She is a global phenomenon on the modeling scene having achieved fame and fortune in a journey that tested her will and determination at every step. Now things can only get bigger and better for the showstopper who has the attention of the who’s who of the fashion world.
Anjali Lama burst into India’s fashion scene in 2017 when the transgender model from Nepal walked for Lakmé Fashion Week. A few years on, she has bagged a campaign for Calvin Klein and a Hollywood film. At 36, Anjali is living her best life and she will have it no other way.
“The space that I am in today is the most content I’ve been in a very long time, and I am not scared to admit it,” she says.
Her childhood was more anxious, she admits, but in her thirties, she wants to focus on being more present. “I don’t want to limit myself,” she emphasizes.
She is now careful to carve out time for her personal life and wellness. “I turned vegetarian in late 2020 and it has made me a better person,” she shares. Anjali has always relied on her imagination to spirit her away to other worlds. “As a child, my mind would always be somewhere else, imagining what I want to do, who I wanted to be,” she says.
After she came to terms with her identity, she decided that modeling was to be her career. “Many people used to compliment me on my height and features and this would always boost my confidence,” she recalls. Her journey from Nuwakot to Mumbai has inspired many. Making it on the cover of a leading women’s magazine in Kathmandu unfolded her journey, and she was determined that she would seek every opportunity that came her way.
She has long silenced those who dismissed her as a privileged transgender model. “I am not approached for any project just to make it inclusive but because I qualify. People often say that it must be easy for me since there are fewer transgender models. But they don’t realise that if I wasn’t capable I wouldn’t last long,” she explains.
She is surrounded by people who don’t treat her any different and she would not have it any other way. Her success has ensured a clear evolution in the perception of people regarding the queer community.
In an interview, Anjali Lama talks about fashion, her role in the upcoming Hollywood film, life in Mumbai, her fears and her desires. Excerpts:
Moving to another country to explore work opportunities in the fashion industry couldn’t have been easy, what was it like initially in Mumbai?
My identity was a major reason for several rejections that I faced during my initial days in Mumbai. I was in a relationship then and my bond with my partner was being hampered due to there being no work at hand. I had anxiety issues realising that I had left the work I had back in Nepal for an uncertain future in Mumbai. I risked everything to live my dream.
I had no plans for any alternative career. I was only focused on getting a chance to walk in the Lakme Fashion Week, and I channelised all my energy towards my only dream.
Being a transgender woman would have meant facing closed doors as well as encountering insults and violence. What did your journey entail from 2005 when you came to terms with your identity?
Discovering myself was a journey in itself. I was an innocent boy in Nuwakot involved in agriculture. An introvert guy who came out as a transgender woman, I have come a long way. I still recall the day when I spoke to my family about my identity and they chose to abandon me. Many friends discouraged me to own my reality, but I never gave up. Today I am glad that I faced rejections, it only made me stronger. I have seen the worst of days and it has taught me to value even the simplest of things in life.
In 2017, you walked the ramp as the first transgender model for Lakme Fashion Week. What did it take to get selected?
I wanted to be in an internationally acclaimed fashion week and Lakme was all I knew about. I read more about it, started following them, and when they announced their model selection process, I decided to give it a try. This way, I auditioned twice before finally getting selected. Twice I travelled from Kathmandu to Mumbai just for the audition. I used to manage all my expenses on my own and when my name was not on the list, I used to pat myself for at least having tried. The third time I auditioned for Lakme was in 2017. I was better prepared this time; I had emailed the organisers to confirm if transgenders were eligible to participate.
They didn’t know what to say because no transgender had approached them before but in a couple of days they revert saying yes. And that was my calling; I packed my bag and reached Mumbai a month in advance. For the entire month I auditioned for many shows and shoots but was rejected. Finally, I auditioned for Lakme and got through it. I made headlines as the first transgender model of Lakme and my heart was filled with joy.
In the next two years you bagged a campaign for Calvin Klein and now a film in Hollywood. You are breaking the glass ceiling for the transgender community in our part of the world…
I bagged the CK campaign for women’s day as they were really inspired by my story and my work as a transgender model. About the film, it came knocking on my door. Indian cinema has come of age in terms of its perceptions, interpretations, and representations of the transgender identity. There are plenty of movies that depict LGBTIQA+ characters and their lives. Transgender persons have been depicted in movies in various ways, but there seem to be more movies that stigmatise or wrongfully depict transgender people their feelings and lives. So when I got a film offer that represents the LGBTIQA+ community well, I quickly said yes.
Tell us more about the Hollywood film ‘Sharing a Ride’ and your role.
This is my first Hollywood project and I shared the screen with Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez in an anthology film titled ‘Women’s Stories.’ With six segments ranging from drama to comedy, docu-drama to animation, the movie is directed by only female directors featuring an all female cast. The segment I am being featured in is titled ‘Sharing a ride’ of 17-18 minutes directed by Leena Yadav. Leena has previously directed films like ‘Parched’, ‘Teen Patti’ and ‘Shabd’. She was keeping a close eye on me through social media and finally approached me through Instagram. She often says that the character I am playing reflects me. Further, when I signed the film, I didn’t know it would be a Hollywood film. Most surprisingly, I came to know about it on the last day of the shoot and I felt so empowered. The film is scheduled for release in July at one of the film festivals but one never knows how things will occur in the pandemic.
