Re­vis­it­ing the feisty Mehr Je­sia’s ‘I Be­lieve’

Savvy - - Contents -

WHEN YOU THINK TOP, YOU THINK MEHR JE­SIA’.

‘There can never be an­other Mehr Je­sia’ – these are not things I say or be­lieve in. It’s what oth­ers say to me over and over again. Whether it’s true or not, I don’t re­ally know or care, it’s not im­por­tant to me.

But what I do care about and what is im­por­tant to me is the fact that what I am, what I have be­come to­day, is thanks to this pro­fes­sion.

The name, the fame, the money, the ex­pe­ri­ence, I owe it all to the beauty busi­ness, the mod­el­ing pro­fes­sion, I’ve taken so much from it. It’s time to give back to it.

Why the mod­el­ing in­dus­try is such a con­fused one with no clear pat­terns of form and func­tion­ing is be­cause peo­ple have sim­ply ex­tracted from it. Mod­els have come, taken from it, and gone. They’ve ex­ploited or they have been ex­ploited.

No­body has had a larger per­spec­tive of the pro­fes­sion or nur­tured any real de­sire to change things; to cre­ate a pre­cise for­mat of op­er­a­tion which could then be sta­bi­lized for the gen­er­a­tions that fol­low. No­body has cared enough. The at­ti­tude has been a ‘make hay while the sun shines, then run’ one. I am go­ing to change that.

I’m quit­ting to­day, yes. But not ‘quit­ting’ as in ‘de­sert­ing’ or ‘aban­don­ing’. I’m tak­ing a back­seat for a few months dur­ing which I’m go­ing to plan and cre­ate a mod­el­ing agency. One that will rev­o­lu­tion­ize the mod­el­ing pro­fes­sion. My agency is go­ing to build up mod­els, guard and pro­tect them. Hav­ing been through it all, since I have worked with the best and the worst, I know ex­actly which are the loop­holes and where we mod­els fall short. But let me start at the be­gin­ning, where it all be­gan.

CHIL­DREN HAVE THIS IN-BUILT RE­SIS­TANCE TO ANY­THING THAT PAR­ENTS SAY OR WANT; I WAS NO DIF­FER­ENT…

We were a nice, nor­mal, reg­u­lar, typ­i­cal Parsi fam­ily. Very happy, ter­ri­bly in­te­grated. Mum and dad met through Air In­dia where they both worked, my mum as an air-host­ess. The four of us trav­elled a lot; sum­mer hol­i­days were al­ways in Amer­ica, Europe or Aus­tralia, mainly Aus­tralia be­cause mum has a lot of rel­a­tives there.

My child­hood was full of fit­ness-con­scious­ness be­cause my dad is very par­tic­u­lar on this score; he has to work out ev­ery day, even now. We spent a lot of our grow­ing years in Tal­walkar’s at Mahim. We got what we wanted but ba­si­cally, we were brought up to think twice be­fore want­ing to buy some­thing. (The re­sult is that even though I am earn­ing so much of money now, I still re­spect its value.) There was logic in ev­ery­thing. You were given your pocket money of ₹ 10 a week; it was up to you to spend it in a day or spread it out and it was meant to in­clude Satur­day night movie ex­penses too.

My fa­ther is deeply spir­i­tual. All Par­sis have to wear a sadra and kasti and pray once a day. My dad would in­sist on this and I would feel forced into do­ing it. Chil­dren have this in-built re­sis­tance to any­thing par­ents say or want. It was when I was around 13, a Parsi pri­est ex­plained to me the sym­bol­ism and sig­nif­i­cance of the mal­mal cloth­ing, the pro­tec­tion it pro­vides from the forces of evil; by then the prayers too were trans­lated into English so I knew what I was say­ing. Ini­tially, I used to pray only when I needed some­thing; then I re­al­ized com­mu­ni­ca­tion with God had to go above and be­yond needs. I’m glad my fa­ther dis­ci­plined me into the prayer habit; I don’t miss out my prayers for a sin­gle day; I pray af­ter my bath; it’s where I get my strength and sta­bil­ity from. And I’m never

with­out my sadra and kasti ex­cept, of course, when I’m do­ing a fash­ion show.

THERE ARE SOME THINGS I DON’T AGREE WITH IN ZORASTRIANISM…

It is a beau­ti­ful re­li­gion and there are beau­ti­ful peo­ple who are part of the re­li­gion, but there are some things in it which baf­fle me. If a Parsi boy mar­ries a nonParsi girl, they can have Parsi chil­dren, but if a Parsi girl mar­ries out of the com­mu­nity, her chil­dren will not be Par­sis. This may have been ac­cept­able in a cer­tain era when peo­ple had a cer­tain men­tal­ity and dis­crim­i­na­tion was tol­er­ated; but not now when the world has changed and peo­ple are more ed­u­cated and en­light­ened. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

More­over, the com­mu­nity must ac­cept that to­day it has be­come very dif­fi­cult to look out for a suit­able part­ner in life who is Parsi. My par­ents want me to marry a Parsi only, but I’m sorry I don’t agree with their views.

My ma­ter­nal grand­mother did things her way. She didn’t want to be taken to Doonger­wadi for her last rites. She wanted to be cre­mated in Syd­ney where she was liv­ing. And it was done over there. Every­one agreed to it. Thank good­ness she paved the way. So if I marry a non-Parsi and later, the re­li­gion doesn’t al­low my body to en­ter Doonger­wadi, it’s al­right with me. It was not im­por­tant for my grand­mother, it’s not im­por­tant for me.

I would have wanted my chil­dren to be Par­sis, but if it’s not pos­si­ble, it’s not, what can one do? I would say to­day that it’s not im­por­tant what re­li­gion you be­long to (es­pe­cially since re­li­gion seems to be the cause of less joy and so much up­heaval these days). I would still give my chil­dren the val­ues and tra­di­tions of be­ing good hu­man be­ings; no one can stop me from do­ing that.

I WASN’T VERY GOOD AT STUD­IES AND I HATED MATHS…

So I was sent to this ex­cel­lent tu­ition teacher called Naju Shroff, to learn Maths. She made me fall in love with the sub­ject and till to­day I love Maths (I got 98% in my SSC ex­ams). The point I’m mak­ing is that if I make up my mind to do some­thing, I try to do it 100% and I will not give up half­way.

I was very pop­u­lar in my school, J B Vachcha, and I’m sure I must have been great, both as an as­sis­tant cap­tain and as a cap­tain which I be­came sub­se­quently, be­cause I was not a hard taskmas­ter. I had to see that every­one had clean nails, that they were wear­ing their badges etc. I let of­fend­ers be, be­cause I re­ally did not con­sider it an im­por­tant enough is­sue. I mean, isn’t it the par­ents’ duty to see that their daugh­ters come to school with clean nails? Even when we had to prac­tise for the march past – all other cap­tains would call their group at 6 in the morn­ing (school started at 8); I told my team it was okay by me if they came at 7.30 (which was when I came!). I knew how dif­fi­cult it was to get up early in the morn­ing, and I wasn’t go­ing to in­con­ve­nience my group just be­cause of a lit­tle power play. When I be­came the Red House cap­tain, it was the first year the house came first; we were so happy that in­stead of march­ing there­after in a straight line, we al­most ran over the peo­ple at the side!

