Why isn't Chennai a happening city for those aspiring to pursue modelling as a career? Sudhish Kamath looks beyond the ramp for answers

Last week, Chennai girl Rochelle Rao won a national beauty pageant that didn't even come down to this city for auditions! It surprised people from around the country because Chennai hasn't been the most promising grooming ground for models. Very few have actually made careers out of modelling here in the recent past and the popular ones have quickly gone on to sign films.

“There are barely a dozen known faces today. Which is why I use models from out of town,” says Ajit Menon, popular fashion choreographer, model groomer and co-ordinator. “Very few are tall enough. Most of them are 5.3-5.4, barely half-a-dozen tall ones,” he laments the lack of quality models.

“Earlier, we had hardly any designers but that side of if has improved today. We have at least three popular designers who are regulars at Fashion Weeks around the country today. But a model needs to be versatile enough to be able to do print and TV shoots and not just ramp-modelling to turn it into a lucrative career.” he explains. “You need at least 6-8 shoots a month to make Rs.1 lakh because ramp shows don't pay much. Very few manage that many here.”

Unable to find a big enough pool, most designers and corporates have no other choice but to fly in models from Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi. It's a chicken and egg situation as models say there are just not enough opportunities here.

“Unfortunately, there's only a certain kind of modelling you can do here — jewellery and sari — and those brands need a traditional look,” says VJ Paloma Rao, who has done quite a bit of modelling herself. “If you want to do serious modelling, you have to leave Chennai. Most people here end up doing movies or are expected to do movies to prove they have arrived. Rochelle has rarely got jewellery or sari shoots here because she has a Western look,” she tells us about her sister. Rochelle will be representing India at an international beauty pageant later this year.

“If female models often say they get paid small amounts, I've heard male models say they don't get paid well enough. No male model ever lasts beyond three or four years because it becomes too tiring to hang around. It's sad because they work so hard on their physique and look amazing,” says Paloma.

Testing the waters

“Most of them use modelling to test the waters before they get into films,” believes G. Venket Ram, ace photographer. “We live in a conservative city; people are not passionate about modelling. Invariably, we get models from Mumbai and Delhi, and the few who are doing well move to Mumbai,” he adds.

“That's because lots of corporates have moved out of Chennai over the years. So while it's good pocket money to earn when you are aged between 18 and 26, it's not really that lucrative. And actors have taken over endorsements. Most of the shoots I have done recently for national brands have been with film personalities. Even the local retail chains such as Saravana Stores and Pothys have got stars to endorse them.”

Sunder Ramu, film and theatre actor and fashion photographer, attributes the lack of talent to a variety of factors. “Culturally, we still look down on it. Second, the way the models are paid is flawed. In Mumbai or Bangalore, you get paid for visibility. Brands shoot for a day and use the same image for five to eight years here. This automatically means lesser opportunities in the near future and ensures none of the other brands go for the same model because she has become a face of the competition. The lack of scope results in a burn-out within a few years. With celebrity endorsements, models are lower down the food chain after actors and cricketers and it's scary because they have a shelf life. Ten years ago, we had a variety of models — dusky, slim, curvy, tall... Today, there's very little choice and everyone does everything. We need a huge revamp, model representatives need to push for better deals for the models.”

“It's not that we don't have models, the quality is dropping,” says adman Sandeep Makam, partner of Be Positive 24, a hotshot creative shop in the city. “Clients prefer to get models out of Bangalore that's just a train ticket away or even to fly them from Mumbai because there's just not enough of a range here. So even if you are a model and start out here, when you go for shows in Bangalore or Mumbai, you realise there is more scope there and want to move. And how often does any client here shoot anyway? Maybe twice or thrice a year. With barely ten big local advertisers, there are maybe 20 big shoots a year… and brands that use men are lesser,” he notes.

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