Like all mommies, I think my kids are cute. But honestly, I don’t know where they get it. I’m pretty darn average looking, and while I think DiploDad is pretty hot, I wouldn’t say that he’s Brad Pitt or George Clooney, or whoever the Hollywood hunk of the week is. OK, so I would, but most women off the street wouldn’t. So it was kind of odd when people started saying my kids should be models.
With DiploBoy 1, I sent photos off to an agency in New York when he was a toddler. I heard nothing, but then I could say at least I tried. DiploBoy 2 got scouted by an agency in Maryland when we were in DC. A few thousand bucks and some admittedly fabulous photos later, we also heard nothing.
We’d been here about six weeks when my friend, R, sent an email out telling me that her friend, Ruchita Mittal, ran a modeling, talent and event planning agency called Zood Productions and was looking for 6-8 year-old boys. Figuring that we had nothing to lose, I emailed Ruchita a few of the afore-mentioned expensive photos for DB2. She called me a day or so later and was excited about the photos and the possibility of DB2 working for her. She told me that she was sending the client over to fit DB2 for a possible shoot for wedding clothing.
It’s a quick thing to decide whether or not you want to book a certain model in India. Essentially, the clothing company shows up at the prospective model’s door with a bag of clothing and a smartphone. The model tries on the clothing, the courier from the company snaps a photo for each outfit, and you hear a day or so later if you’ve booked the shoot.
DB2 was so excited about the clothing the first time someone arrived to fit him. It was a shoot for Indian wedding clothing. Indian wedding clothing is very elaborate and has lots of gemstones, rhinestones, pearls, pins and ribbons decorating the kurta, or jacket top.
Every man wearing Indian clothing looks like a prince or a raja. It’s the only time Indian men look swanky – there’s no daily equivalent to the elegant sari women wear. Unfortunately, the clothing was too big for DB2, and the job went to another little boy.
A while later, however, DB1 booked his first job doing a shoot for a sportswear company. DB1 showed up for the shoot, which was held in a suburb of Mumbai. From the outside, you honestly would not think it was a studio, and I actually think that we passed it two or three times before our driver D called to ask directions.
“I’ll wait outside, and look for you,” said the studio man. We looked up and watched a guy come out of a nondescript building. Right. Across. The. Street. Talk about feeling stupid.
DB1 was quickly ushered into the studio, and sent into hair and makeup, which was a tiny little room, built in the corner with plywood. I have no idea why, but Indian folks seem to like little boys with gel in their hair, and in no time at all DB1 was rocking a serious spike in the front, much to his brother’s obvious amusement. The shoot was proceeding along nicely when the first “child predictable moment” happened. One of the three boys was too tired, too cranky, and decided he didn’t feel like cooperating. He threw a tantrum, told the photographer that he hated the clothing, and essentially shut down the shoot for about half an hour while his mother and various other people at the shoot cajoled, pleaded, bribed, and begged.
This was nothing if not a teachable moment. As it happened, both DiploBoys were with me, and they were both appalled, even DB1, whose temper is legendary.
“How many people are in this room, boys?”
“Right. They are all here for you. Relying on you. Their livelihood depends on you in part, and you owe it to them to be respectful.” Eyes widened. They got it.
Finally, Temper Tantrum Boy left, and DB1 and the other boy in the shoot completed it, covering TTB’s outfits.
Halfway through the shoot, Ruchita rang and said that DB2 was being considered for a shoot and could we meet the client out front? We snuck out and met the other client, because really, it’s sort of bad form to book under someone’s nose, and a little discretion was in order. Through the streets of Mumbai we drove, down a few side streets, and finally to a studio that was even more hidden and unremarkable than the first one. It was on top of a flat in a two-flat building in a largely residential area.
We went up and DB1 tried on a few outfits. There was no dressing area.
“Mommy, they’ll see my weenus!”
“No they won’t. You are keeping on your underwear, and all these guys are married with kids. Besides, have you ever seen a professional adult shoot? People are practically naked running all around, changing, and everyone’s so used to it, no one cares. Honestly.”
