We are not in Paris. Yet.

Aastha Atray Banan observes the clinical eliminations at a fashion week audition

REALITY TELEVISION can make you feel like you have seen people audition for everything. As singers, as dancers, as lovers, as chefs, as tycoons. The rhythm of an audition — its competitiveness, pettiness, underdogs and judges — are all so familiar that it takes a while before you wonder: did television ferret out the authenticity or is everyone here pretending they’re in a reality show? This is a temporary runway in the Grand Hyatt, Mumbai and these are the model auditions for Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) Winter Festive. Ever since the LFW started in 2006, the auditions have held the promise to make a sparkling career. Nicole Faria and Kanishtha Dhankhar got their big breaks here.

Reality TV can make you feel like you have seen people audition for everything. Even to be the biggest bitch in the room. As each girl walks up in skimpy shorts, tank tops, high heels and does her little turn on the catwalk, you hear hisses. “She’s pretty but look at that cellulite”. “Too busty — she will spill out of the clothes”. Someone is auditioning to be world-weary and blase. “She just doesn’t have the wow factor”. After that remark, the dialogue from Madhur Bhandarkar’s Fashion sounds less stilted.
Some are auditioning to be exotic. Karen Lima, 22, is from Brazil. “Maybe Adriana Lima is my long-lost cousin,” she laughs. Another Brazilian, Keren Silveira, 20, who sang an accented Hindi song as the jury pondered if her height was actually 5’ 9”, only talks of being a Munni or Sheila some day. “Ever since a soap opera about India began airing in Brazil, where a Dalit marries a Brahmin, we all just love India,” she smiles. A dusky model from Assam mutters, “They love the East European look now. Maybe next season they will get bored and come back to us.”
Anil Chopra, CEO, Lakme Lever, and jury member, discovers that the Indian and international models are being segregated into separate auditioning groups. He tells the event management officials, “We don’t care who the model is as long as she’s a model.” Model Monikangana Dutta, a fellow jury member, agrees, “We are not in Paris. Yet.”
Everyone is auditioning to be perfect. The general mood is optimistic, but a stretch mark can mean it’s all over. Malvika Raj is 20. When she was 10, she played Poo, a young Kareena Kapoor, in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. A Femina Miss India finalist, she has big eyes, a lovely face and a proportioned body. The jury notices a rash on her midriff. They quiz her about it. Then they quiz her about her stony gaze. Malvika is feeling grim. This is her second attempt. “There’s competition in every field today,” she says, “So where will you run and go?”
Everyone is auditioning to win. Of the 118 hopefuls who came to the walk-in audition on 27 June, only nine survived at the end of the day. Some models don’t even get a look from the judges, some get much worse — a laugh or a bored nod of the head. Only a few get that flicker of approval. Model-turned-judge Marc Robinson says, “You can see if the girl has that attitude. We’ve been in the profession long enough to get it in one look.” Karen Lima, Adriana Lima’s perhapscousin says, “In the beginning, it was all a dream. Now this rejection, this scrutiny is my reality.”
Everyone’s auditioning.
Aastha Atray Banan is a Senior Correspondent, Mumbai with Tehelka.