Fashion/StyleSaira Mohan: Real & Uninhibited - Raj Girn

March 1, 2004by OC Team0
First Published in the Spring 2004 Issue

How does a girl from the Canadian Rockies end up in Los Angeles as the winner of the Elite Look of the Year contest and become a high profile model at the age of 13?

All I can say is…with a lot of luck. The stars were lined up for me – my family was supportive, and I was ambitious and knew that I wanted to be a ‘model’ – not necessarily a fashion model, but some type of ‘model’ (example) for my parents, my friends and the people around me. I felt I had a lot to share at a very young age, and I know that was due to me being an only child…I always wanted to know about what was going on in other families. I wanted to somehow reach those families. I was granted my very first wish at the age of 13 when I won that Elite contest. Working as a fashion model for over a decade has allowed me the occasional opportunity to share my experiences with others. This is why giving interviews is such a pleasure. “Sharing and exchanging” is truly a lifelong passion.

What made you enter the contest? What was your mindset?

It was purely my desire to acquire life experience that made me enter. I wanted any little taste of experience I could get. There were some great prizes from that Elite contest as well, such as a ‘walk-on’ appearance on “Beverly Hills 90210” (which was my favourite show in those days), a computer, Guess wardrobe, a cruise to Mexico and a contract with Elite. Now, which 13 year-old wouldn’t want that? My mind was set from the very beginning to win that contest.

How did you feel when you won and what did the win mean to you?

I will never forget that feeling before they called my name…I was both curious and cautious at the same time. After they called the runner-ups, I was quietly heading towards my belongings backstage and was preparing to gather my things. When I heard the announcer say, “And the winner is…#29 Saira Mohan!” I instantly stopped in my tracks and made my way back to the stage. It was a dream come true. I felt like I could take on the world and was fully ready to do so.

How did your life change after the win?

After the win, I had a lot on my plate. I had the 90210 show to do; I had clothes to pick out; I had a cruise scheduled; I had agents to meet and photographs that needed to be taken. My life became a whole lot busier. I literally started working right away. Before I knew it, I was heading to Bali, Indonesia for my first ELLE shoot. My life changed completely and drastically. My parents were in for the ride of their life – and so was I.

How did you transpose yourself from a regular girl to a professional model?

This process took me no time at all. I felt that I could be everything I needed to be. At that time, I was young and naïve. I was ready for it all and expected people to give it to me. I grew up very fast. Looking back, I don’t remember a year when I didn’t think I knew it all. Nevertheless, I was professional from the very beginning. My father instilled ‘professionalism’ into my being. I was excited to exercise his lessons—to be given a chance at being the most professional model I could be. I learned a lot from others’ mistakes. When I saw the reactions of the clients towards girls who didn’t show up on time, I made a decision to never “be like that”. I have always been respected for my professionalism in the business.

Tell us about your first major runway experience – your frame of mind, interaction with the models, media, VIP guests—how you felt when it was all over.

My first major runway show was for Karl Lagerfeld, and I will never forget meeting Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell for the very first time. I was backstage and just had my hair and makeup done. I had been there for the past two hours and was waiting around, talking on the payphone to my mother, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and it was Naomi, with Linda, asking me which way the makeup room was! They had obviously just arrived, less than an hour before the show was to begin, and I was flabbergasted—here I was looking face-to-face with supermodels that I’d seen in Vogue and ripped out their pages to hang on my wall! I was speaking to the beautiful women that I admired! I was delighted—it was very cool for me. I was right where I wanted to be. My first show went better than I ever expected it to go.

What is the single most crucial criterion for being a successful model?

Being a successful model is no different than being a success in any other occupation—it all comes down to hard work. In this business, one must know what is expected of them, i.e., having a healthy, slim body, clear skin, manicured nails and clean hair. In order to succeed as a model, one must know how she comes across on camera. She must know how to move and pull off wearing any type of clothing that is presented to her. She must be cooperative and listen to both the client and the photographer to achieve the day’s goal. It’s not rocket science…and a great agent helps.

Where do you define the line between the person and the model?

The line is extremely clear when it is treated like the business that it is. I am paid for my time—paid very well—and when my time is with the clients, I am pretty much at their mercy as to how long, hard and fast we work. You have now just hit the ‘downfall’ of being professional: I am able to do up to 30 shots in a day. This involves set, clothes and sometimes people changes. Each shot is like its own scene in a film. An entire crew must be ready. Essentially, clients tend to get a lot done with me. But it can leave me so dead tired and hungry at the end of a day.

Who is Saira Mohan?

I have committed to answering questions like this based on who Saira is today—at this hour. Saira is in the middle of a change right now. I am entering a very different stage in my career and life, different from what I’ve known in the past. The modeling is still going strong, and so many other opportunities have come along that, quite frankly, are different businesses altogether. I find that I want to maintain the same level of confidence and fearless attitude in some of my new endeavours…but it’s hard and unfamiliar. However, I understand that it’s hard because it’s unfamiliar. Saira Mohan understands this about life. Yes, I am definitely at a stage in life where whatever answer I give today will likely be different in a few years.

What’s it like to be her?

Being Saira is great. I am healthy and full of life and love for those around me.

What is the best and worst thing about her?

The best thing about Saira is her capacity to share with others. The worst is her desire to know more.

Do you like her?

I do like her. She’s a very loyal, caring and honest friend.

Tell me something the world doesn’t know about Saira.