Well, as we were changing DB2 into one of the outfits, in walked an “example” of the professional world of modeling. An adult male model, whom I’ll call “K” because well, honestly, his name isn’t what I remember about him (ahem), showed up to try on the outfits as a potential model. And guess what? Everything I’d just told DB2 was freaking TRUE, down to just talking and throwing clothing off. And, um, K? From the corner of my eye, boxer briefs were involved. Tight boxer briefs. I am nothing, if not observant. I thank all the Regional Security Officers for the many reminders to be aware of my surroundings. Anyway, K just casually started talking to DB2, and DB2 couldn’t take his eyes off of him, watching him change, go do his poses, and then when K was finished, he started talking to me.
“You American too? What brings you here? I’m from Illinois, here for a few months.”
“We’re at the Consulate. We live here.”
I have to say that while our small talk was going on, I really had to look directly at him (while he changed). It would have been extremely rude not to, and I’m married, not dead.
We finished the try-out shoot, which DB2 eventually booked and we headed back to check on DB1. I don’t know if K booked his shoot. I was halfway relieved; it’s distracting to talk to a strange man in his underwear, even if the scenery is awesome.
We returned to the first studio, where things had gone smoothly after TTB left. DB1 and the other boy rolled through the outfits, having a fun time. They had it down to a science – change, consult with hair lady, grab props, head under the lights.
Finally, around 10 p.m., it was a wrap. The other boy was almost falling over (he was only 9, DB1 is 11 and DB2 hates to sleep so he was OK too) and left quickly. We were getting ready to leave when the crew waved us all over and did a “shoot photo” with all three of us and the entire crew. Everyone congratulated each other, and DB2 passed hugs out to all the ladies. I wish I had a copy of that group shot.
DB2’s first shoot took place a couple of weeks later and there was a similar kid meltdown. The little girl who was part of the shoot was exhausted. It just might have had something to do with the fact that her mother had no babysitter the night before and thought it a good idea to drag her daughter out partying until 5 a.m. Under those circumstances, I would have been cranky too. So DB2 watched in amazement as kid #2 was sent home.
DB2’s done a few more shoots, and it’s like a game to him where you get your photo taken, then earn money to buy LEGOs. Overall, it’s been fun for him, and for me. It wasn’t what I expected at all though.
First off, the studios are generally small, and kind of rough – no fancy dressing room, no slick chrome furniture and Keurig awaiting you. The dressing area is just a spot in a makeshift closet or corner.
But smack in the middle is an area all draped or set with bright white, some umbrella reflector thingies (yeah, I’m technical), and lights, lights, lights, which transform the place.
The photographer has a tricked-out camera, and even if he’s snapping from the comfort of a beat-up old beanbag chair, he’s got the eye, and the computer to see if he’s captured what he wanted to immediately.
Instead of a one-cup coffeemaker, the chaiwallah stops by, and tiny cups of steaming, sweet, spicy chai are distributed among laughter and smiles. Whichever “runner” is on duty runs out when the kids get hungry and appears with an assortment of chips, cookies, and once even pizza. Health fare for kid models, apparently.
There’s music playing to get everyone in the mood, and it’s generally a mixture of popular Bollywood tunes and Top 40. The folks who work with the kids are fantastic. I’m amazed to see how they can get kids to smile, pose, and do what they need them to do when I can barely get the DiploBoys to brush their teeth.
There is an air of professionalism that permeates the atmosphere in spite of the worn-down building, the lack of toilet paper in the bathroom, and the fact that everyone is barefoot (including me). This professionalism trickles down to the boys, which is pretty amazing to see in a six-year-old or an attitude-prone eleven-year-old. When DB2 walks under the lights, he changes completely, smiling, moving and posing the way the photographer indicates he wants, and lets assistants fuss over the placement of his feet, the way his clothing falls, and how spiky his hair is. He’s “on”.
While I’m certainly proud of my kids and it’s exciting to see the photos, this isn’t going to be something we’ll pursue at all costs. Schoolwork comes first, sports are a must, and if I ever get wind of them being frustrated or not having fun with modeling, it will end. I won’t force them. I’m not prepared to be a stage mom in any sense of the word. For now, I just have two kids who love to mug for the camera, are confident in themselves, and are learning what it means to be professional.
After his last shoot, DB2 and I headed out of the compound where the studio was to enjoy a nimbo pani (fresh lime soda) on the side of the street. It’s our guilty pleasure when he’s finished a job.
“That was fun, Mommy.”
“I’m glad you had a good time, sweetie.”
He smiles up at me, we grab a taxi, and we head home, my beautiful little boy and I.