#FireStarters: Meet Anjali Lama, India’s First Transgender Model
In January 2017, Lakmé Fashion Week’s curtain raiser with Monisha Jaising made for a glamorous opener. The one-of-a-kind show was held on a luxury cruise, with actress Sonakshi Sinha playing showstopper. Sonakshi stepped out in a fiery orange, waist-clinching structured gown, but there was another model people were eagerly waiting to see. She walked down in a beautiful, high-slit, embellished golden gown, as she glowed against the setting sun. There was a sense of pride amongst onlookers, as she sashayed down this makeshift runway, and many pulled their phones out to record this precious moment, as India first-ever transgender model had just made her debut, making history!
Meet Anjali Lama, a 32-year-old Nepali model who has now gone down in history for being the first-ever transgender model to walk the most prestigious runways for veteran designers in India. Growing up as the fifth son in a poor farming family in Nepal, Lama didn’t dream of being a fashion model. Runways and glamour were a far cry, unheard of, perhaps. Today, she has walked for the likes of Anita Dongre, Manish Malhotra and Tarun Tahiliani to name a few, making her Hauterfly’s #FireStarter this October.
We got chatting with the model to find out her journey from farm to catwalk, and how she became the crackling #Firestarter she is today.
Anjali’s anything but typical. So, in a world where everything from bodies to beauty is under intense scrutiny, how does she break down barriers, and what does it feel like when she does? “I think it instils a sense of responsibility in me, but at the same time, I am doing what I really wanted to do. Even though I am the first-ever transgender model, and I have worked with many top designers, my appetite for work is insatiable,” she says.
She knows that every profession comes with its challenges. Hers, though, maybe a little unique. “I don’t think I am doing sufficient work, and at times that makes me feel very low. I do not know if the reason behind this dearth of work is my gender. I always try to do the best I can, I even take that extra step, and ask where I lack and where I can do better. I always seek advice from senior models and choreographers.”
With a repertoire that features the names of some of the best in the business, surely the top dollars must be rolling in? Well, not really. She admits it’s not a bed of roses. The pay is sketchy, but she takes it in her stride. “I cannot compare and comment, as I do not have first-hand experience of working anywhere but in India. Having said that, I am aware that celebrity models such as Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Bella Hadid, get paid a wholesome amount for their work and their number of followers can outdo any Bollywood actresses.” She further explained the work scenario in India and said, “I do see things getting better in India. Not only models, but even the transgender community is getting their due, respect and equal rights, and I am a bright example of that.”
So what brought her to India? “I knew my opportunities for growth were limited in Nepal, so I needed to get out to expand my horizons and opportunities. I packed my bags and dreams and came to India. And everything I ever dreamt of is now happening.”
We chat about her time in Nepal, simpler times. A time when the term “Transgender” and the LGBTQ community weren’t part of her vocabulary, leading to confusion and anxiety. She explained how she was completely unaware of her identity. “I always felt like a girl. Even when I was an eight-year-old boy, I felt like a girl and was bullied for the same by friends and family. So, I finished school, packed my bags and came to Kathmandu. Even after I came to Kathmandu, it was only 5 years later (in 2005), that I discovered, my identity as a transgender.”
On the professional level, what was her first break? “It has to be Lakme Fashion Week,” says Anjali with a cheer in her voice. She explained her journey as a model saying, “I was modelling in Nepal from 2009 to 2016, and everyone encouraged me to try other countries because I looked good and had the height, but it is not that easy. I do not speak English, I do not have much money, so where do I go? That is when I thought of India. I don’t need a visa to come to India and I do speak a little Hindi. So, I came and auditioned for Lakme Fashion Week. 14th December 2016 was when I was selected and I will never forget that day.”
Since then, Anjali has walked for almost every top designer in India, so I had to know which one designer is on her bucket list. “I really, really want to work with Sabyasachi. I have been following him from the very start, and have not had the chance to even meet him. But it is one of my biggest dreams to work with Sabyasachi.”
Of course, I could not end this conversation without asking Anjali the secret behind her beauty. She’s forthright. “I think the secret of my beauty is my mother. I look exactly like her and miss her so much. As for beauty, you have to do something. You just cannot sit at home and expect yourself to look your best. There are very few people who are naturally beautiful, the rest of them put efforts into the way they look.” She further explained her regime saying, “I do drink a lot of water, get good sleep and eat good food. These are the three main pillars of maintaining myself. No matter where I go I adhere to these. As a model, I wear makeup all the time, but irrespective of how late I get home, or how tired I am, I always go to bed with all my makeup off and deep cleanse my skin.”
On a parting note, Anjali says, “My end goal is to be a super-model. So, let’s see how far I can get.”
We think you have everything it takes, Anjali.