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Meet the 10-year-olds who are swapping playtime for spotlight

They know how to blow a flying kiss and walk down the ramp without a cue. Oh, and they are just 10 years old. Here are the kids who are swapping play time for the spotlight

Why don’t you talk to that one… she is pretty," a member of the event management staff at the India Kids Fashion Week, suggests. The event, now in its fourth year, was held over the weekend at a suburban mall. And the ‘pretty girl’ pointed out to us, is light-eyed, fair and dreamy-looking Lliesha Bajaj.

At the 4th India Kids Fashion Week, held at a suburban mall over the weekend, 600 children between four and  14 years walked the ramp.  Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
At the 4th India Kids Fashion Week, held at a suburban mall over the weekend, 600 children between four and  14 years walked the ramp.  Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

It’s Lliesha’s third attempt at walking the ramp at the show, and the 10-year-old Dombivli resident is confident as she shakes our hand and sits down for a chat at the central terrace. She became a model, says her mother Jyoti, a nursery teacher at Lodha World School, after she took part in a Barbie Facebook contest held in 2012 by Barbie, the retail brand. Children were invited to put their picture up, and the photograph that got the maximum likes would win, and get a voucher worth R10,000 to shop. "And she won!" says Jyoti, "I don’t remember by how many votes, though…" Lleisha, jumps in, "Mummy, it was 8,900!"

Lleisha Bajaj, 10, says her mother Jyoti, no longer steps out unless she’s wearing a Zara outfit. This was her third outing at the India Kids Fashion Week. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Lleisha Bajaj, 10, says her mother Jyoti, no longer steps out unless she’s wearing a Zara outfit. This was her third outing at the India Kids Fashion Week. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

In the crowded open space, filled with kids of different heights and ages, Lliesha and Jyoti are just one of hundreds of kid-parents who have gathered here on a Thursday afternoon for rehearsals. All the kids wear designer clothing — some are nodding off, some posing for pictures, some looking bored. On one side, a group walk the ramp and the choreographer tells the volunteers, "Let the kids walk as they want. Let them be." Some are seasoned child models, like Lliesha, and others were selected at auditions held last month.

Organisers say  that that this year, 1,000 children came for auditions held in March. Of them, only 600 were selected
Organisers say that that this year, 1,000 children came for auditions held in March. Of them, only 600 were selected

But, seasoned or first-timers, most kids are excited at the thought of walking the ramp. Maybe for a generation that’s also referred to the "selfie generation", craving the limelight is a natural life choice. We spot a little girl in a corner, waiting for her turn to rehearse her walk, posing and pouting with her hand perched on her waist in a pink tutu-style dress. Three-year-old Shivika, doesn’t remember her last name (and her mother is not around). But, ask her if she knows what a pout is and she blows a flying kiss, and then says, "Mummy taught me that." It’s her first time at the show.

Parul’s children, eight-year-old Armaan and three-year-old Kanisha,  are participating  at the fashion week
Parul’s children, eight-year-old Armaan and three-year-old Kanisha, are participating at the fashion week

Kidswear in India is big business. A 2013 report by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM) estimated that the industry in India was worth R38,000 crore, and growing at a compound annual rate of 20 per cent to reach R80,000 crore by 2015. At this event alone, high street brands, like Gap Kids and Max are showcasing, along with designers like Samta & Shruti Studio, Sharad Raghav and Sugar Candy. The fashion week is spread over three days with 24 shows and will showcase kidswear for ages four to 14. Around 1,000 children participated in the auditions, and only 600 were picked.

Sion resident Kabir Mendiratta
Sion resident Kabir Mendiratta

Meanwhile, Lliesha is waiting patiently to head on with rehearsals. She has a purple Arab-style toga on, and shades propped on a head that sports long, silky hair. "She wants to be on TV. So, I decided that if that’s her dream, so be it. She is very fashion conscious and only shops at Zara kids now," says Jyoti, 35. "I look after my hair, but no make-up yet!" Lleisha assures us.

