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What does it take to be a model today?

December 6, 2006

arvind-tucker_1_1.jpgWell, a pretty face isn’t enough. Expressionless cardboard cut-outs even if they are tall lissome beauties or handsome hunks are dumped in favour of models who have expressive faces and as for ad filmmakers – they are always on the lookout for models who can act. In their eyes what counts is performance. And when models who can perfom can’t be found, they go for real people or often – actors.

Are actors in and models out?
For his Fevicol egg spot, where did Prasoon Pandey get his very authentic looking ‘cook’? ‘I waded through scores of pictures of models and still couldn’t find the appropriate cook,’ he admits. Eventually he settled on Sitaram, a supplier of junior artistes! ‘His look was just right,’ says Prasoon. In this case, it was the person’s look, his expression and acting performance that counted.
No wonder character roles in ad films are done by experienced professionals from showbiz. Kamal Chopra of the ‘one black coffee’ fame was a theatre person. He achieved stardom only when he did this character role. After that he was offered many ‘roles’ in ad films.
Kiran Janjani, who did the ‘Khandala…Coca Cola’ ad and the ‘After Smoke bye bye love spot’, had done live shows with Alisha Chinai for many years before he started modeling. ‘One has to use one’s imagination even while modeling. It is also important to look at a script and be able to act it out,’ he says. He believes that this is his plus point and has helped him clinch deals on the spot.
An ad for a popular haircare product needed a protagonist with different personalities. One personality was to be cocky and confident – showing off a stylish mop. The other personality was to be a simple and sober one – more into substance (nourishment) rather than flamboyance. The first one had to show surprise in a somewhat disdainful manner, the second needed to have an unaffected, serious kind of surprised look. Janjani got that role.

Commercial acting is hard
Commercial acting is different from cinematic acting. It is harder because so much has to be communicated in an instant. There’s little time for build-up and no space to ‘ease into the character’. In the Samsung Super Horn spot for example, where the husband assumes that the voice on TV is that of his wife’s lover, some five emotions had to be expressed in about two seconds! ‘It’s like five bears in one shot,’ says Ravi Khote, the husband in the film. Khote comes from a theater background and believes that a rookie model couldn’t have done it. Atul Pachure, the plump fellow who played the role of the nerd in the Chiclets film also has a theatre background.
But it’s not as if all performing models have a theatre background. There was Sameera Nanda who got the right ‘secret garden look’ for the Cadbury’s Gold ad. She was a veejay then. But then veejays are used to being spontaneous and natural.
The ‘look’ of the model is also important. It could be a natural twinkle in the eyes for example, or a sweet or rakish smile, the features hard, soft…whatever.
aryan-vaid_1_1.jpgWhen a model is a good actor he often gets snapped up the film industry. Aryan Vaid for example.
What is important is that the models aren’t conscious of their sex appeal. Or of anything, really. ‘Pretty faces and mannequins. What’s the difference? I prefer models to look like my mother or sister,’ says Prasoon Pandey, ad film-maker, who doesn’t like ‘plasticky faces in plasticky situations’.

What about good looks then?
So does this mean that pretty faces are out? Not at all, says Mehr Jessia, owner of a modeling agency, ‘Clients may not always want supermodels, they want faces consumers can relate to and therefore expressive faces are important. But looks are also important.’
In fact, today’s advertisers, ad agencies and ad film-makers are clear that they want pretty faces. ‘Character roles are becoming important, but the key person in the ad often needs to be not just good-looking, but also slim and young, specially if it’s a woman. Advertisers want everything these says…the models have to be beauties but not synthetic ones, the men have to be good lookers but not exactly macho he-men,’ says Atul Kelkar, owner of a modeling agency.

Some old prejudices linger on
Dark skinned beauties are still not preferred inspite of the fact that the stunning Bipasha Basu broke this barrier. ‘They don’t sell,’ admits Kelkar ruefully. Boy and girls with typical North eastern looks are also not preferred. In fact advertisers hesitate to choose any model who either looks out of the ordinary or is not the ‘accepted standard’ of beauty.
It is rather difficult to believe but at one time, light eyed women were not a the choice of advertisers either. A company like Pepsi was sceptical about using the beautiful Aishwarya Rai because she had light eyes! Light eyes have traditionally been seen as aish_in_khakee_1_1.jpg‘vampish’ in Hindi cinema. But Pepsi went ahead with Ash anyway, and the rest is history! The commercial was a roaring success and after that light eyes were no more a taboo.