At home, there was no ob­ses­sion about aca­demic ex­cel­lence; for my par­ents, my pass­ing was good

enough. When I got 76% in my SSC ex­ams, every­one was as­ton­ished be­cause it was my sis­ter Aban who was the bril­liant one and she’d got 78%. My par­ents were so happy and I went around ex­cit­edly in­form­ing every­one that I had got a dis­tinc­tion.

I feel very good and warm when I think of those days at home. I was what you would call a very good girl. My sis­ter was the beauty of the house ac­tu­ally, she was the one who liked to go out for par­ties. I used to be happy watching videos at home.

Even though my par­ents were lib­eral with us, there were cer­tain rules that had to be fol­lowed. The four of us had to have our meals to­gether, which meant we had to come home by a cer­tain time.

And whether a party started at 10 or 10.30, cur­few time was 11 p.m. We didn’t rebel be­cause they were very rea­son­able in the way they told us things. One thing I do re­mem­ber is that they didn’t like me eat­ing with my fin­gers but I loved to eat that way be­cause you can eat more when you eat with your hands.

My fa­ther also in­sisted that I wear long skirts. Even when I used to go to the gymkhana to play bad­minton, I had to wear a long skirt, and then change into my short skirt. At that time I used to think it was silly, but now I see the wis­dom be­hind it. Be­cause imag­ine me walk­ing down that street where so many peo­ple would be look­ing at me, and my bad­minton skirt was re­ally very short.

I’VE NEVER SEEN A BET­TER MAR­RIAGE THAN MY PAR­ENTS’; THE CREDIT GOES TO MY MOTHER…

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween one’s par­ents is so im­por­tant for the way chil­dren turn out. My par­ents were good with each other, and that gave us a sense of well-be­ing which I took for granted then but to­day, hear­ing oth­ers’ ex­pe­ri­ences, I re­al­ize how for­tu­nate we have been. My mother did not work af­ter we were born (both of us were cae­sare­ans) and she was al­ways there for us. My mum loves cook­ing and my dad left the kitchen in her hands. Till to­day, we have two ser­vants in the house, but mum does the cook­ing 99% of the time. She picks up recipes from mag­a­zines, and for us eat­ing at home is a plea­sure. She used to go to stitch­ing classes, and she tried to push me to do it too, but I dropped out af­ter three months. Ba­si­cally she has kept a fab­u­lous home for us and I do not know what we would have done with­out her. I’ve never seen a bet­ter mar­riage than my par­ents’ and I’ve seen a lot. I would say the credit goes to my mother. My dad is a dar­ling but he is a very strong per­son­al­ity and he’s hot-tem­pered too; he be­lieves in keep­ing his emo­tions un­der con­trol. My mother is the one show­ing emo­tion all the time, she’s full of af­fec­tion; we are the world to her. I know my fa­ther loves me very much but he will not show it.

IT WAS THE FIRST TIME MY FA­THER SLAPPED ME, AND BOY! IT HURT…

I’ve al­ways been very good with chil­dren, dogs and cats. In our colony, there are some Montes­sori schools; dur­ing the sum­mer va­ca­tions I used to go and help out with chil­dren and by the time I was 16, I wanted to be a Montes­sori teacher. My par­ents wanted me to grad­u­ate and be­come an airhost­ess; it’s what both of them have done with their lives; at one point, I too more or less de­cided to be­come one for I thought it would be the best way to see the world. I had al­ready seen the world with

my par­ents, but it’s dif­fer­ent when you are see­ing it on your own.

Mean­while, I was in college and I hated at­tend­ing lec­tures - as a re­sult of which I had to leave Sophia College and join an­other in­sti­tu­tion. Then one day my fa­ther heard that I was bunk­ing classes again and that I was at the gym; I don’t know how, but he came to know. Sud­denly some­one ran in and in­formed me, ‘Your fa­ther’s here’.

I jumped over the wall into the next com­pound. He caught me and asked, ‘What are you do­ing here?’ I said, ‘Noth­ing, I don’t have classes’. He knew I was ly­ing and he slapped me right there. It was the first time my fa­ther slapped me and he didn’t speak to me for the whole day.

That hurt more than the slap. In the evening, he just came up to me, hugged me and said, ‘I re­ally want you to make some­thing of your life and I don’t see you go­ing the right way’. Lit­tle did he or I know that a few months later, my whole life was go­ing to change.

MOST YOUNG GIRLS EN­LIST FOR THE MISS IN­DIA - CONTEST JUST FOR A LARK I THINK THAT’S WHERE THE WRONG AT­TI­TUDE BE­GINS…

If you check with most of the young girls who en­ter for or who win the Miss In­dia Contest, you will find that in nine out of 10 cases, they have en­tered the contest just for the heck of it. And that’s where the wrong at­ti­tude to­wards the beauty busi­ness be­gins. The beauty pro­fes­sion is not con­sid­ered a se­ri­ous one in this coun­try, not even by the par­tic­i­pants, even though it calls for more labour and pain­stak­ing ef­fort than per­haps any other pro­fes­sion. Peo­ple stray into the line ac­ci­den­tally and by chance; very few are born into it or grow up with an hon­est ac­knowl­edge­ment that, ‘Yes, I am beau­ti­ful and I am go­ing to make cap­i­tal of my looks’. If only young girls can be less coy and change their way of look­ing at things, they can chan­nelise their en­er­gies into a more de­cided course of ac­tion, and In­dia will have to be­gin to take a more se­ri­ous per­spec­tive of the beauty trade. I never even thought I was good look­ing. Sure, we used to have beauty con­tests in our gymkhana and I used to win – ‘Best Legs’ and ‘May Queen’ and that sort of thing – but it was al­ways a joke, no­body took it se­ri­ously.

It was at a wed­ding that I came across a pho­tog­ra­pher called Fa­rookh who was as­signed the con­tract for cov­er­ing the Miss In­dia Contest. He asked me to take part and I replied, ‘Are you mad?’ for I couldn’t see my­self stand­ing a chance. He coaxed me say­ing I had noth­ing to lose and ev­ery­thing to gain, so what was the harm in try­ing for he be­lieved I had a lot of po­ten­tial. He told me I would not have to do any­thing, he would fill my forms and do all that was re­quired. So he took my pic­tures and filled in the forms and sent them in for me.

