Montu Tomar)

“I launched it single-handedly to change the way modelling is looked at in India and to help the younger generation of models. I jumped right into it as an entrepreneur, even though I had no idea of entrepreneurship,” she laughs.

The name of the camp represents Lakshmi’s go-getter attitude. It was coined one morning over breakfast with a friend. “Bees are known to be very hardworking, and I’m a fearless and free-spirited person,” she explains over the phone from Kashmir, where her army officer husband has been posted. The entire family has moved to be with him, including Lakshmi herself, her mother, her seven-year-old daughter and her dog.

Personality plus

Lakshmi entered the glamour industry in 2000, after becoming one of the top five finalists in the Miss India pageant, where Lara Dutta and Priyanka Chopra won the titles that sent them to the Miss Universe and Miss World pageants, respectively.

“I was the only girl picked out of there to work at Fashion Week,” she says.“I feel my entry was lucky, that I came in from a good platform. Still, for the first two years, I was struggling to fit in. I came with a lot of discipline and good manners, whereas the fashion world is very fast-paced and you meet pleasant people as well as extremely unpleasant ones. And it is a really lonely place… Frankly, it wasn’t a friendly place at all at that time.” The pressures on models can be high physically, and Lakshmi says she always felt as though she didn’t fit into clothes, that she needed to lose weight, and went from a size 8 to size 6 to adapt to the requirements.

Lakshmi with her husband Puneet Doval
Lakshmi with her husband Puneet Doval

While Lakshmi is strong-willed and could handle the bullying, snide remarks and unneeded overtures, she knows not everyone is like that.

“Modelling has a lot to do with individual growth and how you project your individuality. That individuality is what will set you apart,” she explains. “So, the first thing new models need to learn is to self-connect. That’s when you get the confidence of who you are and become comfortable in your own skin. So, my camp is more of a holistic personality development and confidence building platform.”

She makes sure that everyone knows everything they possibly can before they head out into the wider world. A set of in-house and external experts teach newcomers everything from walking to styling to hair and make-up to even handling their own social media and managing their careers. The camps are conducted over five days in Delhi, but are now moving online. There are also special camps for pageant training. And Lakshmi makes sure that each camp has a certain number of ‘inclusive models’ – transgender and plus-size models.

Bollywood indignity

“Inclusivity is the core concept at our camp. In the first camp, we had five inclusive models. But when they came there and were surrounded by all these other tall, slim girls, I could see their confidence fall. So, I gave them a pep talk the next day, that they needed to be even more confident than all the others to enter this industry, and then they were back to their shining selves,” she says.

Lakshmi with her seven-year-old daughter Navisha
Lakshmi with her seven-year-old daughter Navisha

It’s one thing to groom inclusive models, but is the Indian fashion industry really ready to give them as much work as other models?

“I feel this change is extremely important in these times. It’s happening worldwide and you see that on the international runways. Over here, there still is a lot of tokenism. Like, I don’t really see bigger-size clothes in designer collections. If they are there, the designers should have plus-size models wearing them,” Lakshmi says.

She adds: “I am trying to bring in this change in a systematic manner by seeing that these girls are well-groomed and professional before they approach a designer. This will make designers that much more open to including them in their shows. The industry has to change since that’s the future. Designers will have to be more inclusive, need more representation in how they project their brand and the clothes they make.”

Other career options models should consider
Other career options models should consider

Many young women use modelling as a stepping stone to Bollywood. Lakshmi didn’t. “I wasn’t interested even in my Miss India days. I have always felt that Bollywood is completely overrated in this country and filmmakers do not take their share of responsibility in spreading the right message to the youth – at least most of them don’t! Kudos to those who are doing well in it, but it was never my thing. I always wanted to be in fashion. That is where I thought I would fit in with my dignity and integrity intact.”

From HT Brunch, May 23, 2021

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