'It's not so great being a male model in India'
rediff.com speaks to male models from the Indian fashion industry about how women are favoured more when it comes to fame, finances and career-building.
It's a common sight at every fashion week in India.
A throng of mediapersons crowds around well-dressed, impossibly beautiful female models, asking questions about everything from their personal style sense to dating tips.
Meanwhile, a few equally good-looking but unknown male models stand nearby, conversing amongst themselves, virtually ignored by the press.
Unlike their female counterparts -- Carol, Monikangana, Candice, Amrit etc -- these guys aren't known on a first-name basis.
For them, India's male models, life in a female-dominated world is a constant struggle.
First, there are the pre-requisites:
You must be tall, at least 6'0 preferably. You have to be muscular, but not too bulky. You must be lean, but not too skinny. And you can't just have puffed-up biceps and pectoral muscles; you must be well-rounded and have an athletic build and a natural, powerful gait (at least the ramp-walkers).
So most male models spend countless hours in the gym perfecting their physiques, play tons of sports to maintain their agility and have an extraordinarily healthy diet: salads, lots of fruit, lots of protein and very little carbs or fatty oils.
As always in India, fair skin is a huge boost. Chiselled features, light eyes and scruffy chins seem to do the trick as well. But not just any typically handsome Punjabi-esque face will do. You need an additional spark, something that makes you stand out from the crowd.
'There's really no scope for menswear here'
As for the pay, it's not great at all -- usually a fraction of what top female models get. While some of India's catwalk queens rake in as much as Rs 1 lakh per show, we heard that the best-known male models make anywhere upto Rs 30,000, depending on the designer. But more realistically, the figure for most guys is somewhere around Rs 10,000.
And there are not that many shows to go around. During a typical fashion week in India, only one of the four or five days is focused on menswear. Otherwise, it usually features here and there just to spice up designers' collections.
"In India, as a male model, it's not so great," notes established model Hrishant Goswami. "It's definitely better to be a woman in this industry."
"Let's face it: menswear in India does not warrant the same attention as ladies' wear. I guess you could design some India-inspired casualwear, or you could specialise in Indian formals. But other than that, there's really no scope for menswear. Who's going to buy a suit designed and made in India? Any discerning buyer knows Europe is the place to go for all that," said one well-known designer during the menswear day of Lakme Fashion Week. She asked to remain anonymous.
While many female models are chosen to wear 'showstoppers' and achieve genuine fame on the ramp, in the men's category nearly all designers use well-known celebrities for their 'big moments'.
Image: Hrishant Goswami
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani
No 'top' male model at the moment
When an Akshay Kumar or even a lesser known star like Shreyas Talpade walks the ramp, suddenly the media sits up and take notice. Otherwise, the menwear collections are generally snooze fests.
But even though their earnings and opportunities on the ramp pale in comparison to their female counterparts, the fact is that it is mainly on the ramp that these male models earn most of their money.
Unlike the female beauty industry, with its countless creams, masks, shampoos and so on, there is limited opportunity for off-the-ramp male modelling. Usually, if they appear at all, the men serve as handsome back-drops in advertisements targetted toward women.
The few big endorsements and promotions that do come around, of course, go to superstars like MS Dhoni, John Abraham and Shah Rukh Khan.
In fact, there really isn't a 'top' male model in India at the moment.
Model-cum-deejay Ignatius Camilo, who hails from Goa and is better known as Iggy, is perhaps India's best-known and most coveted male model. But even he hardly registers on the media's radar, and is actually more passionate about his successful career in music.
And in a city like Mumbai, with literally thousands of hopefuls, competition is incredibly tough.
Image: Farhad Shahnawaz
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani
'You're surrounded by so many beautiful women'
So why do it all?
To a man, the models' answer is that showbiz glory awaits. They want to star in serials or in Bollywood films. Most take acting and dancing lessons, and have even been known to do a bit of theatre work. And although many of them are hesitant to come out and say it, they view modelling as a stepping stone.
"You do make a lot of connections and meet some great people modelling," says Goswami. "I'd like to get into acting and this is a great way to do that."
Model Farhad Shahnawaz, who aspires to break into the entertainment world, is practical about his chances and the modelling industry. "Modelling is great for a short amount of time, but not forever," he says. "You meet a lot of people and a lot of models get into films and serials."
Admitting that a model's salary often isn't enough to pay the bills, Shahnawaz jokes that the most common career path for models is to "join the family business".
The strikingly handsome, 6'2" Freddy Daruwala is definitely one to keep an eye on, however. He's been to New York to meet with some international agencies, and is generally considered one of India's most talented male models. He concedes that the industry may be geared towards women, but that this isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"It's great to be a male model in a 'female' industry, because you're surrounded by so many beautiful women," he jokes.
Image: Freddy Daruwala
Photographs: Sanjay Sawant
'I really love my line of work'
"Of course, the women get paid better, and the competition's tough. But there's still opportunities for talented male models. So I really love my line of work," adds Daruwala.
Ever hesitant to use the 'stepping stone' description, he puts it diplomatically: "I wouldn't say modelling is a stepping stone, because I really enjoy doing it. But it's true that it's a good way to meet people in the film and acting industry, which is something I look forward to doing in the future. So in 2-3 years, I probably won't be doing fashion weeks any more, I'll be acting."
And if that doesn't work out? "I'll be working in my own garage! I love bikes, so it'd be awesome to work with them for a living," says the optimistic Daruwala.
6' Rahul Singh is another candidate trying to balance between Bollywood dreams and modelling realities. He's modelling whenever he can, he says, but also spends two-three hours a day dancing. He also regularly does theatre.
Recently, Singh adds, he's found a new avenue through which to develop his skills - -music videos.
"One interesting opportunity I've been exploring is music videos: I've done six of them till now. Music videos force you to act and dance on camera, so it's a great learning experience. Doing that has taught me a lot," he explains.
Image: Rahul Singh
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani