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Romancing the ramp

Hard work is Svetha Jaishankar's mantra. An interview with Chennai's ace model who has made it big on the national ramp scene.

A canary yellow bench, sitting pretty in the middle of a freshly mowed lawn, reflects the joie de vivre that surrounds the house. An elderly couple, traditional to a T, greet you as soon as you enter the simple yet aesthetic drawing room. "My granddaughter will be here in a few minutes," says the gentleman.

And then she walks down a flight of stairs. Boy, is she tall! That's the first thought as Svetha Jaishankar greets you with a smile. Clad in a pair of jeans and white shirt, her hair wet from a shower, Svetha just towers over you... she's 5ft 11" tall and pencil slim!

Just back from a holiday in the U.S., Svetha looks every inch a successful model. For the Chennai girl, it has been a dream come true to work with some of the top-notch designers of the country. But how did she make it to the top? "My mantra is hard work," she replies.

Hailing from a conservative Iyer family, modelling was not Svetha's first career choice. A student of D.A.V. and Church Park, Svetha did a B.A. in Corporate Communications from the Ethiraj College and has just completed her Masters from the Annamalai University. And like most South Indian girls from traditional homes, Svetha too learnt Bharatanatyam and had her arangetram while she was in Std. VII. She also gave a couple of performances. Yet another passion is tennis, and she played for the State. She also enjoys a game of basketball (that explains her height!).

But, it was a career in modelling that put her under the spotlight. "My first brush with the ramp was when I took part in an inter-school fashion competition. That was the first time I wore make-up. And of course, I won it," recalls Svetha. "I remember, I enjoyed walking down the ramp."

During her second year at college, she did an ad for her businessman father. It was for Brilliant Computers. However, it was the Miss India-International contest held in Tokyo that shot Svetha to national fame. "It was a lovely cultural experience. I was among some of the most beautiful women. It was a great learning experience."

And she has never looked back since. Today, she's an integral part of shows of some of the biggest names in the world of couture — Manish Malhotra, Rina Dhaka, J.J. Valaya, Rohit Bal and Hemant Trivedi.

In the context of fashion shows, how would she assess the role of model co-ordinators? Svetha is candid. "Abroad, models are under a contract with an agency, which is good for both. But in India, one has to work with more than one co-ordinator. This means negotiating on one's own. Also one can lose out on some good clients."

Has the scene changed since she began modelling four years ago? "Yes, definitely," is the emphatic reply. "Today, the work scenario has improved for the better in the sense the settings are more glitzy and the perks, more attractive. But, unfortunately, the fashion industry is becoming quite disorganised."

Does she have any role model? "Oh! I've been inspired by a lot of people. Like Hemant Trivedi. He did not let his accident stop him and returned to the scene, as though nothing had happened. Mehr Jessia is another person whom I admire a lot. Her career was at its peak when she retired. She has handled her life very well. Narayan Murthy, Martina Navratilova, my parents... there are quite a few whom I look up to," Svetha goes on.

Gently probe her about her forthcoming wedding to tennis pro Mahesh Bhupati, and she exclaims, "Oh no! Not again!" But then she smiles, "I suppose I have to talk about it. It was not love at first sight. It happened gradually. He's quiet, charming and most important, able to comprehend my wry sense of humour. And of course, his profession... " Svetha and Mahesh will tie the knot in November, Iyer style!

Life moves at a very fast pace for Svetha, whose latest role is ambassador for the Platinum Guild of India. ("The right word is Platinum Loyalist," she says). She's off to Belgium for a Manish Malhotra show in early September. In the middle of this, she's collecting her trousseau for her wedding. As she puts it, life's quite interesting!

SAVITHA GAUTAM

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