One of India’s top fashion show directors, Anu Ahuja talks about the challenges of her chosen career and misconceptions about the fashion world.
You started modelling at the age of 19 and went on to rule the ramp for over a decade. How did the switch to fashion direction happen?
I did my first modelling campaign while still in college. Back then I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to take it up as a career, it just happened. Then in 2001, I got the opportunity to work on the Femina Miss India show, which was great because it helped me decide the path I wanted to take. I really enjoyed working on it and went on to direct the Miss India shows independently in 2004 and 2005.
Do you miss modelling?
It was an absolutely amazing time and I have the best memories from it but now when I look back, I don’t miss it. I guess there is a time and place for everything that happens in life.
What does directing a fashion show encompass?
I conceptualise the show and do everything for it till it is implemented, right from stage design, lights, music, model selection, and also directing it. So basically I produce and direct shows and events. The concept can either be completely my responsibility or sometimes involve brainstorming with the designer or brand. A typical day at work for me starts early where I check on stage design before the models arrive. I have to ensure all set backstage and the designers’ clothes are in. Then a briefing session with the models followed by a dry rehearsal with music takes place. Post lunch the models’ make-up and hair is decided and begun. I go on to design the lighting with my light experts. Then it’s time to tweak music and make minor changes if required, followed by discussions and briefing with the compere. If the show includes dance or live music etc., I work on that. Finally it’s the all-important technical rehearsal with everyone involved. I usually don’t design the decor of the venue but if I’m part of that, then the final briefing, touch-ups etc happen at this stage. If I have a few minutes to myself I might freshen up and change for the show. And then it’s show time!
What of the infamous model and designer tantrums?
There aren’t really many tantrums either from models or designers. Some might just be a bit more difficult to work with than others, that’s all.
What are some of the challenges of the job?
Gruelling schedules, long hours, sometimes too much travel, not enough time to make and keep friends and relationships and high stress.
How do you deal with the superficiality and insecurity of this industry?
Insecurity is part of human nature and I’ve seen insecure people in all walks of life, be it business, politics, movies, professional services etc. So I’m not sure why people have this perception that only fashion has insecure people. Perhaps it’s more noticed since you’re as relevant and important as your last collection, show, or ad or maybe it’s just a more ‘visible’ profession where one is constantly under the spotlight. People tend to feel insecure when they’re taken out of their comfort zone and in our line of work, we’re constantly taking ourselves out of our comfort zones all the time, challenging ourselves. It can also be a short-lived career which breeds insecurity.
As a mother to young twins how do you strike a balance between work and family?
I strive constantly to do justice to both; believe me it’s not easy! I’m lucky to have a flexible job, have finally managed some good help at home, and have a very supportive mother and a hands-on husband, whom I depend on constantly. It would have been impossible without them.
Which have been your most memorable shows?
There have been quite a few and for different reasons. Sabyasachi’s show in Delhi, 2011; Rohit Bal’s show in Mumbai, 2012; Anamika Khanna’s show in Kolkata, 2012; the Mai Mumbai show with Naomi Campbell, 2011; Then there have been shows at great locations like The Lido in Paris with Ritu Beri; BMW-Suneet Varma show in Udaipur 2012; closing ceremony of The Commonwealth Games in Melbourne etc.
What are you working on at the moment?
Multiple projects actually. Just for the month of October there’s the Wills Lifestyle India fashion week; Meera and Muzaffar Ali’s shows in Delhi and Mumbai; the L’Oreal show, Sabyasachi’s show in Mumbai… This is a very busy season for us.
You’ve made a significant contribution to the Indian fashion industry for over two decades. What’s your secret to being a part of it without disillusionment setting in?
Frankly there have been times when I’ve felt quite disillusioned with it but then I look at the bright side of my work — travel, flexibility and the fact that I really enjoy what I do — and it’s forgotten. Rather than a fleeting moment in my life, the fashion industry has given me a solid career that’s held me in good stead for almost 22 years. It’s important to not get carried away with the glamour of the industry, fashion is a serious business.