VIMLA PATIL DID NOT WANT ME IN THE CONTEST BUT MAU­REEN WA­DIA WAS DE­TER­MINED I SHOULD WIN…

I had to go to the ‘Fem­ina’ of­fice for an in­ter­view. Till to­day, I don’t know why, but Vimla Patil did not want me to take part in the contest. She even sent me a note say­ing that my form was too late. I have no idea why she did not want me in. I re­mem­ber feel­ing, why should it be like that, it is a beauty contest and ev­ery­body should be given a fair chance.

Bom­bay Dye­ing was one of the chief spon­sors of the contest. I think Bom­bay Dye­ing had six votes and ‘Fem­ina’ had four. And Mau­reen Wa­dia wanted me to win. Vimla pre­ferred this other girl called Mau­reen Lestougem. But Mrs Wa­dia, I’m told, was quite in­sis­tent, say­ing, ‘There’s no way this girl (me!) will not be­come queen. I’m not go­ing to let Vimla take away her form’. I was not even part of all this be­hind-the-forms ac­tiv­ity, I had no idea what was hap­pen­ing. (It was only very much later that Mau­reen Wa­dia men­tioned it to me once and said, ‘Do you know Vimla didn’t want you to be part of the contest?’)

Any­way, there I was all set to par­tic­i­pate on the day of the contest, not know­ing a thing of what was hap­pen­ing. I truly didn’t ex­pect to win. I wanted to wear black and mum said noth­ing do­ing. My sis­ter had just got mar­ried and she had this lovely dark pur­ple sari which was the next best thing to black and I cooly bor­rowed it for the contest. I went to the hall 15 min­utes be­fore the last call and put on my sari. I dis­cov­ered to my hor­ror that it was way above my an­kles (my sis­ter is four inches shorter than me). There was no time to switch. My sis­ter quickly did my makeup and I left my hair loose.

The com­pere Erol was a real dar­ling. At that mo­ment, when you are con­sumed with stage fright, a com­pere can ei­ther put you at ease or de­mol­ish you. Erol was very nice and re­as­sur­ing, he told me that I had a good chance of win­ning. He asked me some gen­eral ques­tions on stage. I was ter­ri­bly ner­vous and I don’t know what he asked and what I said; if you’ve ever had that un­real feel­ing where you feel kind of dumb­struck, you’ll know what I’m talk­ing about. I was just wish­ing the whole thing could be over soon as I saw each of the con­tes­tants go on the ramp one by one, and the singing in my brain was so loud that I did not hear the ques­tion that came to me next.

All I re­mem­ber is that there were a num­ber of mod­els stand­ing at the side and they were cheer­ing me. Among them were Ar­pana Sharma and Vanessa Vaz. They started scream­ing and I did not know what was hap­pen­ing. Then they told me to go up and say, ‘Both give you the best’.

So I went up and said it, and the au­di­ence went crazy and started clap­ping. (Later I was told the ques­tion had been, ‘What do Bom­bay Dye­ing and the Miss In­dia Contest have in com­mon?’) I re­ally feel a sense of grat­i­tude to­wards those mod­els for their back­ing; with­out them per­haps I would have just stood there and made an ass of my­self.

I can’t re­mem­ber much more about the contest. My mum told me, ‘When you’re walk­ing back, be­fore you walk back, just turn, look over your shoul­der and then walk’. I did that. I had a ball on stage and that’s when I dis­cov­ered I loved the lime­light and could be quite com­fort­able in it.

Vimla’s choice, Mau­reen, was look­ing very beau­ti­ful. She was wear­ing a white sari with a red bor­der and the length was just right. She had lovely, long hair and I thought she would def­i­nitely win. When they called her name as the first run­ner-up, I thought, that’s it then, I don’t stand a chance be­cause I

thought I was less beau­ti­ful than her. At these things, some­how, you al­ways feel that the whole world looks bet­ter than you. When they called my num­ber next (I think it was seven), I couldn’t be­lieve it. My mouth fell open and my ears did two som­er­saults. I think I had my gums show­ing rather than my teeth. I smiled so much. I was so happy.

My par­ents were de­lighted. Ap­par­ently dur­ing the contest, ev­ery time I came on stage, they would clap think­ing that if the judges heard more claps, they would give more points. It took us more than two hours to get home with all the gifts I got - re­frig­er­a­tor, cook­ing range and a whole lot of good­ies.

BE­LIEVE IT OR NOT, I WAS GIVEN ONLY ` 5,000 TO BUY MY WARDROBE FOR THE MISS UNI­VERSE CONTEST…

The days that fol­lowed passed in a daze. My life changed com­pletely. Be­fore this, I had been a quiet, young girl, go­ing through the usual pace of life. Now sud­denly every­one was giv­ing me im­por­tance and treat­ing me like some­body ex­tra­or­di­nary. I had not told a soul that I had won, but every­one came to know through the news­pa­pers. Friends, per­sons from my com­mu­nity, be­gan to crowd all around me, con­grat­u­lat­ing me all the time. I could not be­lieve all this was hap­pen­ing to me.

I was given just a week to pre­pare for the Miss Uni­verse Contest which would last for ap­prox­i­mately a month-and-a-half! In that one week, I was ex­pected to get my clothes or­ga­nized, buy shoes, learn makeup (I knew noth­ing about makeup; no one in my fam­ily had ap­plied makeup as a reg­u­lar thing). Be­lieve it or not, I was given only ₹ 5,000 to buy my en­tire wardrobe for those one-and-a-half months.

(The win­ner gets ₹ 5,000, the first run­ner-up ₹ 3,000, and the sec­ond run­ner-up ₹ 2,000. I think this is ridicu­lous. Miss World and Miss Asia are go­ing as Miss In­dia too, not as first and sec­ond run­ner-up re­spec­tively.)

I got in touch with Xerxes, the de­signer. I didn’t know how to put it, so fi­nally I just said it straight: ‘I have won the contest.

I have ₹ 5,000 and I’d like you to make my evening gown and some other clothes if this is pos­si­ble’. He asked me to come over to his studio, and af­ter we’d dis­cussed the sit­u­a­tion, he said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll man­age some­how’. He tried to ask the bou­tique where he was part-owner whether they would spon­sor my wardrobe, but they didn’t want to do it. So fi­nally, he did ev­ery­thing by him­self. He gave me all the out­fits. I feel so touched and grate­ful even to­day when I think of it; I thank God for the good­ness in peo­ple.

Xerxes and I got along right from the start. He’s one of the mad­dest Par­sis I’ve met in my life, a real Bawa, a true Bawa, an ab­so­lute dar­ling. He also in­tro­duced me to Hemant Trevedi, who taught me all about makeup that could be taught in that lim­ited a time.

