INTERVIEW What makes supermodel-turned-television host Indrani Dasgupta tick?
I n the world of 24 x 7 media, fantasy doesn't exist any more. Stars lose their sheen, so also politicians. However, in these times of exposure, models remain mannequins. They walk the ramp, pose and return to the green room. Occasionally, they are asked to share beauty tips and their diet plan. Once in a while, you find stories about anorexia and the search for the next supermodel. Pretty dumb way to look at a profession which a section of the media defines with exactly these two words — pretty, dumb!
So when one got an opportunity to interact with Indrani Dasgupta, who has now turned a host with Fox History & Traveller's show What's With Indian Men, one decided to dig a little deeper.
A graduate from Miranda House and a post graduate in Economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Indrani is a paradox. Was she conscious of her beauty, did she know how to put it to use…?
“At home my mother was the benchmark of beauty. As an adolescent, I was more of a damsel in distress with the usual issues such as it would have been great if I had straight hair; I never thought a man would like to open the door of a car for me.” Indrani says she realised she could be a model only when she was spotted at Miranda House by Ashish Soni.
“Within three months I was signed by Lakme. So in a sense I was lucky.”
From the outside it is considered a profession where you just have to look good and do a bit of politicking to garner plum assignments. What's the use of education? “It comes into use when you have made the cut because at that stage the glamour industry can suck you in. It gives you the ability to question things and discern right from wrong when there is only a very thin line in between. I don't say that the negative image of the profession that is sometimes portrayed in the media is wrong. The point is, nobody pushes you to take the shortcuts, and here education definitely helps.”
She says it was at JNU that she imbibed the ability to question and say no. “It is not about following a particular ideology but standing up for your beliefs. I was in Yamuna hostel. At times I did get to hear ‘Wwhat is a girl promoting capitalist propaganda doing in a leftist centre of education,' but it was just part of the healthy debate on the campus. Also, Communism might have gone wrong in application but in theory it still holds ground.”
Indrani put the values to use early in her career when she refused a fairness cream advertisement. “Those were early days in my professional career when girls usually find it difficult to say no, but I didn't want to do something I could not accept.”
Somehow modelling is considered easy money. Once you have learnt the art of walking the ramp you just have to repeat it day in and day out for a few minutes. Indrani calls it one of those myths associated with the glamour industry. “The actual work is for a few minutes but a lot of effort goes into making it possible. In the West you are paid for each entry on the ramp but in India you are expected to return four or five times. The show usually goes on till late in the night and if you are booked for the next day's show, you have to catch an early morning flight. If you say no there are plenty of girls waiting to slip into your shoes.”
Is the media understanding? “I think when we started fashion reporting was much more focussed and detailed. Now you put a Bollywood star on the ramp and get the maximum coverage. And it's not just that A-listers make the cut. These days any Bollywood actress can replace a professional model. It is less about the designs and more about the face, which should not be the case. I don't just blame the media; designers are also falling for this herd mentality. In the last few months, some concerned designers have taken a principled stand. Hope things will change for the better.”
She has always remained choosy about her work and stayed on with modelling when most of her peers consider it just as a step to the film industry. “Some people call it lack of ambition. I don't want to be seen after my work. I did get film offers but those were times when an actress had a fixed role. Now things are changing and I am open to considering a good script, new ideas.”
What's About Indian Men is a step in that direction. “It is not your usual travel show. Here we decipher a city through the images that the men of the city generate.” Indrani, who is married, says the problem with Indian men is that despite all the talk of gender equality they have not really come to terms with it. “They still consider a woman vulnerable and want to come to her rescue whenever she gets into a spot. This ‘superior sex' attitude creates trouble most of the time.” Time for a photo shoot and Indrani is once again reduced to a thing of beauty….
Education gives you the ability to question things