Friday, October 31, 2008


Anybody who looks like this and has done a handful of ramp shows at 19 in a small town, feels like a supermodel. Nothing wrong with it it seems. Of course nothing wrong with it!

I was in my final year of BSc in 1994. Friends at IT College & AGDC told me of a guy called Mayank Srivastava. 'You know he clicks these amazing model type pictures of you for only Rupees 8 per pic and the best part is he also gives you back the negatives!' That was the good word that spread like wildfire in these two colleges in Lucknow.

So me and another friend land up at his house one day. We meet him. He is married. He has an old charming terrace flat. He says he generally shoots on the terrace...out in the open. His wife knows he does that. So everything seems normal. We fix a date and time. We ask him what clothes should we carry. He says 'don't worry, I got some clothes from Mumbai...really nice modern things....all girls wear wear them'. We say ok.

Rupees 8 multiplied by 36 for a roll...that is 288 rupees. We decide to split the cost so we can afford it as we didn't get much pocket money.... So that made it 18 photos each. Give or take bad ones so at least we would have landed up with 10 good ones. That was the math!

I asked another friend Radhika to help me with a lift to college on her Kinetic Honda for some time so I could save some petrol money and use it to get a folio done.

In my excitement I couldn't keep it from my parents. They were shocked initially but they said 'ok' to go ahead and get a full roll done. They would pay. Only one condition. I should get at least one good photo in a Saree and one in a Salwar Kameez. I knew what that was for but I agreed. It was a good bargain.

Every girl dreams of herself as a model or a filmstar. She dreams. Cherishes that dream and safely locks it back into the many many layers of neatly folded and preserved wishes that never will come true.

So folio clothes that I would never be seen wearing before or after the day of the shoot....for many many years to come. The photographs and negatives safely stashed away coz that was the height of any small town parent entertaining such weird aspirations. (I remember getting a rejection letter from the 'Miss India' guys. I was on cloud nine! Who cared about the rejection...I had a letter with my name on it from these guys....signed by Pradeep Guha...that was a trophy in itself!)

I was meant to do my PG...then Phd...marry a nice young Army doctor. All was forgotten about modelling and I was on my way to Karnataka University Dharwar to do my MSc in Zoology.

And then as all my friends know....irony of fate...Advertising happened to on my way to the Univ., completely out of the blue. 12th August 1996 to be precise. I joined as a third production assistant to the adfilmmaker Mr. Gyan Correa in Mumbai for a salary of 2000 rupees a month.

I was living in a colony in Bandra East as a sub rent was cheap... 1200/month. I even lived in the slums near teachers colony for a week when I was in between paying guest accomodations. I walked every day to office - Bandra East to Vakola - to save on transport cost. On a good day I took the bus one way. 314 cost Rs. 2/- to reach but 315 cost Rs. 2.50/- to be back. Couldn't ask Dad to help for two reasons - first coz I had come here against his wish and second coz I didn't want to accept defeat and go back to Lucknow.

My first job....go to Deepti Bhatnagar's house and take her measurements for a dress for the Anne French ad...I had never seen anyone so beautiful from so close. I just kept looking at her. I saw Randeep there too. Didn't know she was married. She wasn't. That evening I learnt there is something called 'live-in'.

Second errands and handle slippers for Boman Irani for Lazor blades shoot....

Third job...go fetch a Lebanese model from the Airport for a Dabur Vatika shoot...

Fourth job...handle dinner for a TVS scooty shoot at Ballard pier....that was big! I was told to get chicken stroganoff from Sundance. I did so for the whole crew!! They came in petite boxes and by midnight all the lightboys and setting guys were hungry as hell. What a disaster!!! That was the first time I time I was allowed to interact with ad. agency people directly...there was Naren from O&M (now Mccann film chief). I ran around getting chairs for them everytime they moved.

Fifth job...Moti soap...Deepti Bhatnagar again...her face, neck and hands were in frame...I had to sit down with a bucket of surf water....make bubbles are big so the task was to make tiny ones and hand over a handful of it to Deepti before the take so she could do the application shot.

During one of the takes I made big bubbles by mistake. Got shouted at. Everybody from director, cameraman (I think it was Sunil Patel) to the production head....just about everybody expressed their anger as the take was ruined coz of a rookie.

I was warned. Next take started. All went back to normal. I dunno what happened....tap tap tap...I was crying. I was a Colonels daughter. I was a topper. I was to do my Phd. I would have been a scientist. What was I doing!!!

Full lights, camera, action....the shoot went on. Nobody saw me crying. Even if they did, I guess they chose to ignore. Without looking up I was handing Deepti her share of tiny Surf bubbles.