If it hadn’t been for Hemant and Xerxes, I would never have stood

a chance. Come to think of it, I didn’t stand a chance any­way; how could I, con­sid­er­ing how raw and un­pre­pared I was for what fol­lowed?! I’M QUITE SURE I MUST HAVE COME LAST IN THE MISS UNI­VERSE CONTEST…

I had the most fab­u­lous, best time of my life at Panama, that is where the Miss Uni­verse contest was held in 1987. We were 68 of us, out of which only 40 could speak English; 28 com­mu­ni­cated through sign lan­guage. It was a glo­ri­ous sea­son. We used to have re­hearsals from 7 in the morn­ing. All the other par­tic­i­pants would be up be­fore 5 to do their makeup and hair so that they could come to the re­hearsal very prim and proper. I would get up with difficulty at 6.45, run into the shower, brush my teeth and run out to join them. Af­ter three weeks, I got tired of the re­hearsals and bunked even that. It was so bor­ing - re­hears­ing for ev­ery­thing, the theme song, the contest, the dance.

Here again is where we In­dian girls fall short be­cause of a faulty at­ti­tude. This is what comes of en­ter­ing the contest for a lark. The whole thing con­tin­ues to be a joke. I’m sure some­body who was re­ally in­ter­ested in the contest and in win­ning a name for In­dia, would have given all the ac­tiv­ity there the se­ri­ous­ness it called for. I just couldn’t sum­mon enough en­thu­si­asm to be­come part of it. And while I ac­knowl­edge that the orig­i­nal fault is mine for hav­ing en­tered the contest so light­heart­edly, I be­lieve the or­ga­niz­ers too share the re­spon­si­bil­ity. I think the con­di­tions for se­lect­ing a con­tes­tant who might win should be made far more strin­gent, so that the ‘lark­ers’ can be sifted out from the sin­cere par­tic­i­pants. The ‘Miss In­dia’ ti­tle and I did not do jus­tice to each other.

I have no idea what rank I achieved in the fi­nal contest. I’m quite sure I must have come last. And I’m not say­ing this with pride but with apol­ogy. I re­mem­ber one judge telling me I stood a good chance and ask­ing me what I would do if I be­came Miss Uni­verse. I said, ‘No way! I don’t want to be Miss Uni­verse. I’m miss­ing my dhansak, my bhel puri, my fam­ily and my friends; I want to go home’. I was there just to have a good time and I made fab­u­lous friends.

All 68 of us were like one big fam­ily. I was one of the youngest. We flew from Panama to Mi­ami, all of us in one air­craft, and from Mi­ami we had to go back to our re­spec­tive coun­tries. I re­mem­ber how the 68 of us were cramped in a bath­room that could ac­com­mo­date only 30; be­cause we were just cry­ing and hug­ging each other. We’d been iso­lated from the world for those few weeks, we’d grown to love each other very much and we’d had such a nice time to­gether that no­body wanted to go home. Imag­ine yourself in the sit­u­a­tion. You’re all thrown with each other. You’re young and you’re not al­lowed to meet any­one from out­side; you are all eat­ing break­fast, lunch and din­ner to­gether. No, there was no feel­ing of in­tense com­pe­ti­tion ex­cept maybe among a small frac­tion (the ones who fi­nally won); the rest were there just to have a good time.

MADHU SAPRE HAS PROVED OUR GIRLS CAN COME OUT TOPS BUT ONLY IF WE’RE GIVEN A FAIR CHANCE…

Miss Venezuela who won the contest that year had

been put through a one-year prepa­ra­tion for the event. She was given the crown of her coun­try only a month af­ter the one-year prepa­ra­tion. She was thor­oughly groomed, she was taught which were her best colours, she had to learn ev­ery trick about makeup.

That’s how it is done in­ter­na­tion­ally. All other coun­tries are very me­thod­i­cal in the way they pre­pare their par­tic­i­pant for the fi­nal event. I was given one week; I be­lieve Madhu Sapre was given a month; I would still say it is not enough. We need

more groom­ing work if we want our girls to stand a chance. And Madhu has proved that our girls can come out tops if only they are given a fair chance. I be­lieve the or­ga­niz­ers and the spon­sors should keep a lot of fac­tors in mind.

First and fore­most, our girls do not have fi­nan­cial sup­port. Sure, like we are told, we know that the more money you put in, the bet­ter it will be for you, it’s like an in­vest­ment for yourself and all that, but let’s face it, some girls just can­not af­ford even that kind of in­vest­ment. It’s very sad to lose out on ac­count of not hav­ing enough money be­cause I’ve seen the com­pe­ti­tion and I know that our girls do stand a good chance of win­ning. The girls there come with a com­plete wardrobe. They know they are go­ing to be there for a month; they are briefed about ex­actly what they have to wear in the morn­ing and in the evening; it is all jot­ted down for them. They are made to go through a hairstyling course and they are trained in pub­lic speak­ing; they know what to an­swer and when. We look at them and feel tongue-tied. Any won­der?

(I’m re­ally happy though to know that now, from this year, the win­ner of the Miss In­dia Contest is go­ing to be given more money for her wardrobe. I’d thought of re­lax­ing my rule of not do­ing any more fash­ion shows by do­ing just the fash­ion show on the Miss In­dia night to be held in Bom­bay in March. I would do it I thought just so that I could give my earn­ings from the show to the win­ner to help her with her wardrobe ex­penses. That’s when a col­league told me, ‘She won’t need your three thou­sand, my dear – this year, the wardrobe al­lowance in ₹ 1 lakh!’ Wow! I’m re­ally glad things have im­proved. We will stand a bet­ter chance now.)

Fur­ther, the com­pe­ti­tion in In­dia MUST HAVE a swim­ming cos­tume round as that is how it is done at the Miss Uni­verse Contest. If this is not done here, you might send some­one there who looks ex­tremely beau­ti­ful in a gha­gra, but when they put her in a swim­ming cos­tume, they might be dis­ap­pointed.

No, I don’t think a swim­ming cos­tume should de­ter In­dian women from en­ter­ing the Miss In­dia Contest. It’s like I said right at the start of this piece.

Are you se­ri­ous about mak­ing it as a pro­fes­sional in the beauty in­dus­try? Then get your at­ti­tude cor­rect right at the start.

Girls who are se­ri­ously in­ter­ested in mak­ing some­thing of their lives will still en­ter the Miss In­dia Contest even if they have to wear a swim­ming cos­tume. I know it would have not pre­vented me from en­ter­ing. What’s the harm in wear­ing a swim­ming cos­tume on stage? I’ve been wear­ing one and go­ing swim­ming ev­ery day of my life.

An­other point the judges should be par­tic­u­lar about is the con­tes­tant’s height. You can’t have any­one and every­one win­ning, with­out con­sid­er­ing

the in­ter­na­tional stan­dard of ac­cept­able height. I may not have won the in­ter­na­tional contest, but my life had changed its course and there were no two ways about it. A new, un­ex­pected ca­reer un­furled be­fore me and I was quite happy to flow along with it. I be­gan to earn my own money and it makes me feel good to think that I have been look­ing af­ter my­self fi­nan­cially from the age of 17.

