On the ramp of success

‘My age is an asset. I feel great when people come up to me and say I don’t look 30. What is there to hide? I’m so against cosmetic surgery to make one look younger. I want people to know I’m a real person’.

She shocked the world with her first shoot 12 years ago. Here was a 5-foot-10 inch dusky girl with long, curly locks posing in a mini-skirt and knee high boots – a far cry from the petite, fair, straight-haired models that were the icons of beauty then. Iraj changed the rules. She had spunk, not sweetness, style, incentive and a whole lot of attitude. And now, with more than a decade of hard work behind her, she rules the roost as one of the top three supermodels in Pakistan

Iraj practically stumbled into the profession with a shoot for a men’s magazine, sparking a lot of controversy. Things were not as liberal then as they are today and before she knew it, she was branded ‘that kind of girl.’ But she was having too much fun to quit. That period – the early nineties – was when fashion circles took off and evolved into an industry. Designers sprouted, design schools were established to discipline them and fashion magazines, photographers, choreographers, make-up artists and models streamed in from everywhere. Of course, only a handful managed to make themselves memorable.

Today, Iraj is one of the most sought-after faces in fashion. Not many people know her by name, but that is only because she has refused to digress from her profession into theatre, television and films. Even as a newcomer, she refused to “mingle for work.” She wouldn’t hang out, attend midnight parties and hover around the right kind of patrons to get a certain project. Her motto was “hard work, fitness and exclusivity,” and it got her the respect she wanted.

“I’ve never buttered up anyone or gotten myself attached to anyone for work. It was frustrating in the beginning. But whatever I did, I did on my own.” Her theory is to keep a professional distance with everyone. “That’s what saved me and kept me around for so long. It wasn’t that difficult because actually, I’ve always been a very low key person.”

That’s what it seems like when you meet her, but on the ramp, Iraj is anything but low keyed. She has been appreciated as one of the very few models who like to ‘perform’ on stage, her most famous one being in the Moulin Rouge show, in which she danced to the Lady Marmalade number. Another hurdle she has had to overcome is the clan mentality; the way people in the industry operate. Models, photographers and designers all play it safe and stick to the same groups.

“Maybe they need the platform to operate,” she says. “There isn’t much experimentation. This is changing now, though you still get to see a lot more of it in Lahore. But most girls now know that by attaching themselves to a group, they will only be limiting themselves. They understand that their business will become very restricted. They are beginning to move on.”

Things have changed in 12 years. Modelling has become a recognized profession and new faces are frequent, but somehow one feels the rookies lack the polish of the veterans.

“You know, newcomers have it very easy compared to our generation. They have so much exposure: they’re already groomed. The drawback is that they think they don’t have to work hard. Our lot – Vinnie, Bibi, Mahnaz, Zoella – I feel we had so much energy. Now, it’s a mass production of models, and those without character end up looking like rag dolls. Our lot was unique.”

Despite everything, the industry has begun to get its long awaited respect and attention.

“Yes, people now have become a little more professional, but a lot more bitchier,” she says laughing and adds, “But that’s just part of the package.”

And the package does seem fascinating to newcomers: money, glamour, travel, fancy clothes, moving in higher social circles and fame. It becomes a whirlpool. Girls reshape their values to adapt to what seems like the shell. The shell keeps changing shape with time. The ‘image’ becomes everything. What follows is a lower standard of ethics and values, thinness bordering on anorexia and a society that is sexually adventurous. Does anything remain normal?

“Modelling is a freedom-based platform, I agree. I mean, more than half the people I know are bisexuals, but they’re also such better people. That’s what matters. I strongly believe that if you really want to do something, then you should go ahead and do it. But you shouldn’t do it to fit into a certain kind of image. As for anorexia, I know models have a very unhealthy relationship with food. I wish that could change.”

Iraj quit smoking after years of being a chain smoker. She admits this to be her greatest achievement and warns newcomers against falling into a role which condones smoking, drugs, partying and affairs.

“Deep down, I’ve always known wrong to be wrong. I may have done things when I was younger, but now I realize there is no need for them. I mean, if you want to do something really bad, then do it. But don’t do things just to be part of a community.”

So how does she feel shooting with the same people, walking for the same shows over and over again?

“I don’t enjoy it the way I used to when I started. Now, I don’t like doing shows abroad because when I go, I want to be paid in foreign currency. I’d be sacrificing so many days of work here. That should be compensated for. Plus, I’m not dying for a trip abroad. If I need a vacation, I’ll pay for it myself. I’ve had my fun and feel now is the time to save. After 12 years of hard work, I should get some privileges.”

Iraj has no qualms saying that she solely works for money now. If the commission is right, she gives it 100 per cent, never compromising on professionalism.

“There are times when I need the money and I’ll do the shoot even though I hate the clothes. But that’s just part of the job.”

Another thing she isn’t afraid of is her age. She’s proud of being 30 in a plastic world where actresses hate to be older than 18.

“My age is an asset. I feel great when people come up to me and say I don’t look 30. What is there to hide? And I’m so against cosmetic surgery to make you look younger. I want people to know I’m a real person.”

And that’s Iraj for the world. She’s private, Vinnie probably being the only person she’s close to, and she claims to be culturally tuned, unlike the role she plays on stage. So, does marriage feature in her life?

“I can’t say because I feel men treat me like a trophy. But I’m dying to be a mother, though I’ll never get married for that reason alone.”

And where does she see herself in the future?

“I have a great affiliation with theatre. It’s an extension of the visual arts. But eventually, I want to paint, the one thing I have a passion for. I am going to give up modelling, but only I know when.”

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