It’s a tough call for advertisers
The premium on good looks can make the choice for the ad agency difficult. If the ad is for a skin cream, possessing a good skin is not enough. The advertiser wants good features too. If the ad is for a hair oil, then a model with long thick hair is not enough. She needs to be good looking as well. And beyond this, if acting talent is also needed, then the search can be a very long one. Few modeling agencies provide a large array of ‘characters.’ ‘They don’t even know if the models can act,’ says Prahlad Kakar, ad film maker.

Premium on youth
Another aspect of advertising is that advertisers want slim, youthful models, specially if it’s a woman. Girls in their late teens play housewives with two kids. ‘It works,’ points out Kelkar, ‘the clients want it.’

Is that why Bollywood is taking over?
It is not surprising then that any advertiser who can afford it uses a celebrity to endorse his products. Rani Mukherjee, Saif Ali Khan, Amitabh or Kajol…these are just a few of the names who are cornering the ‘roles’ in ad films. In fact it’s a treat to watch Rani in the rani_1_1.jpglatest Fanta ad film (check out UTube for the video). These people are professionals, and they can slip into the role with ease and plus they have celebrity appeal. Interestingly, top Hollywood actors find it demeaning to endorse brands.

What’s the future?
Well, while supermodels will always have their niche and will be used to sell glamour products, it is the acting models which will be in demand. And unless the models become actors, Bollywood stars will walk away with the meaty roles.

(A revised version of what was published in the Advertising and Marketing (A&M) Magazine under the title of Thespian Takeover)

(The thumbnail images have been sourced from Bollyvista, Ashfanclub and UTube)

Related Reading: Are celebrities effective in selling the products they endorse?
How Aishwarya Rai won the Miss World title
On Bollywood: Quotes which show the narcissiism of celebrities is not as bad as that of politicians.
Bollywood paychecks continue to grow

8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2007 11:14 pm

    It takes loads of make-up and no jumping around during a fotoshoot, that is when one can be a model today

  2. hg_chyk permalink
    February 7, 2007 11:31 pm

    Weight? Height? Face? What does it take? I am not totally downing the modeling industry, but so many women have become anorexic! What is the world coming to?? Will we stand back and watch teenage girls gawk over fake beauty or find real women who live in an every day life?

  3. Phantom permalink
    July 19, 2007 5:22 am

    Hmmmm……some very cynical comments to follow:

    To be a female model – a heightened sense of narcissistic pride about your physical features – intensified only by the constant adoration from an overly indulgant family and social circle.

    Male model – same as above – plus, probbaly involves having to sleep with some of the male power-brokers in the modelling industry (a friend who’s a model in bbay told me that this actually happens a fair bit, he got out of the industry cos of all the crap one has to go through) .

  4. September 26, 2007 6:51 am

    I feel there is a strong degradation in the art and creativity scene in India as it is a very closed community which allows mostly relatives in.

    Thanks to the economic boom and need of models for various related reasons we are getting to see some new faces.

    In India skin color, face go a looong way and think your external physical beauty is what its all about if you want to be successful!

  5. October 7, 2007 11:21 am

    You need a good photographer like me🙂

  6. October 16, 2007 5:34 am

    Let’s not forget how the magazines airbrush any flaws, especially those a movie star might have.

    I enjoy many of the movies I see from England- most of the actors look like real people, and their acting is terrific.

    I haven’t seen too many Indian films. Any recommendations? The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri, has been a successful novel and movie.

  7. October 16, 2007 6:05 am

    Hi Christina!🙂 Thanks for your comment.
    Actually Bollywood films fall into two categories…there are some typical melodramatic films which you may not enjoy. But they are good films, meant for a certain audience but you cannot ask for reality! But there are other kinds of films too, and I recommend Lagaan. It was nominated for the Oscars. It didn’t win, but it’s an excellent film. A class apart.

    About The Namesake, well it’s a good film but it is set in a different time. It’s not about modern India. I think the sixties…

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