I NEVER ASKED MY PAR­ENTS FOR A PENNY AF­TER THAT…

When I came back, I had to work for Bom­bay Dye­ing for a year (that was part of the contest con­tract) with­out pay­ment. Then I did ads for Pal­mo­live, Lakmé, Forhans... af­ter which ads kept pour­ing in. For the first year or two, I think I worked al­most ev­ery day. I re­al­ized that now I could earn enough money to make all my dreams come true. It was great to know that I could fi­nance my­self in ev­ery pos­si­ble way. If I wanted to, I could blow five thou­sand bucks on a sin­gle out­fit. I never asked my par­ents for a penny af­ter that. I wanted to start giv­ing to my fam­ily; up to that point I had only been tak­ing from them.

This line is full of glam­our and can take you away from re­al­ity, but that’s where the fam­ily struc­ture helped me. I still had to keep to the house rules, so I could never let any­thing go to my head.

I dis­cov­ered you can set your spe­cific stan­dards and pat­terns in this line, you don’t have to con­form be­cause there is noth­ing to con­form to; the pro­fes­sion has such a neb­u­lous his­tory. And so I cre­ated my own mould. I be­came a model only when I walked into a studio or a set. As soon as I left the studio, I was plain Mehr Je­sia again. In my per­sonal life, I don’t even use makeup. And most of the time I go for par­ties wear­ing jeans.

Anna Bred­meyer, Shyam­lie Verma and Vanessa Vaz were the reign­ing mod­els at that time. Shyam­lie was es­pe­cially stun­ning. And I had a lot of help when I started. Ar­pana, Lubna, Mickey, Sangeeta all helped me make it big. As far as shoot­ings were con­cerned, I’d have just Mickey Con­trac­tor by my side. I used to in­sist on it. I re­mem­ber Sonu Walia had told me to take my own brushes and sponges along for makeup, be­cause the makeup artistes used the same thing for every­one.

So when I met Mickey the first time (I didn’t know his stand­ing), I pushed his brushes and sponges away and I laid out my own and said, ‘Please use this’. He said, ‘Keep your mouth shut and let me do what I want to do to your face, oth­er­wise I’m walk­ing out of here and you can go with­out makeup’. The re­sults were great. And that’s when I learnt to re­gard and re­spect pro­fes­sion­als; to sur­ren­der my own will and ego to the per­son in charge, only then can the best re­sults be achieved, by the merg­ing of all the best tal­ents.

The first fash­ion show I did was with Sangeeta Cho­pra. Her mother Shanti treated me like her own daugh­ter and Sangeeta treated me like a friend. I was pet­ri­fied be­cause it was a dance show and I’d never re­ally danced in my life; just a lit­tle tap­ping of the feet, that is all I knew. I’d plead with her,

‘Don’t make me do this. I’ll make a fool of my­self’. But she would push me onto the stage. She would call me an hour or two be­fore the show and make me prac­tise on my own be­fore a large mir­ror. Ar­pana Sharma and Lubna Adams would also do a lot to help me learn danc­ing. Lit­tle did I re­al­ize that one day I would not only make it to the cat­walk, but I would also do solo dance num­bers all on my own! (No, I be­lieve you are be­ing un­fair in com­par­ing cabaret danc­ing with mod­el­ing. Cabaret danc­ing is sex­ual en­ter­tain­ment, while mod­el­ing is just plain en­ter­tain­ment. You can­not sim­ply keep walk­ing in a cat­walk de­signer show; it would be­come very bor­ing; so you add a lit­tle bit of dance to it for en­ter­tain­ment. You have a song like ‘Leave your hat on’; it’s a very sexy num­ber from ‘Nine And A Half Weeks’, but you have on a shirt, a trouser, a jacket and a hat and while danc­ing, you just re­move your jacket. There’s noth­ing wrong with it be­cause you are not re­veal­ing your body.)

I re­ally am thank­ful to Sangeeta; if it were not for her, I wouldn’t have gone to Lon­don. She has al­ways been there for me even if some­times a press­ing per­sonal prob­lem has made me wake her up at 2 in the morn­ing.

So the beauty and mod­el­ing world is not the way it is made out to be – an empty, shal­low place with no time for hu­man re­la­tion­ships; Sangeeta Cho­pra has been my friend. She would al­ways drill it into me, ‘Mehr, you can do any­thing if you re­ally want to do it’. Be­lieve me, you don’t need a hun­dred and thou­sand friends; if you have just one good friend, who takes the time to build up your con­fi­dence, it’s all you need. I WAS HATED, HATED! AND SOON I UN­DER­STOOD WHY…

Within the in­dus­try, the only girls I party with are Ali­son, Marie Lou and Sangeeta. Oth­er­wise I do not so­cial­ize with the other mod­els. They dis­like me and it took me a long time to ac­cept their dis­like and to un­der­stand it. Since I’d led a pretty shel­tered life upto this point, the char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion blew my mind. I am not ma­li­cious and I can­not un­der­stand mal­ice. The bitch­i­ness would stun me and I would go into bouts of de­pres­sion try­ing to fig­ure out what I had done or said to pro­voke it. At one time, I couldn’t un­der­stand why I was hated so much till Sangeeta ex­plained to me that it was be­cause of what I was. Suc­cess­ful.

The top is a very lonely place. There were a lot of peo­ple who wanted to be me. They had ex­pe­ri­enced much bit­ter­ness and frus­tra­tion in the pro­fes­sion and they could not stand the fact that I was/ am happy.

I am tem­per­a­men­tally a happy per­son be­cause I come from a sta­ble fam­ily back­ground and to me mod­el­ing was not the be­gin­ning and the end of the world. My hap­pi­ness in­fu­ri­ated them. I felt their ha­tred be­ing man­i­fested in the qual­ity of the ru­mours that were spread about me. The height came when I lost a very close friend of mine, a

model too; I was warned she was speak­ing ill of me but I would not be­lieve it for a long time till the truth hit me in my face. I was work­ing with a pho­tog­ra­pher whom she cov­eted and she couldn’t stand it. My suc­cess ru­ined our friend­ship. When you reach a point like that, you have to de­cide. Ei­ther you quit or you will stay on and not let nasty things af­fect you. I made it a pol­icy de­ci­sion there­after to keep com­pletely out of the pol­i­tics of the pro­fes­sion.

