This article originally appeared on VICE India.
Every time you see an ad for a hair product with Kareena Kapoor or Deepika Padukone or Priyanka Chopra (you get the picture), and the camera cuts to their hands running through their hair—it’s not actually the movie star’s hands. The same happens with beauty product ads when said stars are piling on the creams, or in baby product ads with close-ups of hands bathing babies. Whenever hands are needed in the ad and movie biz, hand models are called in to save the day.
“Eighty percent of models don’t have good hands, and most film stars don’t either,” says Natasha D’Souza, a hand model turned modeling casting agent in Mumbai. “When you’re selling a product, a hand model is always used. No one wants to see ugly hands.” Ugly hands, according to D’Souza, translate to, unsurprisingly, “fat, short, and unmanicured.”
To find out more about this odd job, we spoke to 24-year-old Monika Mathew. She is very much in demand in the hand modeling industry, whose hands over the past three and a half years have graced nearly 100 ads.
VICE: How did you get into the business?
Monika: I had uploaded a full body picture on Instagram. A stranger noticed my hands, and asked me to send him close-ups. I sent it, and some days later he called me to the Raees shoot. I was elated, but through the whole day, the director had only shot me packing a lunch box. It was very weird.
When the movie was released, and I watched a scene, a close-up of Mahira Khan packing the same lunch box, and that’s when I realized those were my hands. After that, I started getting calls for ads.
What other products have you advertized?
Kareena Kapoor’s entire line of Lakmé products [beauty products]. All of Kajol’s Lifebuoy ads [medicine and antibacterial products], Deepika Padukone in Tanishq [a jewelry collection], even Sonam Kapoor and Tamanna Bhatia [Indian Actresses] in some other ads. I really enjoyed them.
Directors don’t treat hand models differently. We’re allowed to sit next to them [the stars]. Once during a shoot, Deepika [Padukone] came and sat across from me. For two minutes, I was shook. People would kill to meet her, and she was sitting in front me, chilling. It was a very proud moment for me.
How much money do you make per shoot?
When I started, I had no idea how much the pay was. Hand shots are such a niche business. But after a while, I figured out that usually it’s a four- to six-hour shoot, which can pay between Rs 10,000 to 20,000 [$140 to $280]. It depends on negotiation [skills], as well as the budget of the production house. Sometimes, I charge less if it’s a shorter shoot and close to my house. Occasionally, when you reach the location, the director changes his mind, taking the hand out entirely, and replacing it with just product shots. This happens a lot if we’re shooting for a lipstick ad.
Is it a lot of work?
Yes! People don’t realize it. You have to keep your hands stiff and hold them in one place for hours. It might seem easy, but those who are in the business know how difficult it is.
Do you work on your hands a lot? To keep them looking nice?
I’m asked this all the time. Earlier I didn’t get manicures, etc, but now I do sometimes. I can’t let my nails chip even a little bit. We’re all human, so sometimes they grow and break, so I have to file them, as it can get very ugly.
How does it feel when you see the final ad? Do you go like, “Hey, that’s my hand!”?
Mostly it’s just funny. Often the shot is so quick, I don’t even have time to say "That's my hand!" Plus, if I’m in with people and I tell them, no one believes me, and even if they do, they ask ten questions about hand shots. I find explaining it all very boring now, so I don’t really tell people anymore. I download the ads though, from YouTube, for my portfolio.
Do you feel weird, that these ad filmmakers only like your hands?
Sometimes at shoots people tell me, “Why don’t you [audition] for shows? Your face is also very beautiful.” I tell them I know, but then I only get called for hand shots. It feels weird. Like, what can you do when people hiring only find one part of you beautiful? I’m trying to build a portfolio of full-body shots. On my Instagram too, I haven’t put up many shots of my hands. It’s helping me get some leads.
Do you get DMs regarding odd ‘hand jobs’?
It used to happen when my account was public, even before I started putting up my work, boys message me just about anything. I just block them.
Once a boy near my house messaged me saying he really likes me, and if I didn’t meet him, he would end his life. It was very weird. He was like 15. Later he told me his account was hacked, and it wasn’t him.
What did you study?
My dad sold his cable television business four years ago. He hasn’t really done anything since. My elder sister’s struggling with her mental health, so my mom has to stay home with her. So the burden of supporting the household fell into my hands (no pun intended). I was lucky then, that I got the Raees shoot. I was in my first year [of college], but with shoots and all, I decided to take a break to support my family. I’ve recently got back to studying though. I’m in my second year studying for a Bachelor’s of Commerce degree.
Did people tell you that you have aesthetically pleasing hands while growing up?
No one ever did! I have a horrible habit of biting my nails. My teachers and parents used to scold me. I listened to them, and started growing out the nails on my left hand, but continued to chew the nails of my right hand. But when my left hand started looking good, I started to grow out [the nails of] my right hand too. Even then, no one actually said that my hands are pretty.
I didn’t even know what a hand model was. It all happened pretty fast.
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