Your life struggle has been presented in a documentary called “Anjali: Living Inside Someone Else’s Skin”. What made you share your story?
The documentary came as an opportunity when I was in the Blue Diamond Society, Kathmandu. Mohan Rai wanted to feature my story and it came out beautifully. The documentary tells my life story from 2005 to 2014. And I have received ravishing reviews. I am still in touch with Mohan dai. He is a great filmmaker.
Fashion has become the modern-day vehicle for change. Your thoughts.
It has become a medium to reach people and aware them of different issues. The language of fashion and entertainment is understood by society faster than any other medium. I believe fashion helped a lot of people to become aware of the situation of the queer community and indeed it has become a vehicle for change.
Being an LGBTIQ activist, what are the roadblocks for the queer community that you want to address in the coming years?
Wherever I go, I represent the queer community. I am breaking the glass ceiling not only for myself but for many like me. We people look for acceptance, love and being treated like any other human. Moreover, acceptance comes from both ends. Even the queer community needs to accept their identity and be proud of it. You need to accept yourself and only then the world accepts you. I want to be a supermodel and I am doing what it requires. Through this I want the world to know what a transgender can achieve.
Tell us more about your days of failure and defeat.
Being in one of the biggest cities in India, I can’t rent a house; what more can I say. I am left in tears and want to return to Nepal when the colony people don’t want a transgender to be their neighbour. In Mumbai, even bachelors don’t get an apartment easily but for a transgender, the case is worse. Moreover, I meet several people during shoots and fashion shows here but I hardly have any close friends.
How was growing up as a transgender child?
People used to comment every now and then “kasto keti jasto”. I have grown up listening to this. I was often “haso ko patro”. And it affected my mental health. I was a bright student, passing with flying colours every time but I failed in SLC miserably.
When I adopt a child, I will make him/her strong mentally. I will make sure s/he respects human beings regardless of their gender. The child will learn to see the world from a new perspective. I can go on and on…
What makes modelling as a career in India interesting to you?
I have always believed in the saying, “If you want to achieve big in life, be in a more competitive space”. I live by this quote and this is the reason I chose Mumbai to settle down. People are professionals here and perfection is what they expect. The opportunities are never-ending and the growth is limitless.
What is your favourite aspect of working in the fashion industry?
I can live my dream. Every time I walk the ramp, I feel like a queen. I am always excited to wear the fresh collection of renowned designers first hand. Further, it also has travelling opportunities with amazing assignments.
How would you describe your personal style?
My style is minimal. I always prioritise comfort and wear easy-going outfits.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I am inspired by my mother. She is my first god and the person who gives me strength every time I feel low. Though she passed away long back, her teachings are with me. She was the one who taught me to never give up.
How do you think transgender women are defining leadership today?
These are the brave women who accepted themselves and now the world looks at them as role models. These women never heard words like “NO” and “CAN’T” and today have made history with their potential and talent. I salute them for showing the path to many.
Your social media following in India and Nepal is large. How do you look at it?
I believe this is the result of my hard work and talent (laughs). On a serious note, on social media, I am trying to be relevant with time. Change is the only constant.
What worries you today?
The Covid situation and the growing number of fatalities worry me the most. Also, the fact that lockdown means no work. In the recent virtual fashion week, we earned half of what we used to earn earlier. This is a sad scenario for the entire world.
What are you most proud of?
My identity, my work and my determination
Be a risk taker, invest in yourself and believe in yourself
One Minute With Anjali
Life is: beautiful
Best relationship advice: Mutual understanding is must. It has to be someone whom I can share and talk about anything and everything
An absolute no no: Unhealthy lifestyle
Qualities you appreciate in men: Respect for women, love and care
Your biggest fear: Being in big city on my own and not having someone by my side to share the good and bad times
Favourite film: POSE (Netflix web series)
A makeup hack you swear by: I use my lipstick as blush on my cheek bones
What’s always in your bag: Water bottle and hand sanitiser
Three must haves in your closet: Any black outfit, short skirt, jeans and blazer
Best holiday destination: Greenery: the hills, mountains… anytime anywhere
Fitness routine: Early morning yoga
Favourite thing about yourself: Punctuality
Mantra for success: Keep trying
Cheat meal: I avoid it
Cover Girl: Anjali Lama (Instagram: anjalilama_official)
Photographer: Milan Lama (Instagram: meiilanvisualarts)
HMUA: Sophie Sunuwar (Instagram: sophie.sunuwar)
Stylist: Sadhana Ranabhat (Instagram: sadhana_ranabhat)
Coordinated & interviewed by: Ankita Jain (Instagram: jain.anki)
Accessories: Ziba Studio (Instagram: zibastudio.official)
Wardrobe: Sabin Dhungana (instagram: tsabinz); White gown- Vera Nepal (Instagram: vera.nepal)
Hospitality partner: Hyatt Regency Kathmandu (Instagram: hyattregencykathmandu)