I WISH MOD­ELS WOULD STOP FEEL­ING INSE­CURE; THERE IS ENOUGH WORK FOR EVERY­ONE…

Ro­hit Khosla is one of my dear­est friends. He has said (and I have been ter­ri­bly flat­tered!) in many of his in­ter­views that of­ten when he is con­ceiv­ing and de­sign­ing, he has me as his model in mind. What I want the in­dus­try and other mod­els to un­der­stand is that when Ro­hit and Sangeeta plug me like this, it is be­cause they know that I will do jus­tice to their con­cept and not be­cause of any other ul­te­rior mo­tives or due to de­vi­ous rea­sons. I’m sorry to sound so emo­tional about what might ap­pear to be such a tri­fling mat­ter, but I have been sub­jected to so much nas­ti­ness be­cause of be­ing a de­signer’s or a chore­og­ra­pher’s first choice, that I feel I must speak up to­day. How will we mod­els ever im­prove things for our­selves as a whole if we keep try­ing to de­stroy each other? I want every­one to know through this ar­ti­cle that you can have very good friends and that you don’t have to use your friends to get to the top be­cause there is enough work for every­one, and enough place at the top for all those who per­se­vere. Ev­ery model is unique. Her se­cu­rity should come from her re­al­iza­tion the she is unique. No two mod­els are ever sim­i­lar. Every­one has a cer­tain look which is just right for a par­tic­u­lar prod­uct. You don’t have to say that A, B and C were asked for the same and A got it be­cause she is a bet­ter model. There is no such thing as a bet­ter or worse model. There are only suit­able or un­suit­able mod­els de­pend­ing on spe­cific prod­ucts. My ad­van­tage was that I was born with a very ver­sa­tile face. So that gave me an ex­ten­sion of mod­el­ing time.

Oth­er­wise, the ideal times­pan for a model is, in the present frame­work, four years. I’ve been in this line longer than that thanks to Mickey Con­trac­tor. He has done 100% jus­tice to my ver­sa­tile face. He made me look dif­fer­ent in ev­ery ad. He never re­peated a look.

Vi­mal used me for three years; I stuck to a par­tic­u­lar look ev­ery year. For Nivea, I did a wet hair look and I’ve not re­peated that look for any­one else. Like­wise for Bom­bay Dye­ing and OCM. Mickey in­sisted that I do a dif­fer­ent look each time; he made me un­der­stand the im­por­tance of this. As a re­sult, you see a dif­fer­ent Mehr com­ing out of ev­ery page when she’s mod­el­ing a prod­uct.

THERE’S NOT MUCH PLACE FOR MEN HERE…

It is a line in which fe­male mod­els reign. Be­cause women al­ways add glam­our to a prod­uct. If you’re try­ing to sell a mois­tur­is­ing cream, you’re go­ing to have a fe­male. But if you are try­ing to sell suit­ings which re­quire mainly a male model, you will still have a fe­male to add glam­our. Like for the OCM ad, I was wear­ing the same thing that the male model was wear­ing. We did it for the fun of it and it worked.

There’s not much work or place for male mod­els in our coun­try. Male mod­els come and go. They just use mod­el­ing as a step­ping stone to some­thing else and all they can get from it is a lit­tle pocket money and travel. But hon­estly speak­ing, there just isn’t enough work for them to make a liveli­hood out of it.

I MADE THE MIS­TAKE OF AD­VIS­ING OTH­ERS ABOUT THEIR BE­HAVIOURAL PAT­TERNS…

Now on the sub­ject of moral­ity, I can only say this. What you are de­pends on how you be­have, what you want to make of your life and how solid your own val­ues are. I have never let my­self go hay­wire at any stage be­cause

I have al­ways had 100% re­spect for my­self. There’s noth­ing wrong with fall­ing in love, hav­ing a re­la­tion­ship, but af­ter that there should be re­spect for the re­la­tion­ship. I wouldn’t like to let any­one think even for a minute that he is more im­por­tant to me than my boyfriend. I would not even give out vibes sub­tly sug­gest­ing that. And all hu­man be­ings have com­mon sense. They know when they are flirt­ing and when they are not.

I don’t think hav­ing sex in a se­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship is wrong. It’s true that one would like to keep one­self for the man one mar­ries. But then, when you get into a se­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship, isn’t it with mar­riage on your mind? And then when the re­la­tion­ship car­ries on for four and five years, it grows in depth, un­der­stand­ing, in­ten­sity and in­ti­macy. I’ve had two se­ri­ous re­la­tion­ships in my life and I’ve given my all to them. It would be pos­si­ble in this line to let things go out of hand. But the ul­ti­mate de­ci­sion lies only with you.

If you make sleep­ing around a life­style, the only per­son you are dam­ag­ing is yourself. And then you have to ask yourself whether you like yourself so lit­tle that you would want to hurt yourself.

This is my way of look­ing at life; be­yond that, it’s each to her own.

When I’d come into the line ini­tially, I made the mis­take of ad­vis­ing peo­ple. I would let them know where I thought they were go­ing wrong and that was my great­est er­ror. Be­cause what you say doesn’t make a dif­fer­ence to them. They go ahead and do what they want in any case and at the same time, they will bitch about you be­cause you tried to get right­eous with them. Who am I to play judge? I stopped do­ing it as soon as I re­al­ized I was do­ing it.

– HE SAID, ‘ THERE’S A RULE YOU’VE GOT TO GIVE ME A KISS BE­FORE YOU GO ON STAGE…’ Ran­jeev Mulchan­dani is a model. He is the guy I love and if all goes well, we shall be mar­ried some day. It is a se­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship. From the be­gin­ning I found Ran­jeev very dif­fer­ent and very straight­for­ward.

His first video test and mine was a com­mon one. But he was in his group, I in mine, and we went our sep­a­rate ways. Then I did a Campa Cola ad with him. I thought he was very good look­ing even in his clown suit! The next meet­ing was at a show or­ga­nized by Sangeeta. And then at an­other show, he asked me when my birth­day was. I said it had been two days ago and he was re­ally very upset that I hadn’t men­tioned it to him on the day it­self. We were in Cal­cutta then. As the hours and the days passed, I re­al­ized with some sur­prise that I could talk to Ran­jeev more than any­body else. There is that cer­tain qual­ity about him that re­ally ap­peals to me. Then sud­denly be­fore I went up on stage for the show that night in Delhi, he came up to me and said, ‘There’s a rule; you’ve got to give me a kiss be­fore you go on stage’. I was fu­ri­ous; I thought, who does this guy think he is?! Then to my own amaze­ment, I found my­self think­ing; why not give him a kiss, af­ter all, he is so cute, and I gave him a peck on his cheek. Then I just car­ried on. But I had this bub­bly feel­ing within. Af­ter the show,

I asked Sangeeta, who the hell does this guy think he is? Does he think he can ask any­body for a kiss?

I was in a daze. You know that shaky feel­ing when your knees feel like jelly? It’s crazy you know. The whole world may be af­ter you, they’re there at your feet. But there’s only one per­son who can sweep you off your feet. You can’t de­scribe it, you can’t an­a­lyse it, you can’t ex­plain it. It just hap­pens.

I was tak­ing the re­turn flight to Bom­bay that night and Ran­jeev was go­ing to stay on in Delhi for two days and then pro­ceed to Ban­ga­lore. I was just re­mov­ing my makeup when he came to me and said, ‘Stay back’. Again I was amazed at his au­dac­ity. I looked up at him to tell him off. And in­stead I went and told Sangeeta that I would be stay­ing for two days in Delhi. And I called my mum too and told her. No, noth­ing hap­pened there, I mean, not in the sense the world is cu­ri­ous to know about.

