The boom in the fashion business prompts more youngsters from Chennai to take to modelling as a profession. Here’s what the ramp stars say

Until a few years ago, it used to be unimaginable that modelling could be a full-time career option in Chennai. Even more far-flung was the idea that you could be married and still pursue a successful career modelling in this city.

A lot has changed over the last two years. Karun Raman, leading fashion choreographer says that there are at least two shows every week. “Chennai has adapted to the fact that fashion does sell. There are so many means where we can use fashion to promote stuff… be it a hotel or a car launch, glamour peps up the whole process. Fashion has picked up so much that models from other cities come here to work, the pay is good, exposure is fabulous and the press is friendly,” explains Karun. “Rochelle and now Sahithya have put Chennai on the map by making it to national beauty pageants. Pradhayini and Arti Aniruda have shown you can make modelling a full-time career,” he adds.

Pradhayini and Arti are married but are among the top-most models in the city. “It’s a very small pool. About 10-15 models are really good. And there are another 10-15 who are upcoming. So there’s a lot of scope with so many shows and very few models. If you’re good, you would definitely get good work,” says Karun.

Chennai girl Rochelle Rao, who won a national pageant a couple of years ago, says, “The shopping culture has changed. A city that had one big mall until ten years ago, today has 15-16 malls to choose from. People are more educated about brands, designers, niche designers and international designers,” says Rochelle. “There are not enough models in our city. I always love to come back and do a show in Chennai because that’s where I grew up,” adds Rochelle who started modelling when she was 15 by accident because her sister Paloma Rao didn’t want to do the ramp show. Nine years later, she’s on primetime national TV, first with IPL and now with Khatron Ke Khiladi on Colors.

While shows pay depending on the nature of the client and budget, top models usually get paid over Rs. 7,000 per show while new models make around Rs. 4,000-5,000 per show.

Miss Chennai 2009 Sahithya Jagannathan, now in Mumbai for a national beauty pageant, tells us how incredibly proud she was when she paid for her college fees with her money. Fresh out of school, Sahithya had taken up a summer job with designer Rehane a few years ago. “I knew I wanted to be in design but modelling wasn’t on my mind because I had a clichéd opinion of what models were like,” she recalls. “I hail from a family where it is the norm to become a doctor or engineer. So when I met Aashritha, the chatterbox in me surfaced and we got along like a house on fire. I was taller and skinnier than her. I used to wear T-shirts and shorts and play cricket on the streets with the boys and mum would say, go learn to be a girl. So I took it up initially for fun. I signed up for the grooming classes for Miss Chennai and won the pageant.”

She would have immediately moved to Mumbai but for Madhur Bhandarkar’s Fashion. “My folks insisted that I get a degree. So I studied journalism. Of course, like in every profession there are people who fit the cliché but I had fellow contestants who did my make up and went shopping with me for shoes. There were girls who would be studying engineering and medicine books backstage because of exams the next day. Soon, my parents came around,” says Sahithya.

Paloma Rao says that modelling acts as a gateway to other professions. “But today, there are a few girls who are full-time models. As the industry opens up, more jobs open up and people make more money. Ten years ago, we liked entertainment and performing arts. We didn’t pursue it, it happened. Today, it’s a lot more competitive. People invest quite a lot in portfolios and make their money back in a year,” says the TV host and RJ, who used to model occasionally.

Full-time model Pradhayini Sarvothaman was a flight attendant until three years ago. “I took a random break to do the little things — to learn a language, play the guitar, hit the beach and did modelling just because it paid. But Chennai has a lot of scope. The competition is very less. Every model has another job. I’ve only recently started calling myself a full-time model. You have to taste the pie before you bite deeper into it. You have to try it to know if this is what you want to do.”

There are also a few like Swetha Sridhar who have been very successful as a model and continue pursuing another profession. “The profession of modelling is not seen as a full-time career option. It pays well but it is not a nine-to-five job. It has long work hours, gruelling schedules and requires you to organise things but I wouldn’t say it’s just for pocket money given the long hours involved. It is more of a calling.... One can take this as a career for a few years because there will always be an influx of fresh faces and the graceful exit of the more experienced ones. Beauty is but temporary.”

“I started when I was five. I used to wear tiaras and click pictures at home knowing little that's the exact same thing I would be doing 15 years down the line... But I have studied to be a lawyer and juggling both these careers is quite a task, one that I love. The way people perceive me as a model changes the moment I tell them I study law,” says Swetha.