(Indian-Region specific content)
A memoir of my journey through a beauty pageant, on chasing the bright lights of Bollywood, managing expectations and growing up through life’s lessons and choices.
I done made it through
Stand on my own two
I paid my dues
“There are only a handful of boys in Delhi of this class,” he said while gesturing as if he was doing a count on his fingers.
I felt validated and elated. He was Manish Gupta, one of the best guys in Delhi at what he did back in 2003. My Mama (Mother’s Brother), Rajiv and I were in his office for my portfolio shoot. It was around Rs.12,000/- for his services as an indoor fashion photographer.
Uncle Rajiv took care of business first by setting up day, time and number of dress changes including a bare-chested “Fitness shoot”.
Manish was now in a relaxed mood. He turned around and said, “Young man, I think we should work together. I know pretty much everyone in the Delhi fashion circuit. I can get you connected to media houses, modeling agencies and fashion designers. We can paint the city with your pictures and of course, you can rule the ramp too”.
Uncle Rajiv interrupted, “Harsh has been launched by me already. You don’t know this but I have been associated with the Fashion industry too”; and with that, he began to Namedrop. The Fashion scene in Delhi was still in its adolescence stage as compared to Mumbai with only a few names we could deem “Established”.
They were the Rohit Bals, the Sunil Sethis, and the JJ Valayas to name a few. Uncle Rajiv knew them all personally. He had done his research. He had anchored, produced and starred in many fashion shows in and around Faridabad and Suraj kund.
I was reduced to being a spectator in front of two grown men as they continued to speak about me as if I wasn’t even in the room. Not that I minded it one bit. There was a reason why I was allowing Uncle Rajiv to take charge.
The man had paid his dues
His journey into the world of fashion was anything but linear. His father had died when he was still in college forcing Young Rajiv to become the man of the house at the tender age of 20. He had 3 sisters, 1 of them still unwed and a widowed mother to look after. We are talking pre-liberalized India of the mid 80’s with very little if anything in the name of women empowerment.
There was never going to be a “finding his calling” or “skipping a year of college to bag pack” phase in his timeline. Now, at around the age of 40, he had finally arrived checking in all the essential boxes of the things he should have done by then.
- He got his last remaining sister married.
- He settled down to start his own family
- And of course, he built a successful business of manufacturing spare components for automobiles.
All of this didn’t come cheap. He had to trade-in his youth with all its potentialities to make it happen.
He now had the freedom to pursue creative endeavors. It started off as a leadership position at the Faridabad Small Industries Association, a trade association for small-medium entrepreneurs of the region. He always had a flair for the mic. One thing led to another. His close ties to government and quasi-government bodies through that platform opened up opportunities for him to organize and eventually anchor events for Haryana Tourism.
And that’s how Rajiv Chawla became a force to reckon with in the Delhi Fashion Circuit.
Manish was impressed.
“I think we can collaborate on projects and make something special”, Manish remarked.
That was all that Uncle Rajiv wanted to hear.
Here was the glaring difference between him and me. I needed an infrastructure to promote me. Uncle Rajiv was the infrastructure.
Sensing that the focus had shifted away from me, he promptly replied, “Anyways, my days are behind me now. I am here today to promote my bhanja (nephew). I think he has great potential to make waves. Either it’s going to be Gladrags Manhunt or Grasim Mr. India next year”. And with that, he looked at me with a sense of pride and anticipation.
I was naive but confidently replied. “I am ready”.
He had seen them all (male models) from up close so I trusted his judgment. I remember seeing Aryan Vaid with awe for the first time at a ramp show Uncle Rajiv had organized. Aryan had just won the Grasim Mr. International content after winning the Grasim Mr. India in 2000. I was a geeky kid with spectacles, just out of my teens and I getting to share a platform with Aryan and Rajat, another known face in Delhi at the time.
I remember being extremely nervous and self-conscious before my first show (Anxiety is something I still struggle with). It was Uncle Rajiv’s constant affirmations, which helped me sail through.
Manish glanced at me and said, “You look very young with a clean shave. Photo Shoot is in 2 days. Come with a stubble. I want to project you with a rugged look.”
Being Mr.India Series🇮🇳
Part 2 – Paying Dues
Part 3 – Meeting the Godfather