Behind the scenes: a first-timer goes to fashion week tryouts

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Photo: Vikas Kumar/Catch News

Behind the scenes: a first-timer goes to fashion week tryouts

i

Photo: Vikas Kumar/Catch News

Behind the scenes: a first-timer goes to fashion week tryouts

i

Photo: Vikas Kumar/Catch News

Behind the scenes: a first-timer goes to fashion week tryouts

i

Photo: Vikas Kumar/Catch News

Behind the scenes: a first-timer goes to fashion week tryouts

i

Photo: Vikas Kumar/Catch News

Behind the scenes: a first-timer goes to fashion week tryouts

i

Photo: Vikas Kumar/Catch News

Behind the scenes: a first-timer goes to fashion week tryouts

i

Photo: Vikas Kumar/Catch News

Behind the scenes: a first-timer goes to fashion week tryouts

i

Photo: Vikas Kumar/Catch News

Behind the scenes: a first-timer goes to fashion week tryouts

i

Photo: Vikas Kumar/Catch News

Behind the scenes: a first-timer goes to fashion week tryouts

i

Photo: Vikas Kumar/Catch News

Behind the scenes: a first-timer goes to fashion week tryouts

i

Photo: Vikas Kumar/Catch News

Behind the scenes: a first-timer goes to fashion week tryouts

i

Photo: Vikas Kumar/Catch News

Behind the scenes: a first-timer goes to fashion week tryouts

i

Photo: Vikas Kumar/Catch News

Behind the scenes: a first-timer goes to fashion week tryouts

i

Photo: Vikas Kumar/Catch News

Behind the scenes: a first-timer goes to fashion week tryouts

i

Photo: Vikas Kumar/Catch News

INDIA FASHION WEEK

Behind the scenes: a first-timer goes to fashion week tryouts

Vikas Kumar @CatchNews

Around 150 girls are standing in a queue. A woman is standing nearby with pen and paper, ticking things off a list. She's barking out questions, giving instructions, impatient. Her face is hard, focused.

The girls - each of whom looks like they've been cast from the same mould - clearly know the drill. There are no questions, no protest, no indiscipline. Their faces are calm, if expressionless. They've been waiting for hours, but there's no sign of impatience. They know they're not there to ask questions but to follow instructions.

The last time I saw a similar scene, I was growing up in Vaishali in Bihar, and army cadets were lining up in front of a commanding officer, hair cut the same, body language the same, following orders without question.

Except today, I am at the office of Fashion Design Council of India in Delhi, and the girls - models - are lining up to audition for the October edition of India Fashion Week.

Aspiring models prepare hard for this twice-a-year event. They knock their bodies into 'shape' - a shape measured by eagle-eyed women at the auditions who walk around with each girl's form and a measuring tape.

They come in, fill forms, are assigned a number and for the next few hours, that's who these girls become

They're all young, attractive, superfit. They wear what seems the unofficial uniform of the aspiring model: short shorts, fitted tee, boots or heels.

They come in here, they fill forms, they're assigned a number, they pin it to their chest, and for the next few hours, that's who they become. A16. B12. No name, but a number, with statistics attached.

They may have personalities - but they need to leave them at the door, to demonstrate that they can fit into the designers' vision, whatever it might be.

And yet - there's no dearth of young women, and yes, men, who dream of walking the ramp for one of the country's biggest fashion platforms.

A total of 11 of these aspirants will make it to the final event, to be held from October 7-11 this year. This audition will decide the 'lucky' ones to make it to the ramp.

It may appear the ultimate in glamorous careers but today, behind the scenes, it's anxious, gritty, competitive, brutal almost.

The girls take their slip with the number assigned to them and head to one of two rooms - designated 'models waiting room' - as they wait their turn. The stern-looking woman running things accompanies them, then instructs them to "stay in the room" a few times. It's hard to understand why she repeats the words over and over. Despite that, a few girls slink out to go look at themselves in the mirror.

Photographers are allowed to go in, take pictures while the girls wait. It's my turn, and I walk in. The girls are either standing by the wall or strolling briskly around the room, the only giveaway of nervous energy. The atmosphere seems as stoic as the number slip attached to each chest.

There's no shortage of men and women wanting to walk the ramp. The price it seems they need to pay? Their individuality

I wonder whether it's mandatory for each girl to forfeit her identity to these paper chits. Are these numbers a prelude to the obscurity that is the fate of most of those in the glamour world? It's an interesting space to be in, to talk about, but they're not interested in questions and answers.

And I don't intend to impose my questions on them, because if one thing is clear, it's that these girls have embarked on a challenging journey. There is intrusion - "are you wearing a padded bra? How many inches are your hips?" There is the commodification that necessarily happens when dozens want what a few can have. There is sweat, pressure and hardship. There is grit and competitiveness.

There will, eventually, be glamour - or the illusion of it. For these girls, it will come at a price, and to me it seems like the price is individuality.

Vikas Kumar

Vikas Kumar @CatchNews