When you’ve been brought up with strong val­ues by God-fear­ing par­ents who’ve given you a sta­ble up­bring­ing, your own foun­da­tions are firm and clear. You don’t rush, es­capist-like, into any­thing, be it an as­sign­ment or an affair. You tread care­fully, there’s no sense of panic or des­per­a­tion about you.

There’s a men­tal and emo­tional se­cu­rity that clothes your ex­is­tence, al­low­ing you enough space for an­a­lyz­ing and test­ing the ground you’re go­ing to step on.

(I’m say­ing all this not out of ar­ro­gance or in any at­tempt to put my­self on a pedestal above other young girls my age. What I’m try­ing to ex­press has its root in the grat­i­tude that I feel to­wards my par­ents for all they’ve done for me and my sis­ter; the won­der­ful up­bring­ing which made it pos­si­ble for us to work to­wards achieve­ment in all that we put our hands in.)

Later, we reached Ban­ga­lore where he has his fam­ily. I stayed at the Hol­i­day Inn. I was just dy­ing to do some shop­ping, so we got there, dumped our bags and just went off. When I re­turned, there was a sar­cas­tic mes­sage from him say­ing, ‘Thanks for call­ing’ or ‘Thanks for wait­ing’ or some­thing like that. I met him, apol­o­gized for not call­ing. The tem­per­a­ture was 11 de­grees but I wanted to go swim­ming. We swam for

two min­utes. Then things started hap­pen­ing. Sure, the re­la­tion­ship started and it be­gan to grow. We were get­ting to be bet­ter and bet­ter friends.

MY PAR­ENTS DON’T LIKE HIM BE­CAUSE HE’S NOT DO­ING ANY­THING WITH HIS LIFE…

It took three months for me to ad­mit to my­self that yes, I love him. He al­ways gave me breath­ing space. That’s what I love most about him. That I can be my­self with him. He al­ways lets me do my own thing. In all my years in this pro­fes­sion, he’s the best thing that hap­pened to me.

My par­ents don’t like him be­cause he’s not a Parsi, he’s a Sindhi, and be­cause he is not re­ally do­ing any­thing with his life.

The prob­lem with Ran­jeev is that he tends to go about things a bit slowly. It takes him time to make up his mind but once he does, he gives it his all. (This is one trait we have in com­mon.) He is in­ter­ested in pho­tog­ra­phy; so he went to Lon­don to do a course in it and now he is be­gin­ning to make a ca­reer out of it. He also had this con­cept of or­ga­niz­ing par­ties – it was a huge suc­cess. But he goes about things slowly and that can be ex­as­per­at­ing. I guess this is what up­sets my par­ents be­cause they feel I am mak­ing some­thing out of my life and I’m in­volved with some­one who is not. I un­der­stand what they are go­ing through but it will not change my mind. It’s my life. I just know that I will marry Ran­jeev only, that is if he pro­poses. He hasn’t asked me se­ri­ously. I know he wants to marry me and I know I want to marry him. I would love him to prove my par­ents wrong by mak­ing some­thing out of his life. He knows he has to. He doesn’t like liv­ing the way he is, he wants to move on from mod­el­ing. I know he wakes up in the night, say­ing, ‘I’m not do­ing any­thing’ and still doesn’t know which way to go. In a way, I think I’ve been Ran­jeev’s girl­friend and his mother be­cause his par­ents are in Ban­ga­lore and he’s stay­ing as a pay­ing guest here.

Though I don’t want to give him a dead­line for mar­riage, both of us know that the re­la­tion­ship can’t carry on like this for­ever. And I know that should I de­cide to get mar­ried to Ran­jeev, my par­ents will have to ac­cept it. No, my fa­ther can­not say he will for­get me. He loves me too much for that. I’ve done worse things and he has al­ways for­given me and been good to me. He will for­give me this time too.

I’M FEEL­ING SHEEP­ISH ABOUT THE LON­DON FI­ASCO, BUT HERE’S WHAT HAP­PENED…

When two months ago I got an of­fer the join ‘Mod­els 1’, which is a lead­ing mod­el­ing agency in Lon­don, I ac­cepted it and that’s when and how I de­cided to quit the In­dian mod­el­ing scene. I had al­ways promised my­self that once I reached the top, I would not wait to fall even an inch. I would leave while right up there. The of­fer gave me the right exit point. I did my swan song at the ‘Ci­tadel’ show in Pune.

My fam­ily and my friends were de­lighted for me, they thought it was a su­per break.

It was go­ing to be the acid test for my re­la­tion­ship with Ran­jeev even though we had not given each other rea­son to dis­trust each other.

He was ex­cited and sad that I was go­ing (he was wor­ried that I would find a Prince Charm­ing there. He keeps think­ing of me as the most per­fect thing that has hap­pened in his life. He feels no man can ask

for any­thing else – he’s talk­ing about the fact that I’ve never been dis­loyal to him and that I hap­pen to be a nice look­ing per­son too. He feels only a prince or a monarch is wor­thy of me. I can­not tell you how won­der­ful it is to feel so loved.)

I went to Lon­don. I was all set to im­bibe all that the pro­fes­sion there could teach me. But then in two weeks, I did a re­think. Noth­ing neg­a­tive hap­pened regarding the place or the peo­ple; I’m talk­ing about a re­al­i­sa­tion that hit me good and proper. I sud­denly asked my­self, what am I do­ing here and for what? I’ve had my fair share of suc­cess and I’ve had enough of name, fame and all that. So why am I al­low­ing my­self to get into a sit­u­a­tion where as a model I will have to give an­other two or three years of my life to this pro­fes­sion? I was very, very un­happy over there. It was the first time I was away and so com­pletely cut off from my fam­ily and friends. I re­al­ized that suc­cess, money, fame – all these mean noth­ing if you are not with your fam­ily and the peo­ple you love. The Bri­tish peo­ple are very cor­dial, very pro­fes­sional, ex­cel­lent to work with, but let’s face it, they are not the friendli­est peo­ple in the world. Ev­ery­thing is very metic­u­lous, so care­fully planned and sched­uled that there is no place for spon­tane­ity. If you go to the agency, you are not sup­posed to hang around for a minute more than is nec­es­sary, else you be­gin to feel you’re get­ting in peo­ple’s way. They were very en­cour­ag­ing, they called me ‘In­dia’s only hope’ and stuff like that. I was to start shoot­ing on Monday for a catalogue, the as­sign­ment was to get me £ 1,500.

But I dis­cov­ered I didn’t want to do it. I did not want this big break, I did not need it and so why was I there (in Lon­don)? I knew it was go­ing to be em­bar­rass­ing to go back to In­dia af­ter the warm and won­der­ful send-off I was given. But I knew I had to have the courage to face up to my mis­take, rather than waste an­other day of my life.