I felt a hand on my shoulders. It was Shiva. The special effects Shiva. Water guy...rain guy Shiva! He just looked at me and said 'it's a tough will not be doing this all ur life...someday you will be big and these same people will look upto you....but never forget who you are as you climb the ladder'. I smiled at him and really haven't met him after that. But his words I will never forget.

Lazor blade re-shoot followed. My younger brother was in town and decided to come over to see the shoot. I could not say no. He saw me sitting down and handing over Boman his slippers after every take. I was tensed. Boman saw this and asked me why. I told him that I didn't want my brother to go back and tell my parents 'didi to actor logo ke chappal sambhalti hai'.

Boman asked me to step aside and called his assistant to do it. At the lighting change he walked upto me and said 'Come let's have lunch.' It wasn't lunch break so I had to decline. He walked upto my brother and said 'Hi I am Boman. Come sit with me. Let's have lunch'. My brother was so happy. He looked at me. He thought I had sent Boman :) And till date, the story he tells is 'Boman Irani asked me to have lunch with him when I went to meet Didi' and not 'didi was taking care of slippers'!

Then I was handling video tests. Young Anchal Kumar saying 'I have come from Chandigarh'....a chubby Preity Zinta accompanying her tall sister (or was it cousin) Tuhina...Priti Jhangiani doing her first test alongwith seasoned sister Deepa for dabur Vatika....a lanky Achint Kaur with Karan Oberoi....Gayatri Joshi....Gautami Gadgil....Rakshanda Khan doing a screen test for Lakme....everybody looked and sounded like me. Little nervous...little awkward...little unsure but handful of dreams made us go all the way....

Soon I was good at getting anything from a hairpin to hawai jahaaz at anytime of the day. Making shaving foam laced cakes for Tisca Chopra to drop for a Mobilink shoot, I was smiling, coz I had kinda figured out this world. Nothing here is for real or forever and you gotta make your own way. Make hay while the sun shines! And if you do meet a few genuine people...go out of ur way to keep them in ur life coz they are rare & precious.

All this while, those photographs stayed in one VIP suitcase that I had got with me to Mumbai. Hoping in my heart against all hope....someday somebody will come up and say 'hey you are beautiful....why don't you try modelling'. Well :) when you gotta pay gotta do all kinds of work. I did too. I even showed these pix to a few people. The response I got was mostly a smirk which was more like 'oh these small towners'! Sudha Mehta got me one assignment. I was told I will be given three thousand rupees for a day to stand behind a counter along with 6 other girls.

With due respect to dignity of labour, I declined. As expected, I never heard from her again.

Many producers whom I have come to know so well through JWT don't know that I have worked for them at some point as an assistants assistant or have done some really obscure work.

I tried my hands at camerawork with Sameer sabnis for a year (was his focus puller), editing (at Master Video in Tardeo), freelance production...just about everything! I learnt the tricks of the trade on the job... slowly I found what I really liked....writing and making films....

And then JWT happened to me in December 1998. It changed my life!

I met mentors like Sumira Roy, Vicky Bangera, Raj Tambaku, Gopal Shah, Joel & Gemma...ohh so many from all walks of filmmaking! They saw me grow. They helped me grow as a professional without any prejudice. They brought out the best in me. For someone who could not speak two sentences of English without self doubt...they helped me come a long way. I have my own Company today through which I do all my writing and filmmaking work! I love children so I write kiddie stuff for books & TV channels too. Cancer happened. Friendships grew stronger. Family stood by me. It helped me grow as a person. Miles to go yet...

As a gentle reminder of the past , those photographs found their way to the scanner...hard disk....emails...orkut facebook profile. Even though I am way past the age and stage of being in front of the camera or on the ramp, I still feel....somebody will come upto me and say 'you know you are beautiful, you should be a model'!

Recently Partha (my husband) wrote on Iras facebook wall in fun "What do you mean by 'Vandu is looking beautiful'....Vandu 'is' beautifu!" It tickled me pink no end.

Fo girls, every road is a ramp and every mirror a camera. They will sway at every jog, sashay down the footpath, flutter eyelashes & preen every time they see their reflection. No matter what her calling in life be told 'you are beautiful' remains every girl's secret dream.

