You don’t have to be 5’8 to be a model anymore – Ayesha Kanga
Vivacious, free-spirited, and extremely talented, Ayesha Kanga takes us through her happening journey in the world of fashion and advertising. In the short period of a year, Ayesha has made a name for herself in the industry with features by American Express, Coca-Cola, Tanishq, and many more. In this fun tête-à-tête with Indian Ad Divas, she tells us how.
When was the first time you found an actor in yourself?
I was a super shy kid in school until my mother enrolled me in a drama club. After I started doing theater, I felt like I had found my thing. It helped me come out of my shell. But I still hadn’t figured out that I could do it professionally. After school, I ended up pursuing design. I worked really hard to get into the National Institute of Design. Up until last year, I pretty much thought that’s what I was going to do for the rest of my life.
So what prompted the change?
To be very honest, it was triggered by the fact that I got fired from my design job. (Chuckles)
That sent me down a ‘I hate everyone,’ ‘I hate my life’ kind of a phase. In a moment of epiphany, I just thought – what the heck, I’m going to follow my dreams now.
How did your family take the news? Were they supportive?
It is hard news for an Indian parent to hear that their child got fired from their job and now wants to pursue modeling. For a long time, they were all perplexed. Even my Nana-Nani kept asking, what are you doing with your life? They had no clue what was going on. A few months down the line I ended up doing a coke ad, a couple of other things that were a big deal. Then they were like; I guess it’s not all bad. It took a while, but now they are my personal cheerleaders.
How did the transition from being a Designer to a Model happen?
I had a photographer friend who was from NID. We caught up one day, and he asked me, “You are tall, thin, and now out of a job. Would you consider doing this?” (Chuckles)
But on a serious note, I always had an interest in visual compositions. I would scroll through Instagram profiles of fashion models and get fascinated by their work. I also instinctively knew that entertaining was in my blood. All these factors accumulatively led me to acting and modeling.
So, you decided to enter this field. But where did you even start?
I took these ugly pictures of myself on my phone, without makeup and sent them to an agency. They were truly horrible pictures. I still had this weird bob and red hair from when I was a designer, not to mention a face filled with acne. I still can’t believe that it worked, but by some miracle, I got a call back. I was very nervous about the meeting, but it was smooth sailing. They decided to sign me. From then on, the first two months were just a ridiculous amount of castings and auditions until I actually got work.
You had also won Times Fresh Face back in Junior College. Do you think that helped?
It helped in boosting my overall confidence. I must be around 15 or 16 when Fresh Face happened. I was in St. Xavier’s. Word had spread that these Fresh Face people were coming on campus. My friends and I thought this was a great excuse to skip class, so I borrowed a guitar from someone and auditioned. A huge crowd had turned up, but somehow I ended up winning the college round. Then I won the Mumbai round. Before I knew it, I had won the whole thing! But it was honestly so long ago that nobody except my mom even remembers it. She has even uploaded a video on YouTube titled – ‘Ayesha wins Fresh Face!’ (Chuckles)
How different is modeling from acting? Do they complement one another?
Acting came more naturally to me since I had been doing it all my life. Modeling took some getting used to. Surprisingly, modeling has helped me to become a better actor. It taught me how to be comfortable in front of a camera, and be okay with doing a weird Yoga pose with 100 people watching. (Chuckles) If you can give a hundred different poses in five seconds, there isn’t anything you can’t do.
How much freedom do you have to improvise on the set?
Earlier I used to follow what the photographer would say blindly. Now I have realized that they don’t mind improvisations as long as the shot comes out well. They have started trusting my judgment a lot more. I don’t understand why it is not the norm to smile in a fashion shoot.
It is a beautiful day, there is the ocean behind you, and you are wearing a pretty dress – you should be able to smile. So now, I am trying to bring the smile back into fashion.
How glamorous is the world of fashion?
You know, it does look very glamorous from the outside, but it is like any other job. We might be traveling a lot and going to all these fancy places, but we do have a 12-hour shoot, which sometimes gets extended to 14. All you can do is eat, work, sleep (if you’re lucky) and repeat. The travel is the least enjoyable part of modeling.
What are some positive shifts that you have noticed in the fashion world?
The fashion world is a lot more accepting these days. There are a lot of inclusive agencies. I know models that are old with grey hair; I know plus-sized models, short models. There is this wave in the industry where people are like, ‘Yo! Let’s be inclusive now,’ and it is pretty damn cool. So yes, I don’t think you have to 5’8 to be a model anymore.
What are some behind the scenes tricks of an ad shoot?
Okay, let me tell you a secret. The food you see in advertisements looks fantastic but tastes horrid. Someone has worked on it to make it look pretty. It has a lot of oil, they have painted stuff on it, and sometimes it is not even real food. The drinks are even worse. It is just food coloring, water, and frizz. By the end of it, everyone’s spitting it all out. But you do have to pretend to enjoy it. It is quite horrifying and funny at the same time.
What is your most and least favorite part about what you do?
The actual acting is my favorite part. But believe it or not, acting takes the least amount of time on a set. An insane amount of time goes in travel, pre-production, hair, and makeup. That is my least favorite part. They are very finicky about the smallest of things. Even if you break a nail or there is a crease on your shirt, it is a big deal. There is excellent attention to detail. All these things take way too long. The real shot, in fact, gets done quickly. You can even make a tongue twister out of it.
It is not the time it takes to take the take; it is the time in-between the take that takes the time. (Chuckles)
Which is the most memorable ad you have shot?
The Uber Eats shoot was a lot of fun. The entire team was amazing. It is a team that makes or breaks a shoot. We had this scene where we were standing in a cricket stadium, and there was a table with a banquet on it. Being this tall person that I am with no control of my feet, I kicked it by mistake, and the whole table went down the hill. The team had to rework on all the dishes. I felt so guilty, but nobody said a word. They were really sweet about it.
What was your dream-come-true moment in the industry?
Back when I was growing up, Disney used to have this particular Phrasal Template where actors would draw the Micky Mouse logo with a magic wand and say,
“Hi I am dot dot dot, and you’re watching Disney channel.”
I always dreamt that life would be complete if only I got to do my own version of that. And I did! After Fresh Face, I acted in a show for Disney, and they let me draw the mouse on air. Unfortunately, back then you couldn’t record air time, so I don’t have anything to show for it. But I know it happened, and it felt like my life had attained its purpose!
Your favorite ad of all time?
I loved the Hide and Seek ad I acted in. It is an endearing story of a meet cute, where I had to bully a boy into giving me a Hide and Seek cookie. (Chuckles)
Your favorite actress of all time?
It is difficult to choose one, but I love the versatile work Radhika Apte has been doing.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Teleportation, so that I wouldn’t have to waste time in traveling for shoots. (Chuckles)
If you could take up any role, past and present, which one would you go for?
I’m going to go with Natalie Portman in Black Swan.
Lastly, is there any advice you would like to give to newcomers in the industry?
Okay, so I realize this is the most clichéd advice in the history of time. Whenever I hear a famous person say it, I literally roll my eyes. But I am going to give the same recycled, annoying, unhelpful advice because unfortunately, it is true. The golden advice is ‘just to be yourself!’
You have to find your own space in the industry. Don’t mimic or look at anyone else; discover your own career path. Be the best at who you are; you have been playing yourself all your life. No one can do it better than you! (Chuckles)
We wish Ayesha Kanga great success ahead! You can follow her on Instagram @ayeshakanga.
– Interviewed by Prachi Shevgaonkar.