Ayesha Billimoria is a professional model who is probably not meant to get her 15 minutes of fame – she has appeared in advertisements of some of the biggest names in the beauty industry, but not as the product’s face.
Having started modelling when she was 15, Ayesha has appeared in commercials for Lakme, Anne French, Parachute, Asian Paints, Lux and Tanishq, but as a body double in all of them.
"I have body doubled for Kareena Kapoor and Deepika Padukone and recently worked in ‘Bajirao Mastani’," says Ayesha.
The 28-year-old Mumbai-based model says she fills in for shots where only the character's entire body or body parts are visible but not the face.
"It is like a stand-in. Once the director finishes the main scenes with the actor, I fill in for the shots where her face is not required, like wide shots or body shots," she says.
Being a yoga trainer, athlete and fitness enthusiast helps Ayesha maintain her lithe frame.
The advertising and film industries require people with shapely and attractive hands, legs, eyes, feet, back, skin and neck. Most professional models fit into more than one of the above categories.
A person substituting for a famous personality may also be required to have a body frame and at times skin tone similar to that of the person they are substituting for.
"I am blessed with good skin. I hate make-up and do not use any products on my skin. I run a lot which is why my skin is tanned. As my hair is short, I use extensions during shoot," says Ayesha.
Different kinds of products require different kinds of ‘ideal body types’. For instance, explains a Mumbai-based casting producer, “While you would need broad shoulders for a choker ad, you'd need a model with slender shoulders for a commercial for a diamond neck-piece.”
Although it is a more organised industry in the West, in India it is still nascent and mostly an unorganised one, professionals in the field say.
Body models are mostly professional models or aspiring actors who also act in commercials. Many of the models The News Minute spoke to felt that just being a body model was not a feasible career option because of the irregular nature of and pay from the work.
"I was once hand-modelling for a Tanisqh ad. I had to handle jewellery and assemble it. The entire thing was done in one take. They needed confidence in the model's hands and there was no scope for hesitation," says Rosy*, a former model based-out of Bengaluru.
She goes on to add that there is "not much of a thrill" in the job and is perhaps "one of the simplest things to do". Rosy has since changed her profession.
Amit Bhargav (26), a television and film actor, currently based-out of Chennai, once acted as a body double for Yuvraj Singh in a commercial for a mobile phone. He calls the experience "boring".
"They shot my hands and the back of my head. That's all. The ad did not need any creative input from my side. It was just something I had to do since I was a struggling actor at that point," says Amit who now plays the lead in the popular Tamil TV show "Kalyanam Mudhal Kadhal Varai".
Image source: Amit Bhargav/Facebook
For Ayesha however modelling is something she is not only good at, but also enjoys doing. "I get to meet and hang out with the best actors and directors. I am surrounded by good people," she says, adding that of all her professions, this is what gives her “the most money”.
Body doubles are used by production houses as celebrities follow a strict schedule and have limited time to shoot for ads, spending hardly more than a day for one commercial. The use of models here saves time and is also economical.
Also in cases where the actor or star is uncomfortable doing any particular shots, models can substitute for them.
However, there are also those who may not be professional models and are yet cast in commercials for the expertise they bring on the screen. Like a food stylist.
Thirty-five-year-old Payal Gupta is a chef, food and floral stylist who shuttles between Mumbai and Bengaluru.
As part of her job Gupta arranges the food aesthetically, before the model or actor takes over, for food photography or videography. But occasionally she is also needed to step in as a hand model to do what the actor cannot. "It is the way I handle food, like dipping puris in the oil or throwing spices into the pan," says Payal who has worked in dozens of food commercials.
Payal Gupta slips ito her role of a food stylist during a shoot for Britannia Goodday Chunkies with Deepika Padukone/Source: chefpayalgupta.com
Though she says the work is no big deal, it can bring with it a certain "performance anxiety" which "not everyone can handle". Before a shoot, models are commonly trained to handle the food products in a certain way, which comes easily to Payal as a stylist.
"There is nothing exciting about it though. But you gain in terms of experience. Also, using a food stylist in a commercial is a last-minute thing where the makers do not need slender good-looking hands," Payal, who has more than one-and-a-half decades of experience in the food industry, says.
Since commercials specifically focus on aesthetics, does she take measures to care for her hands? "I work in a very rugged terrain- I am constantly cooking, cleaning, washing."
Having nice hands hardly appears on Gupta's to-do list and she does not treat hand-modelling as a career.
"Modelling is a fringe benefit. I already charge a bomb for my styling. I don't expect any money from modelling. Why would I charge for letting them shoot my dirty hands for five minutes," she chortles.
*Name changed to protect identity