Transgender model Anjali Lama on going international

Lama’s Asia-specific campaign for Calvin Klein will release on March 14, and celebrates all women   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Anjali Lama burst on to India’s fashion scene in 2017, when the transgender model from Nepal walked for Lakmé Fashion Week. Now, just two years on, she has bagged a campaign for Calvin Klein.

What makes this remarkable is not just the fact that only a handful of Indian models — Lakshmi Menon, Dipti Sharma, Pooja Mor, Diya Prabhakar — have been signed on for campaigns for international luxury houses, but that Lama, 34, is the first transgender model from the subcontinent (and among only a handful worldwide) to be featured in an international brand campaign

The Asia specific campaign, which releases on March 14, celebrates all women, and Lama flew to Phuket, Thailand, to shoot for it. “I never thought I’d do a Calvin Klein campaign one day,” she says. “There were women from 10 countries in the campaign and I was one of them.” She still sounds stunned by it all.

Transgender model Anjali Lama on going international

Never say die

Lama was born Nabin Waiba in the Nuwakot district of Nepal. From an early age she did not identify with the gender ascribed to her at birth, but it was only after she moved to Kathmandu in 2003 and discovered its trans community that she was able to accept who she really was. She came out two years later. “My father and brothers did not, and still do not, accept me,” she says. In Mumbai, where she lives now, she is still unable to rent a house for herself.

Always drawn to the world of fashion and beauty, her friends encouraged her to be a model. Her big break came in 2009 when she was featured in Voice of Women, a national Nepalese magazine. “That’s when I decided I wanted more covers, more photoshoots...,” she recalls. However, she didn’t get work for two years, and was often told she wasn’t feminine enough. But she kept trying.

In 2017, she auditioned for Lakmé Fashion Week, but it took three attempts over two seasons before she was finally included in its pool of models. Her ascent to fame in India was quick after: she has walked for designers such as Rajesh Pratap Singh, Gaurav Gupta and Raw Mango, appeared on the covers of Elle and L’Officiel, been featured in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Grazia and Femina, is represented by the agency Feat.Artists, and also won the GQ award for Agent of Change 2018. “It’s been an amazing journey,” she says.

Each win counts

The fashion industry in India, and internationally, has been on a journey of inclusivity and diversity for the past few years. Supriya Dravid, editor of Elle India, the first magazine to feature Lama on a cover, says, “Inclusivity is vital in today’s cultural context. Anjali’s digital cover was before my time in Elle, but I am so proud of it as it taught us all to think out of the box... More so, because we are shaping young minds to dream beyond the conventional norms of what beauty is, or what a fashion magazine entails.”

The country’s trans community has also been making headlines. Underlining the achievements, Romal Laisram, editor-in-chief of a Chennai-based magazine and an organiser of Namma Pride, points to Narthaki Nataraj, a Bharatanatyam dancer from Tamil Nadu, who became the first trans woman to get a Padma Shri. They are also getting into politics and people like Laxmi Narayan Tripathi are starting akhadas for trans women. “I see the transgender community across India doing amazing stuff,” he says.

But he’s not sure he’ll be celebrating Lama’s achievement. “I don’t know if we should be celebrating industries that are accepting trans people only because they look like stereotyped notions of what a particular gender should look like. While I’m happy for Anjali, I feel it’s not a win for the transgender community because they [the fashion industry] did not accept her because she is trans; they are celebrating her for notions of beauty that are otherwise used on women,” he says.

However, designer Suneet Varma believes the contrary. “There have been trans people before in the fashion industry, but they did not receive this acceptance.” He believes times have changed. “What’s interesting is how people who don’t necessarily have a queer contact or influence in their lives have also become accepting. The whole idea of live and let live has really come alive.”

So, does Lama work with the transgender community, I ask, given her very public position and the scope of her reach. “Of course, I get many queries on Instagram and Facebook from people on their journey, and I counsel and direct them to where they might find help. But I don’t feel I need to work at a community centre,” she says. “Wherever I’m going, my identity goes with me and the community is represented through me. When they mention me, everybody describes me as transgender. If you work and are exposed with your identity, that’s a big thing.”

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 12:18:26 AM |

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