A single moment can change everything; a single moment can make all of your dreams come true.
One of the tall models in Nepali modeling industry, Arpana Upadhyay stands proud at 5’9”. She had always dreamed about stepping into the industry, but her studies always took first priority. When she finally finished her A-Levels, she filled out the Envogue 3 forms during her gap year. What was meant to be her first step into the industry turned out to be her best step as she ended up winning the competition. The very shy and demure persona she puts up in public is blown completely away when she gets comfortable with them, the comfort slowly coaxing the weirder side out. We had the opportunity to talk to her and find out a little more about the girl who has taken the Nepali modeling industry by storm.
Her journey into the modeling industry began with a funny story and a literal journey. It was the day her final A-Levels exams were over and she had been dying to finish her exams and go to the House of Fashion to fill out the audition form for Envogue 3. She had been following previous Envogue events and admired models such as Neha Banu, Basana Timilsina, Jyotsana Yogi and Bidhatri Pokhrel. Being a very phone shy person, she decided to do what everybody in this day and age does and checked the location of the House of Fashion on Google Maps which led her to their old store in Lazimpat. She walked all the way from Lainchaur to Lazimpat only to find out that they had moved and are now located in Nag Pokhari (that’s when she finally stopped walking around Lazimpat and actually made the call). She then hiked all the way back to Nag Pokhari and walked into the store looking a frazzled mess. She says, “I passed out like a baby when the day came to an end but have never regretted a minute of it.”
Looking back she recalls, “I nearly never even made it to the auditions.” She has a black belt in Karate and when she got done with high school she wanted to polish her skills again which prompted her to join the dojo near her house. All was well for the first two days as she was enjoying the physically challenging exercises they were putting her through. The third day rolled around with the guru saying that they will be sparring. Being tall as she is, she was paired with a guy twice her size and ended up hurting her foot so bad that when she kicked him she had to get a cast. Freaking out that there was only two weeks left till the auditions and the doctor ordered a complete bed rest of 15 days, she went ahead and cut off the cast on the 12th day hoping and praying that her foot was fine. She didn’t even practice her walk with her heels fearing that her feet had not mended properly. “We were called for the auditions at the same time and got to look at all of our competitors. People started whispering when I came in, looked at my face, my feet and back to my face again- checking to see if I had heels on. Their reaction when I did finally put them on was priceless. I hadn’t had the time to buy kitten heels so I was walking around in a 5 inch heel, making me look like a giant of 6’ 2”. Then when my turn finally came, I was so nervous that my lips wouldn’t stop quivering and to this date I don’t remember what I said in front of the panel that day.”
Tall, thin and very fashionable, her family members, cousins and friends had always encouraged her to become a model. She had her fears joining the industry, since she had no “sources” or “contacts” but she found that in the end none of that matters if you are willing to put in the time and effort and are really passionate about what you are doing. “The best way to get into the industry is to be aware of everything that is happening around you. Everything is on the internet these days, use it to your advantage and never forget to believe in yourself” she says.
AT House of Fashion is one such place where your raw talent is recognized and polished by some of the renowned faces of the industry. This brain child of Oshima Banu and her team came about when she had just started her modeling career and felt that there was a dire need for a good agency and a good platform. So instead of complaining about it, they decided to do something about it. The main motivation came from the feeling that they had to do something for the industry that could benefit the people who wanted to step into the world of glitz and glamour. She saw an opportunity to set up an organization which could collectively promote models as well as designers and the Nepali fashion scenario as a whole and she took it.
When the lights are set up and her makeup is done, Arpana looks at me and asks whether she looks like an alien followed by a request to put on some music that will help her focus. You would never think that a goofball who dances to Drake, Fetty Wap and Taylor swift in between the shots would be capable of conjuring up such fierce expressions in front of the camera.
After spending some time with her, it is easy to see why she went on to win Miss Personality besides bagging the title. “As the winners were being announced, my heart started pumping faster and faster, everybody who had participated used to tell me everyday ‘Winner ta timi nai hune ho’ and my hopes had begun to soar without my permission. When the time came to announce the Female Face of House of Fashion, I remember crossing my fingers and looking out towards where my family were seated in the audience. All of us waiting with baited breath for the name to be called out; any name; it had to be better than the wait and the uncertainty. The MC kept asking the crowd who they thought would bag the title, and I could hear my sister screaming my name from the audience, my name echoed by most of the other contestants on stage with me and some who were backstage, making my hope sprout wings and fly again. When my name was finally called, I couldn’t believe it. It was like all my life, everything I had done was leading up to this moment. I saw my friends jumping in the air and the cameras flashing. I couldn’t concentrate on anything, I was willing myself not to cry and telling myself that it wasn’t the Miss Nepal pageant I won, but I felt like it anyways.”
It wasn’t until later that everything began to sink in. She won the title but had never anticipated the response she would get. Her mother was in the States when the event happened so she logged in to facebook to send her a message and nearly fainted. “I was so overwhelmed. I had over a hundred friend requests in about two hours, more than 75 messages and oh so many notifications. I had to literally put my phone down and go for a walk. I felt like my whole world was spinning and I didn’t want to lose my footing.”
She firmly believes that if you really truly wish for something to happen, the universe conspires to make it possible for you if you invest enough on it. She was a little kid of about seven or eight when she first caught a glimpse of the Fashion TV while flicking through the television channels. It was the first time that she was exposed to this line of work and it fascinated her tremendously. As she grew older, she began appreciating the trends and fashion more and more to a point where she began to walk around in her sister’s heels and fancy clothes pretending to be walking on the runway when nobody was home. She laughs as she remembers how she would scramble to straighten all the mess she had made by putting away the shoes and the clothes in a hurry when she heard the car stopping in the driveway indicating that her parents had come home. “I have always dreamed about being a model, I never thought I would get an opportunity to turn that dream into a reality. I had a makeshift ‘ramp’ at home. I used to open the door of the two adjoining rooms and walk down the length of the two rooms, looking at myself in the reflective surface of a cupboard on one side of the room pretending to be one of the models in the Milan Fashion Week.”
“A successful model is more than just her body or her face. In the long run, they aren’t the things that continue to matter. What matters is the way you treat everybody else and how you present yourself to be like. How you are as a person directly determines how far you will go, and it’s not just in the modeling industry that this stands true, it’s the truth for anybody pursuing any career in any field, anywhere.”
Asked where she sees herself in the next ten years, she goes on to list all the things she would want to be doing then since she really isn’t sure yet where exactly she wants to go. “I want to be running my own business, I want to become a Chef, I want to open a dance school and I want to become an International model. There is only so much I will be able to do in ten years. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see where life takes me.” Even though she isn’t quite so sure about the distant future she does know that she wants to get a bachelor’s degree before she settles down to a comfortable career. Education she says is of the utmost importance and that it should always come before everything else. She emphasizes that her going to pursue her education does not mean that she will retire from modeling all together. “Modeling is anything you make it to be, if you’re willing to give it your all. Some might retire from the mainstream modeling like runway shows, but they can still be affiliated to it one way or the other.”
She thinks that she has joined the industry in the best of times. The Nepali fashion industry is going through a lot of drastic changes and has started to try and match the pace of the international fashion industry. Even though it may take a long time to get there, the journey has begun and it promises to be an exciting one.