Three-year-old Shivika may not remember her last name, but has the pout down to a pat. Blowing a flying kiss, she says, ‘Mummy taught me that’
Three-year-old Shivika may not remember her last name, but has the pout down to a pat. Blowing a flying kiss, she says, ‘Mummy taught me that’

"I recently went online and learned how to make this miracle oil - you boil oil with curry leaves and then put it in your hair. They become even silkier than they are..." A Standard 5 student in the same school her mother works at, Lleisha says she wants to be a Deepika Padukone when she grows up. "I like being the showstopper." She has walked the ramp five times since she won the contest, and has even acted in the reality show, Savdhaan India. "We only accept shoots that happen on weekends," says Jyoti. Does that leave Lleisha with any time to play? "But I enjoy this more," she says, batting her eyelids. And what if some other kid gets selected as showstopper? Does that break her heart? "No, mummy has explained it to me. She says I always have the next time to try. There is competition all around, and I need to try my best."

Meanwhile, nine-year-old Sion resident Kabir Mendiratta, announces that he is here only to keep mommy happy. The Percy Jackson fan, with green eyes that prompted mother Deepa to fill up the audition form, says he doesn’t mind returning for another show but doesn’t like the waiting. "I was praying to God, ‘please select me,’ just so mom wouldn’t feel bad’."

Manoj Mahla, director, Craftsworld India, the agency that anchors the week along with Event Capital, says, "The only thing we were looking for is confidence. The kid can’t be shy. These days, kids are very aware since as they have seen it all on TV. And their families are very involved, too."

Like Deepa, who owns a printing press, there are many parents trying to make their kids’ starry dreams come true. One couple arrived from Surat, and shows us pictures of their daughters while rattling off credentials of previous titles won. Some, like Parul Kakkad, has both her children participating — eight-year-old Armaan and three-year-old Kanisha. "Kanisha is only three but, after I showed her a few YouTube videos and made her practice at home, she said ‘mom, I can do this’." For Deepa, it’s about making sure Kabir launches his Bollywood career. "It always starts with modelling. I am going to get a fancy photographer to shoot his portfolio. He wants to be a singer." Kabir laughs, "Even singing will need thoda hilna dulna. So, I am learning."

Friends of the models are not as forgiving the fame. Kabir says his group at Arya Vidya Mandir, Bandra (East), found it hard to digest that he was to walk the ramp. After all, he was the ‘nerdy kind’. And eight-year-old Aryaan Amlani tells his friends to ‘shut up’ when they make fun of him.

A model since the age of two, Aryaan’s career started when he won a competition held by a retail brand, after his mother Sonia signed a audition form during a shopping trip. The tot with long hair, who goes to RN Podar School, say his parents, could have been in Bajrangi Bhaijaan as Kareena Kapoor’s nephew. But, he had fever the day of the audition. "He is a slender kid so we don’t really to mind what he eats, but we only feed him home-cooked food. He is very careful of how he dresses up. Even if he is going to play, he doesn’t wear pyjamas. He dresses up!"

Though Sonia limits Aryaan’s shoots to weekends, Deepa feels that if a shoot is scheduled for the weekday, the school will make an exception. "It is going be his profession. We have to be serious about it."

"We never push him. If he can do it, great. Or else, no. It’s not for the money. His father has an export-import business," says Sonia, who adds that most ramp walks don’t pay the kids. It’s only the acting assignments that do. The reason Aryaan models, says father Altaf, is because he likes the limelight, and thinks that if he walks the ramp, he may meet some actors, like Varun Dhawan. "Do you know him?" Aryaan asks us sweetly.

Most of the kids who walk the ramp seem at home with it. Some show swag, some their Bollywood side. Two four-year-olds do the ball dance as they reach the end of their walk. Some are shy, but come to life as soon as a camera focuses on them. Like Lliesha says, "It’s all about wearing nice clothes, and being applauded. I am having the time of my life."

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