I remember when FTV was launched in India, the first channel to showcase international fashion shows. We’d notice the models and think, “Our models look better. Why don’t they take models from here?” Struggling with inane concepts like “fair and lovely” and parental pressure to pursue a “stable career”, India found it hard to find its footing in the international fashion market back then.
While the battle of colourism continues in India, in the West brown skin had a new definition: caramel and chocolate. At the recently held fashion weeks in London, Milan and Paris, four young men from India walked the runway for the most sought-after designers. Meet Tuhir Brahmbhatt, Saurabh Chaudhary, Sajid Shaikh and Neil Varel.
Gujarat to Great Britain
“Today, Indian boys are doing well overseas”
Tuhir Bhrahmbhatt, 22, Ahmedabad
Raised in Ahmedabad, Tuhir Brahmbhatt describes himself as “mischievous”, changing many schools while growing up. When he was in class XII, a close family friend—who is part of the fashion industry—insisted that he try to model. “I chuckled,” says Tuhir, chuckling again.
But the friend sent his photographs to Anima, a Mumbai-based modelling agency, and the next thing he knew, Tuhir had moved to the maximum city.
He found it hard to adjust. “I hadn’t ever lived by myself away from family. Also, I didn’t know how to cook!” he says. But professionally, Tuhir’s graph peaked immediately. “My first shoot was for Zara India and first show was for Louis Vuitton Exclusive. I didn’t understand what exclusive meant, but when I did, I realised how lucky I am,” he gushes.
He learned on the job. “People aren’t aware how tiring and busy the casting process is. There are multiple stages. They see you. You get a call back. They confirm you. Then there are fittings and eventually the show. I usually carry some fruit in my bag pack because the process can be long,” he says.
Abroad, when casting directors looked at Tuhir, they always talked about how keen they were to visit India. “It’s been four years, so I’m sure my look has been received well. Today, Indian boys are doing well overseas,” he says.
Farm to fashion
“My fitting was done by Mr Dolce himself”
Saurabh Chaudhary, 24, New Delhi
Saurabh Chaudhary describes his father as an “educated farmer,” a man with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. The 24-year-old from New Delhi overcame stereotypes to become a model. “In our family, men are meant to join the Army or farm, and women are homemakers,” he explains.
But it was only when he was selected for a Bachelors in Acting Programme in Rohtak that he first contemplated modelling.
“I always liked to dress up. My family couldn’t afford too much, but it was lust, a desire to be able to wear good clothes, watches and accessories. So, with modelling, it meant I’d get to dress well as a profession,” he explains.
A fitness fiend, Saurabh had earlier learned about the Elite Look of the Year contest when a friend suggested that he apply. “When he found out that he wouldn’t have to pay to enter, he abandoned college and ran to Delhi, from where he was selected. “This meant I’d be taking my first trip to Mumbai,” he shares. “I was amongst the eight finalists and won the Mr Popular title, so I thought I was amongst the front runners. But I didn’t win the contest.”
It was then that Saurabh decided to check out the international modelling market. “For the Indian market, I had a fashion face. But internationally they were used to a different look. My first attempt at placement got me the response that my face was very commercial. I didn’t understand whether that was a good thing or not,” he says.
The lockdown changed Saurabh’s fate. “I left my apartment in Mumbai and moved back with my family,” he says. “I decided to work on what it takes to make it abroad. Last year, with the help of Inega, my agency in India, I was placed with PRM, a London-based agency.”
The next step was fashion weeks, where he walked the ramp for Giorgio Armani and Dolce & Gabbana. “Most designers prefer skinny models, so I looked for designers who liked commercial boys. My agency in Milan presented me to Dolce & Gabbana and they shortlisted me immediately. It was a request casting, for which very few people are called, and my fitting was done by Mr Dolce himself. The outfit selected for me was a strong look; the Reel of my outfit on Instagram trended at No 2, right after Machine Gun Kelly.”
Mumbai to Milan
“Now I have agencies across the world”
Neil Varel, 20, Mumbai
Neil Varel was born into a Catholic family in Mumbai, his father running a trading business and his mother a government employee at the High Court of Bombay. Surrounded by entertainment in the city of dreams, he developed an interest in fashion while scrolling through videos on YouTube. “I chanced upon the Prada men’s show and was wowed by how confidently the models walked the runway,” he recalls.
It was at the age of 16 that Neil was scouted by his mother agency, Anima. “I loved interacting with the camera and walking at runway shows gave me a rush,” he says. But it was only when he got placements at agencies abroad that Neil started realising his dreams.
“London, Paris and Milan. Agencies in the biggest cities for fashion. I knew I was getting closer. And now I have agencies across the world,” he says. But while all this sounds glamorous, there is plenty of hard work. “You go back and forth between multiple countries and acclimatising yourself to different kinds of weather. Also, a lot of bookings take place last minute so you need to travel immediately. But quite honestly, it is all worth it,” he grins.
When Milan Fashion Week finally happened for Neil, it was worth the wait. “It was a thrilling experience getting confirmed for my first show in Milan. Nothing can compare to the rush I felt while walking the runway,” he exclaims.
Ronaldo to runway
“I knew the way ahead won’t be easy and I was prepared”
Sajid Shaikh, 24, Mumbai
A self-described mama’s boy, Sajid Shaikh is the only child to a restaurateur father and homemaker mother. “My mother’s advice has been to give 100 per cent in everything you do,” he says.
An avid footballer, he idolises Cristiano Ronaldo; it is, in fact, football that led him to modelling. “Someone walked up to me at a football match and suggested I try modelling,” he reveals.
While some find instant success, Sajid had to wait. “It was quite difficult in the beginning; it wasn’t going as planned. There was a lot of partiality in the Indian market. Even though I worked hard, it was difficult to find work. But everything changed when my agency, Anima signed me on.” he says. For models, finding international representation is the next step. For Sajid, it was an emotional experience. “I was in tears when I got placed but having faced a tough journey, I knew the way ahead won’t be easy and I was prepared.”
London welcomed him and people noticed his “unique look,” finding it distinct from the other Indians placed abroad. But how did the fashion week in Milan happen for him? “It’s a long and hectic process. Even after the castings and fitting, I hadn’t got a confirmation. It was only a day prior to the show that I got confirmed for Dolce & Gabbana. The show was a great experience and the experience made me much stronger.”
Besides the friends and family, strangers also reached out to Sajid. “People I didn’t know congratulated me. People are aware of the designers in our country so they knew that it was an achievement,” he says.
Bharat Gupta is a fashion commentator and stylist, whose last success was styling Miss Universe Harnaaz Sandhu
From HT Brunch, March 13, 2022
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