I sat for three hours in Sloane Square in the freez­ing cold. My whole life un­furled be­fore me. I had a clear sense of di­rec­tion and pur­pose at last. I knew none of this mat­tered; I did not want to be a pro­fes­sional model any­more. In Lon­don or in In­dia. I couldn’t con­tact my par­ents be­cause they were in Hong Kong.

But I called up my sis­ter, Sangeeta and Ran­jeev. All of them said the same thing: That I was crazy and that I was blow­ing up the chance of a life­time.

They said, give yourself time; you are just feel­ing home­sick; don’t throw aside your fu­ture.

Fu­ture? It would be a ‘fu­ture’ for some­body like Madhu Sapre, who has got her ca­reer in front of her. I‘ve had my in­nings in mod­el­ing. I’ve re­ceived the best that the pro­fes­sion could give me. Is there any cam­paign I have not done, any de­signer or chore­og­ra­pher I have not worked with? It’s time for me to step aside now, to let other mod­els come up.

I cut my hair, bought large, ugly plat­form slip­pers and caught the next flight home. I reached here on Satur­day. My par­ents re­turned in the mid­dle of the night on Monday. They knew noth­ing about any­thing since I wasn’t able to con­tact them; but

my mother saw the large, ugly slip­pers and she knew I was home. They love me and want me to be happy, so they’re glad I’m home; but I know in their heart of hearts, they too feel I’ve made a big mis­take. I know I have not.

WHAT I’M GO­ING TO TEACH OTHER MOD­ELS…

As soon as word got around that I was back in Bom­bay, peo­ple be­gan call­ing up. Lubna wanted me to do the Dy­nasty show she’d or­ga­nized at the Sea Rock. But I said no, I’ve quit as a model. (I may do a few as­sign­ments for friends, but no more pro­fes­sional mod­el­ing.) I went for the show and I can­not tell you what joy it was to be clap­ping and scream­ing with the au­di­ence in­stead of be­ing there on the cat­walk. There have been mixed re­ac­tions to my re­turn; mostly the mod­els refuse to be­lieve that I’ve quit and will not be com­pe­ti­tion to them any­more. Well, that’s their prob­lem; I have more im­por­tant things to do with my life now.

I’m do­ing in­ten­sive prepa­ra­tion for my agency, and it is call­ing for all my en­ergy. As I am set­ting the guide­lines and the guard-lines for mod­els, I have to re­call my en­tire ca­reer, my own ex­pe­ri­ences. I don’t have to worry about money. Thanks to my par­ents, my mother es­pe­cially, I have in­vested my money wisely. I was able to in­vest it only be­cause I could make it to start with. And that’s what my agency is go­ing to help mod­els do – make their money with­out get­ting taken for a ride. (I would like to ac­knowl­edge my grat­i­tude to Mickey who helped me in this re­gard; right at the start he told me how much I should and could ask for a cam­paign. For a very good cam­paign, one can earn one-and-a-half to two lakhs. For press ads, you can get be­tween ₹ 30,000 to 50,000.) And never work with­out a con­tract. That’s why it’s best to go through an agency be­cause in the be­gin­ning when they know you are new, they know you are not go­ing to go through three or four pages of fine print in the con­tract and that you will be­lieve what they tell you in two and three sen­tences. And that’s where the trou­ble starts be­cause you com­mit yourself or get taken for a ride.

When you sign a con­tract, you au­to­mat­i­cally know what is in store for you.

Money should be paid to you af­ter the con­tract gets over. And if it is go­ing to be re­newed, you should know when to charge more.

Many mod­els feel that if the con­tract is be­ing re­newed, and you’re not re­ally do­ing much of shoot­ing, maybe you should charge only 50% for the sec­ond year. I don’t agree be­cause ev­ery year the rates go up and since you are go­ing to be stuck with that prod­uct for an­other year, you should get the same if not more than be­fore.

You should fight for your rights, what else is a con­tract for? Don’t fear be­ing branded a fighter. I had a prob­lem with Lakmé and Nivea right in the be­gin­ning.

The Lakmé con­tract had said that on pay­ment, it could be re­newed. The con­tract was over, they didn’t pay me. Nivea asked me to do an ad. I called up Lakmé and told them I would be do­ing the ad for Nivea. There was no word from them af­ter that; so I car­ried on with the Nivea cam­paign. And just be­fore it was go­ing to be re­leased, Lakmé sent me a cheque that was pre­dated. Luck­ily my mother had kept the

postal envelope in which it had ar­rived. I was all set to take le­gal ac­tion against Lakmé; for­tu­nately the two com­pa­nies set­tled the mat­ter be­tween them­selves.

If some­one played dirty with me, I wouldn’t want to work with them again.

I’m not work­ing for free, those peo­ple are be­ing paid for their jobs, so why shouldn’t I be paid too? I never feared; I was al­ways ready to send my lawyer to any­one who tried to play dirty. It didn’t af­fect my ca­reer; it doesn’t af­fect your ca­reer. When you are a suc­cess, peo­ple will come to you on your terms; and you can be a suc­cess only if you act suc­cess­ful.

In­dian mod­els are among the best in the world. I’ve been all over the world and I know what I am talk­ing about. We are on par with in­ter­na­tional stan­dards, so it’s time we are at least na­tion­ally rec­og­nized. The girls I am go­ing to dis­cover and build up in my agency are go­ing to work in­ter­na­tion­ally; I’m set­ting up the whole net­work.

HOW CAN A SEN­SI­BLE PER­SON LIKE AAMIR KHAN ACT IN FILMS…?

I have had many of­fers to work in Hindi movies, but no thank you, I have never been even re­motely in­ter­ested (ex­cept once when I al­most con­sid­ered Muzaf­far Ali’s film which then went to Dim­ple). When Hindi movies were in black and white, you would have such beau­ti­ful songs. Now they have made a par­ody of it. How can a sen­si­ble per­son like Aamir Khan work in Hindi films? How can any of them re­spect what they are do­ing - run­ning around trees? You can pay me the world for it but if I don’t be­lieve in what I’m do­ing, I don’t re­spect it or I don’t like it, how can I do it? I could have been su­per rich in Lon­don but that is not as im­por­tant to me as my fam­ily and friends. I can live with­out money. But I can­not live with­out love.

Re­vis­it­ing the sassy, su­per suc­cess­ful ‘n’ sorted Mehr Je­sia’s ‘SAVVY’ cover story – the ‘I Be­lieve’ – pub­lished in March 1993. It’s the only deep and out­spo­ken in­ter­view that this ‘queen of In­dia’s cat­walk and ad world’ ever gave. Price­less!

Mehr with par­ents and older sis­ter

Mehr with Ar­jun Ram­pal and daugh­ters

With Ar­jun

With Ar­jun and Sus­sanne Khan

With Sus­sanne Khan

Mehr with Dino Morea, Pre­ity Zinta, Sus­sanne Khan and Ar­jun

Ar­jun, Sus­sanne, Mehr and Hrithik Roshan

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