You can never take the model out of any girl :)


  1. Hey,I have seen these fotos of urs.. long long back..and
    i very well remember abt a girl(haa haa..who else)with whom we had accompanied her to the Karnatak University Dharwad campus(in May 1996 i think).
    I had even visited one of your earlier office(i think in 1997) in Bandra once where u had shown me a album of models... and i think u even said,,koi pasand aayee kyaa tuzey..(haa haa)
    U even stayed at the Air India Quarters with some family friend of urs in Khar..i think

  2. you're so right.

    and it's not just being told you're beautiful- it's about feeling that way too

    reminds me of a friend's grandmom who had to have a breast removed due to cancer- seeing her weep inconsolably was the probably the saddest that i've felt. here was this lady , all of 76, a widow, with children who had grandchildren.

    i realised that it was not as much the physical loss as her feeling less feminine

    and that age and your station in life has very little to do with it

  3. Hi Anand :) yes I remember those days so well. Living illegally in all those PG accommodations just coz they came cheap. My office was in Vakola. I lived in Bandra.

    Sachin, yes I know :) you are never too old to feel beautiful. All you need is good people around you so they can guide you well. Else it's sooo easy to get lost.

  4. Hey, i saw that tiny mention of! Feels good. :) BTW u r BEAUTIFUL... inside out... oustside in. Enjoyed taking this trip down memory lane with u. Had even forgotten the name.... mayank Sharma.. Phew! Some days... and some ramp shows.... Remember Pari hoo main.. might have a photo or two tucked away some where...:) TC and much love. radhika

  5. but vandy...i already told are beautiful...even more now than before:)and i will definitely try and cast u in da near future:)

  6. Hey, i saw that tiny mention of! Feels good. :) BTW u r BEAUTIFUL... inside out... oustside in. Enjoyed taking this trip down memory lane with u. Had even forgotten the name.... mayank Sharma.. Phew! Some days... and some ramp shows.... Remember Pari hoo main.. might have a photo or two tucked away some where...:) TC and much love.Radhika

  7. Yes Radhika I remember Pari hoon main :) and Roja Janeman...Strike a pose.. what is love...sashaying down on all these for Modern Silk House or inter college competitions...God...what days :)

    Sandra..thx dear :) the movie kinda brought out the long gone memories...God has been kind that I got good people to guide me and finally help me find my calling which is what I do today :)

  8. Impressive n seems to have come a full circle for you and it's ur time now....enjoy

  9. I was actually crying when I read your words darling. What a story and how you told it!
    It should be published :)

    You are a true beauty!

  10. Finally Saw Fashion and cud relate with ur blog and my mumbai sojournas well, better. BTW wasn't mayank the choreographer for our show @ NiiT fest?

  11. Believe you me, when I saw the movie, my mind wandered towards you. You were in THE glam world of Advertising when I met you for the 1st time, we never knew what you did.
    I came to know of your background & the reason why you came to Mumbai then. Its a very good & touching narrative on what all one has to go through in their formative years; was moved by the Boman Irani episode.
    It gives a very sketch of your persona, that you are a fighter in all situations.
    Well as Partha said, YOU are beautiful, sweetheart, in mind, body & soul.

  12. You just made my day:)..


  13. what a journey, vandy!
    also newfound respect for boman.
    am sharing this post on facebook.

  14. Hey Vandana!

    Whatever you said was absolutely true. Because I have those dreams for myself and though I know it is practically not possible for me to go against my family...I still dream of walking the ramp. I am pursuing my graduation..but still modeling goes in my mind..always. Someday..sometime..even I feel someone would come up to me and say "You are really beautiful! Why don't you try for modeling"

    Loved reading your post. I can really connect to it.


  15. Thanks for visiting the blog :) this is such a universal feeling and trust's not just when u r young...y grandmother corrected me sternly when i told her that in next 9 years we will be celebrating her centenary...she said "i am not 91, I am only 89'" :)

  16. Hi, very interesting post, greetings from Greece!

  17. Hello there from Greece :) thanks for visiting this space.

  18. Great to read that and about the pics from then and now there's not an iota of difference!!!

  19. u r way too kind :) thanks aadil

  20. "...if you do meet a few genuine people...go out of ur way to keep them in ur life coz they are rare & precious."

    the Truth, told the way it should be :)

  21. Truth is best served honest....with just a few drops of silence on matters that might end up embarrassing ur loved ones. Thanks for visiting the blog.

  22. Wow... was actually reading your post about Satyamev Jayate n that beautiful photo (later knew that it was yours.) pulled me here...
    Very honest account of oneself... liked it a lot...

    Those photos are surely small towny but hey the model IS beautiful! This comes from a photographer himself!! :D

  23. Today I got a lot of brickbats for the SMJ post. Your comment made me smile. Thank you so much :)

  24. Vandana, you look sooooo pretty in those snaps :) And I am sure you are glad you didn't turn out to be a model, don't think it would have been as fulfilling as your current journey :D

  25. Yes...I absolutely cherish the serene equilibrium and personal growth of the present moment.


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