On 16 February, transgender activist and founder of Delhi-based LGBT NGO Mitr Trust, Rudrani Chettri Chauhan revealed the names and pictures of the first three models that successfully cleared auditioning rounds for India’s first transgender modell agency.
The auditions were held on 7 February in Khirki Extension, Saket, Delhi, where a panel of four judges – celebrity stylist Rishi Raj, fashion designer Nida Mahmood, winner of the Kingfisher Model Hunt ’16 Aishwarya Sushmita and Chauhan – evaluated just under 30 entries before choosing the final three.
Rishi Raj admits that at first the jury panel didn’t know what to expect. “We weren’t looking for clichés, simply people who had a raw potential that could be polished and groomed,” he said in an interview with HuffPost India.
I don’t want to create transgender models simply for them to be given work because they are transgender.
“The main parameters were camera presence… we were looking for faces that could tell a story, not faces that were beautiful in a generic way. A face with a story was more important, which is what we found in all the finalists,” said Mahmood, often referred to as India’s queen of kitsch for her funky designs.
Raj revealed that the excitement surrounding the auditions was promising: “Several publishing houses have expressed their interest, as has as an Indian blogger who is huge in the Bollywood and fashion genre,” he revealed. What’s more, a representative of Boney Kapoor’s productions attended the auditions and wanted to cast two of the models in non-stereotypical roles in a film with Sridevi.
However, Raj and Chauhan are being cautious to avoid what they refer to as a “half-baked impact”.
“I don’t want to create transgender models simply for them to be given work because they are transgender. We want to give them the skills required, and then put them in the arena with female models so they have an equal chance, and are selected purely on their own merit,” said Raj.
Mahmood and Raj also admitted that the models need a lot of polishing. “Before anything, they need a lot of grooming. They need to know what the fashion and glamour world is about, and how to fit in. It will take a little time and expertise,” said Mahmood who also expressed an interest in shooting with the models.
All three models have had hard lives, but are also united by a determination to make it big, added Chauhan.
Here are the three faces the agency chose:
Sneha, 22, Jaipur
Born a biological boy in Jaipur, Sneha spent most of her life hiding and repressing herself – her family would only accept her as a man. Succumbing to peer pressure, she gave up her education when she was 18 and came to Delhi. However, because of poor work opportunities, she has been forced to earn her living as a sex worker – she stands on the streets every night, scared and desperate to find a better way to live. She has always wanted to become a model, and having cleared the auditions, it looks like she’s on the right track.
Shree, 23, Delhi
An ‘item girl’, Shree is multitalented: a dancer, she also designs her own clothes and has always been fascinated by the silver and big screens. She was disowned by her family at a young age, and was embittered by a TV experience that went wrong, but she has not given up on her ambition to become a superstar.
Neharika, 23, Delhi
Getting into sex work at a very young age, Neharika had a very hard time coming to terms with her sexuality and even attempted suicide at the tender age of 17. Currently working at nightclubs, she supports her entire family with her income, which includes sending her little sisters to school and paying for her mother’s medication. However, her hard life has not deterred her dreams to make it big.
37-year-old Chauhan, who has dedicated over 10 years to working for transgender rights came up with the idea of the agency last year, after pictures of her self-styled shoots went viral. "I made a Facebook page just for fun where I posted some of my pictures. Then one day, two people from the UK approached me for a documentary, and that's when this took off," she said. Chauhan then collaborated with Raj to start the auditions and spread the word.
Mitr is relying on donations the fund this project. They have currently collected just under ₹1.45 lakh against their ultimate target of ₹5 lakh. To donate, click here.
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