— JASMEEN DUGAL
One would think the supermodel phenomenon couldn't happen again. It was the time, the era. Today, Miss India Asia-Pacific 2002 Tina Chhatwal is combining forces with industry stalwarts to form a talent agency that discovers, mentors and represents the new generation of models. Over to the stunning beauty whose career ascended so precipitously after she won an International pageant, she quickly became the toast of the rarified world of fashion. Today, she aspires to pay it forward.
It is the honorific assigned to her, but 'supermodel' isn't enough when describing Tina Chatwal. ''I've been fortunate and touched by the hand of God to have received immense love, support, faith and encouragement since I won Miss India Asia-Pacific 2002'' she reveals. ''With the Almighty's grace, I have had innumerable opportunities to work with the best in the business. I don't think I had it easy, though. I participated in national beauty pageant Miss India twice because I was determined to succeed; my aim was to be an International winner, an independent identity, a public figure. I wanted to leverage the platform in my own little way and working towards causes my heart believed in. The process required a whole lot of hard work and dedication and I was prepared for it. Fortunately, The Times Group spotted the spark in me, namely Pradeep Guha, who interviewed and selected me.The team gave me an opportunity and I did not disappoint. I'm truly grateful for the faith. From Pradeep Guha to Sathya Saran, Hemant Trivedi and Lubna Adams… they were the force behind me and my win.''
Reminiscing about the International pageant, her heart is full of gratitude and she wears her power-player status lightly. "I was fortunate to have started my career with the title, Miss India Asia-Pacific, which I brought home for all of us. And I'm grateful to have had The Times Group, whom I was under a contract with, after being a winner. They encouraged, protected and promoted me as they do with all the winners. After the contract expired, I was in the industry with a strong identity and slowly paved my way ahead. In 2002, there were no talent agencies equipped to handle the career of an International pageant winner. I personally feel if there had been an appropriate agency to handle my career, at the time, I would have benefitted a lot more. The most natural step for international pageant winners is to enter Bollywood, as we all know, but with the protection, support and guidance of an agency. I was very young when I won the pageant and was introduced to the world of glamour. If I had the support of a reputed agency, my career path would have been different. Instead, I decided to settle in Delhi as my family is settled here. Since Delhi is the epicentre of Fashion in our country, I entered the fashion industry… and I have been walking the ramp ever since!!"
Tina still writes 'model' under 'occupation' when filling out forms. But she is more entrepreneur than mannequin these days. ''At this stage of my life, being involved with a talent agency is my way of giving back. Also, I feel it's imperative for me, after years of experience, to not only offer my expertise to the youth but also fill the void of quality models. I feel new models need guidance, help and representation so that they can be the best version of themselves. I also feel they are losing their essence, their foundation, which is being an Indian. They always ape the west while the west is looking towards India.This is ironic and I want to change that. An Indian model must know how to carry Indian garments with grace and be versatile enough to showcase western sensibilities. As a model, it's important to understand different sensibilities, different cultures, in our country and overseas. Models are also silent actors so it's imperative that they feel, understand and absorb emotions which then seeps into their body language on the ramp. I feel this is truly what makes a successful model. And I want to gift this to youngsters who dream of stardom.This project hence is immensely close to my heart — young models and actors are the stars of tomorrow and need to be protected, guided, encouraged and educated about the industry just as I was, in my time. This is my way of giving back all the love and support, as I move forward in this venture,with a grateful heart. My personal vision for the talent agency is that after grooming and launching models, we would encourage them to sign a contract for the first year as every bird takes time to grow wings and fly.''
There is always talent to be discovered in a culturally rich and diverse country as ours. She agrees and then offers her viewpoint. ''Ultimately, it is the X-factor that determines star material. I look out only for that… and then work on the rest of the areas to give them a wholesome personality. Along with physical attributes like height, body, carriage, face and skin tone, I look for a spark as I firmly believe that undying passion to succeed in life is what makes a successful model or actor. As long as their core is that of a star, I can work on the rest. I also look out for a hardworking and dedicated individual. So, in my humble opinion, star material, hard work and dedication are the attributes to be a success story in the glamour industry.''
What makes this talent agency different, I ask her? ''It is our faculty that sets us apart. Also, it is the only agency of its kind to give opportunities to the youth of North India, particularly Punjab and Haryana where good looks are genetically gifted! We offer personalised attention which is a rarity today. Models will be groomed in all areas, including catwalk, posing for the camera, the know-how of auditions and respecting the media… so they are equipped to handle any situation in their career. They will also be educated about skincare, nutrition, professionalism, humility and grace. This is where I come in and take over their lives, to make them stars. I'm starting off by training models for the catwalk and polishing their body language. Over time, I would be teaching them the different ways their bodies ought to express the feel and sensibility of garments by different designers, the use of props, et al. And I would teach them how to use their assets to the fullest capability. Overall, I'm looking forward to improving the quality of models in Indian Fashion so that the supermodel era can once again dawn in our country.This project is very close to my heart and I intend to do justice to fulfilling my responsibilities towards the young talent.''
''The glamour world has always been a competitive one. We intend forging tie ups with the right fashion weeks and agencies, with television channels and production houses, so that our models and actors get the opportunities they deserve, based on talent and a professional attitude.We are here to provide them with opportunities but success will depend on each individual's performance. There are immense opportunities in television now as there are in Bollywood and eventually, Hollywood.The world has shrunk and we will tap into our resources, for the young stars.''
It is clear the supermodel has a ferocious work ethic — and that is the reason she managed to pull away from the pack. ''Modelling is embedded in my DNA, my soul, my subconscious. It takes a whole lot more than just a pretty face or perfect body, to be a successful model. The ability to sense, feel and absorb a designer's soul while showcasing their creations, is a task of sensitivity and focus. It takes years and a keen sense of observation— blended with curiosity— to be a successful model. My advice to aspiring models today would be that they should be serious about their career. You have to really want it. Enter this profession only if you can handle the pressures of being a public figure. It requires a lot of dedication, hard work and personal sacrifice to reach the top; be willing to give it a hundred per cent.''
My perspective? Who knows what the future of fashion models will hold? If history repeats itself, this talent agency may well launch a new era of aspirational supermodels just as the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue did in the Seventies. Without the glamor of supermodels, fashion just isn't as fun as it used to be. As Claudia Schiffer once said, ''Supermodels like we once were don't exist anymore.'' But perhaps one day they will, again.