The Tk 250 crore modelling sector is still struggling to gain recognition as an industry. Modelling remains an individual profession. Photo: Zahidul I Khan
In the world of glitz and glamour, it took Tumpa, a renowned model, a decade to make her mark.
Attention to the minutest of details, overcoming the frenzy of the ups and downs in the trade and sheer determination finally lead her to stardom.
"A relative of mine once spotted me at a wedding ceremony in 1998 and suggested I try out modelling. She encouraged me to submit a portfolio to an advertising agency. Soon I received a call from the agency to come in for a screen test," she says.
"There was no looking back since then."
"As a fresher, I struggled to learn the tricks of the trade. It was difficult to learn things on a trial and error basis, as there were no training institutes to help,” Tumpa says.
“But after so many years, I still feel the same thrill as I first felt when I took part in my first catwalk at the Anamika Sheetal Fashion Show," says Tumpa, who also runs a grooming agency.
Tumpa is one of many who are attracted by the ecstasy of the job, as more people -- mainly youngsters -- are trying out their luck in modelling.
Lured by the fascination of instant success and recognition, currently there are thousands of models working for media in the country.
Tumpa says most models take up this profession as a hobby and for a passion to make it as a star.
However, a strong passion is not enough to get a break; one has to get the basics right, like creating a portfolio that makes a statement, submitting it to an advertising agency or a famous director, and finally, having the patience to wait for a call.
A typical portfolio includes several photographs of the person, taken from different angles, and a detailed resume with vital statistics and other relevant background information.
According to industry experts, growth of the modelling sector is pinned to growth of the advertising industry. The sector mainly has three segments -- print modelling, television commercials and ramp modelling -- where print modelling alone holds around 50 percent of the total market size.
Modelling in Bangladesh debuted in the late sixties with print media, when magazines first began using models to glamorise their pages. At the time, it was next to impossible to convince one's family to allow posing for a product.
The local advertising industry in fact boomed when television commercials became popular in the mid seventies.
Later in the mid eighties, catwalk modelling, commonly referred to as the ramp, shook urban life, presenting a completely new way of advertising. With onset of the nineties, mushrooming boutiques and a growing sense of fashion added new dimension to modelling.
Bangladesh's epic model Bibi Russel was the sole person behind popularising the catwalk.
“A catwalk mainly introduces a designer's new collection to the market. Once I have to launch a new collection, I arrange a catwalk show,” Bibi says.
“There is a lot of hard work that goes into preparing a catwalk, as the primary objective is to create a distinct image about the clothes or accessories and leave that impression on the audience's mind," she says.
"This form is also the toughest among all forms of modelling because the show is live and we cannot afford to make any mistakes."
However, the Tk 250 crore modelling sector is still struggling to gain recognition as an industry and modelling remains an individual profession, say industry insiders.
In terms of turnover, the sector accounts for only 20 percent of total advertising spending.
Aly Zaker, CEO of Asiatic JWT, a leading advertising agency, says modelling has not yet achieved the position of an industry.
"Advertising in Bangladesh is mostly associated with growth of the FMCG companies -- Fast Moving Consumer Goods. Since the number of FMCG companies is small in this country, the scope for its related fields to develop is also small."
He said the sector lacks professional agencies and institutions to train newcomers to sustain in this profession.
"One of the foremost problems is the complete lack of professional agents who would handle the work prospects for a model. An agency would not only groom an aspiring model but also bring in work and handle his or her career."
For lack of such institutions that could bargain for the betterment of a model's career, models are left to fend for themselves, making do with whatever work they get.
"Another major problem is the lack of training institutes that could teach aspiring models the essentials of the profession -- personal care, body language, working in front of cameras, personal assets, aesthetic sense and knowledge of the industry," says the veteran advertising expert.
At present, the few beauty pageants or talent hunting contests -- such as Lux-Channel i Superstar or Pantene's You Got the Look -- are the sole platforms for aspiring models to get professional grooming in this country.
A number of advertising bosses and models also echo Zaker.
Amitabh Reza, famous television commercial maker, says in absence of professional agents or training institutes, advertising agencies or directors have to provide preliminary training to newcomers.
“There are only a few agencies that have grown over recent years that help us choose new models for adverts. But essentially, they function as a model bank, and not as a professional agent,” he says.
Aspiring model Porosh says, "There are many people offering short courses on modelling, but the best they could give me was an amateur portfolio. Afterwards I am left to look for work on my own."
Apart from these limitations, the sector also suffers from many other problems, including payment. Newcomers often complain they are not paid well or sometimes not even paid.
Porosh did not get paid for many assignments.
“I couldn't insist for payment as I was afraid I would not get further work,” he says.
Other new comers complain of similar experiences. Some say they were not paid for years.
Youngsters, while overcoming the associated social reservations of using one's looks or appearance to earn a livelihood, therefore struggle to take up modelling as a full time job.
“Most of the time, a model can't make ends meet with modelling as a full time profession, because of the insecurity over payment,” Zaker says. “As a result, most models are forced to consider alternate professions."
Experts point that this is why many models break into related professions as acting or choreography.
Nazim Farhan Choudhury, deputy managing director of Adcomm, one of the oldest local advertising agency, says, “Only professional agencies can solve these problems.”
He suggests that newcomers ask for formal contracts with agencies, where the terms and conditions are clearly mentioned. This would save both parties from unnecessary hassles and disappointments.
Despite all odds, the profession keeps luring hundreds of young people because the demand for models is on the rise and the industry is on its way to flourish.