Pop stars and actresses, said supermodel Claudia Schiffer, ensured that the ‘supermodel culture ‘ ended in the west. With the known faces, read stars, ready to promote products, who wants just supermodels, she asked? The scene is not too different in India, which never saw any ‘supermodel culture’ after the initial crop of Madhu Sapre, Milind Soman, Mehr Rampal etc. However, there are other reasons at work here that ensure every wide-eyed youngster, showing promise as a model, bids the ramp goodbye.
Supermodels not wanted
There are many in the Indian design fraternity who feel the days of supermodels are over. As designer Ritu Kumar says, “The whole concept of a supermodel is archaic and has died out. In fact, when I began my career, there were just Madhu, Mehr and Nayanika who were modelling and we had to make do with them. Now we have double the amount of good models and all of them are different. While some can wear a saree elegantly, others can model a bikini with ease. And every now and then, you come across a striking face too.”
Former model Manpreet Brar Walia echoes this viewpoint, “The era of supermodels is over, both in India and the west. There are many who reach the top and then shift to other careers.”
Others feel that in India, if you want to be known as a supermodel, you first have to prove yourself on international ramps. As model-turned-actress Anupama Verma says, “It is important to get the stamp from abroad before you get the status of a supermodel in India. But who has the patience to first reach the top here, then start from scratch abroad all over again?”
So the promising models take Option II: they head towards Bollywood. As Ritu adds, “There never was a dearth of promising faces. Deepika Padukone was good but she was also extremely beautiful and very Bollywood material. It was very clear that she really wanted to be in films. Ash and Sush were extremely international where both looks and ramp presence were concerned but they too tuned in to Bollywood.” Says former supermodel Milind Soman, “Abroad, there are over half a million models who are walking the ramp on a regular basis. Out of these, only five to six are supermodels. So, one can understand how difficult it is to be a supermodel and have a recall value. Obviously, people in the industry focus on other career options and use modelling as a stepping stone to that particular line.” Explains Pantaloons Femina Miss India Earth 2007 Pooja Chitgopekar, who is now working with the agency – Shoot Talent Management, “In India, there are too many options open to models. And they are also ready to take them. But to reach the supermodel status, one needs the recognition of the masses. One needs to excel in that field but most of the models shift their fields much before that.”
Of course, money plays a big part in models choosing Bollywood over modelling. Says model Indrani Dasgupta, “I am in it because I love walking the ramp . However, others leave this stream because the money is dramatically better in films.” Concurs designer Siddartha Tytler, “The models aren’t paid much. So, there are only a few models who have lasted while most have given in to the lure of cinema because of the pay factor.” The industry is unanimous: Money makes many models jump the ship. As choreographer Prateek Lamba says, “It is all about money. When you are a model, the money you are paid is peanuts compared to what you are paid as an actor. Ash and Sush, for example, could have easily made it as supermodels, but then, they wouldn’t get paid half of what they are earning now.”
The present crop of top models opines that the quality standards are also going down in the industry. As model Michelle Innes says, “Today, five feet tall girls call themselves models and are strutting down the ramp in high heels. The standards of choosing new models have definitely dropped .” Model Dipannita Sharma concurs, “Quantity has taken over quality. It has become too easy to become a model. Also, very few of them stick to the profession for long enough to make a name. For them, it is just a stepping stone to bigger things.” Milind, however, blames it on the design fraternity. He says, “There is still a lack of good designers, photographers and choreographers in India. Why would good models stick to the profession when they will not find the right backing?”