After Instagram handle Diet Sabya accuses TFM 360 of non-payment of dues, model Arlette claims talent management firm owes over Rs 70 lakh to 30-plus models; owner Soni says have every intention to pay
Arlette Grao. Pics/Instagram
Last week, anonymous Instagram handle Diet Sabya accused TFM 360, a model management agency owned by designer Ashish N Soni, of non-payment of dues to its models. According to the social media page, the agency had withheld fees of several artists since 2018.
Model Arlette Grao, who had been one of the agency's talents between February 2016 and August 2018, claims that the company owes over Rs 70 lakh to its 30-plus models. She says that things came to a head in late 2018 as she had not received a penny despite working through the year. "I have bank statements to support this. I eventually quit the agency. I waited my contract period and cooling-off period before starting off as a freelance model. Once I started freelancing, I realised there are multiple models whose payments are stuck with the company," says Grao.
Ashish N Soni
It was in November 2018 that she sent a legal notice to the agency, accusing them of defaulting on payment of Rs 8 lakh – a sum accrued over her two-year-plus stint. "TFM cited breach of contract as the reason for their non-payment of dues when I haven't breached any clause. They are putting similar false allegations on my other colleagues. Donald Simrock [make-up artist] was part of the Lakme Fashion Week two years ago; the agency owes him Rs 20 lakh," says Grao.
Over the past two years, she has sent two more legal notices to the agency, the last being in February 2020. During the lockdown, several aggrieved models decided to take up the issue publicly and reached out to Diet Sabya. Grao says they will also seek legal recourse. "My last communication with Ashish Soni was on September 17 and he didn't reply. After the post went viral, he blocked us. The employees, Preity Venu and Rishu Bartariya, can't release payments without his approval. We intend to file a legal case against the agency."
When mid-day reached out to Soni, he said that the firm has been running into losses since its inception five years ago. "We had responded to Arlette's legal notice and served her a show-cause notice thereafter due to breach of contract (details of which he didn't provide as the matter is subjudice). I am not the solo player of the agency. This was set up 5 years ago. The business never made money. The foreign partner (parent brand) wanted to exit and at that time I had 40 per cent stake. They wanted to shut it down. I took on their debt and ensured that the models' income stays afloat. It was a liability and I have been running it for two years. Company records that are public will tell you that I haven't drawn a single salary from the company. I hope to find an investor with deeper pockets for this agency. Till March, we had a regular cash flow but the business has been affected due to COVID. People are not in a position to pay up. To malign someone(for that), is out of line. I am willing to open this up for audit and if to prove my integrity, if I have to take a loan, I will do so."
Mid-day is in possession of the notice served by TFM to Grao, who informed us that she has responded to it through her lawyer but never received a response till date. In August 2020, over email communication, she was told that the agency will revert.
When further probed on why payments from 2018 haven't been cleared yet, Soni added, "Though billing states a 30-day period, monies take longer to be cleared. Some invoices don't get cleared for a year or two. We have every intention to pay. Whatever money comes, we pay that amount out. Having said that, I have to say that there will be legal ramifications for the slandering."
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