Saira is a very private person. She likes to do interesting things and speak about important topics. She has a deep-rooted loyalty to the closest people to her and her passion and desire to love – and be loved – is her driving force. Saira also isn’t fond of speaking about herself in the third person.

What makes you feel: Beautiful? Rest, relaxation, and exercise make me feel beautiful.  Empowered? When I make love to my husband and watch his knees buckle, I feel empowered. Sexy? I feel sexy when I am clean and smelling delicious. Loved? I love hearing my husband tell me he loves me and being touched makes me feel loved. Indifferent? I’m completely indifferent when it comes to deciding what to have for dinner. Tearful? I get tearful when I am misunderstood.

Regretful? I don’t usually feel regret because I think before I act.

If it’s true that the movies you watch and the books you read (romance, politics and sci-fi) expose the inner you to the outer world, then I think I’ve got you pegged as an activist by purpose and a romantic by nature. How accurate am I?

Funny question! You are saying this because on my website, I have some books listed that are very “Republican”. To tell you the truth, I haven’t updated that in a long time. I am interested in current events – what’s going on now. I find that having an opinion on John Kerry is more important then having an opinion on Sun Yat-Sen. Nobody has ever asked me about Sun at dinner. When I feel that I need to voice something, man, I’ll say it! When I feel like being political, I will be all over that…until I tire of the subject. One thing that I am is hard to peg. I am not a ‘type’. I have a very open mind

Where do you define the line between the person and the model?

The line is extremely clear when it is treated like the business that it is. I am paid for my time—paid very well—and when my time is with the clients, I am pretty much at their mercy as to how long, hard and fast we work. You have now just hit the ‘downfall’ of being professional: I am able to do up to 30 shots in a day. This involves set, clothes and sometimes people changes. Each shot is like its own scene in a film. An entire crew must be ready. Essentially, clients tend to get a lot done with me. But it can leave me so dead tired and hungry at the end of a day.

(How to Seduce and Marry) The Woman of Your Dreams is an e-book you have authored giving men tips on what the title states. What prompted you to write such a book? It came from conversation, other writings and discussions I’ve had over the years. There is really nothing earthshaking in the thing. Most of it is advice that your mother would give. I started it just for fun…so far, it’s really just for people who feel they want a little advice. Most of what I do (when I’m not getting paid) is just for fun.

Okay, so either you are a real observer of people or you’ve had that many men try to pick you up and fail. Which one is it?

My husband got me hook, line and sinker with Tip # 19! Many of the other suggestions would work on me – some would work on girlfriends. It’s very much a recipe book: pick what suggestions you like and put it together in a way that makes sense at that moment with that particular person. This is the critical point that must be understood…and many miss.

As a successful model, actress, author, artist, photographer, wife and soon-to-be mother, clearly you’ve achieved a lot in your 25 years. It’s almost as if you’re racing against time. What’s the hurry?

Hurry? I do understand that time is the most precious gift that we are given; it is one we will never get back. Time is of the essence and the now—it’s what you make of it— it’s what I make of it. I got started in the professional world at a very young age and have continued working ever since. I am continuing to achieve my newfound goals and ideas. I enjoy leading a productive life and feel that my life is just getting started in so many ways.

You have stated that you insist on ‘loyalty’ and ‘integrity’ in personal relationships. These characteristics must exist in your husband, then, since you married him. Tell us more about him and what he means to you. Why him?

He represents everything that I had been searching for in a man. He values his mind above all else and has inspired me to reconnect with mine. He sparks my imagination, my passion and confronts me with my own delusions. He can speak about almost anything with confidence and from experience. He challenges me and this keeps life exciting. We and will generally always respond to an argument that tickles my sense of reason. When I first met my husband, that’s what he did, he tickled my sense of reason in so many areas of life. It made me want him.

Your first movie will be released this spring. Tell us about it (why you chose to act in this particular film, your character, the experience as a whole).

Expecting Shanti seems stuck in development hel—so don’t start looking for it just yet. However, I am working on a very exciting feature film project called When Harry Tries To Marry. The film has an Indian director and is a Hollywood production. I am looking forward to the advancement of this project. I am also hosting a new cable channel in the United States called Eurocinema. It’s a foreign film channel (I bet that was hard to figure out). I’m also working on a project in the literary world. These things, along with several other projects that I’m currently not at liberty to discuss, should keep me plenty busy for a while.

Is acting a career detour or career change?

I’m not sure exactly how to answer that question because my career and life are constantly changing. I have many facets that interest me, and I put my all into the projects that I take on. However, I never know where or what may come from the experience of one project or another. My career path has continued to lead me on an adventure of exploration. I am deeply grateful that I have been allowed to share the many different aspects of who I am with what I do.

Your expression as an individual and a woman has you delving into painting and photography. What do you get out of these mediums that you don’t get out of modeling and acting?

What I miss with modeling and acting is my very own have much in common and much to speak about; we sit for hours­on-end, exchanging ideas and beliefs. He titillates my every sense and he encompasses every tenet of what a great father represents. When I met him, I knew that this was the man I wanted to have children with. I knew relatively quickly that he was the one for me.

What does sex mean to you?

Sex for me is self-awareness. I am not sure that one can enjoy sex without knowing a little bit about oneself. It really is when we express our innermost, animalistic nature—through sex— that we see ourselves for who we are. Sex is a wonderful experience – one that should be experienced and talked about a lot more openly than it is. It is a great stress-reliever and is very beneficial for the mind and body. Sex is an absolute confession of one’s character. Show me who a man sleeps with and I’ll tell you his entire opinion of himself.

Recount your first sexual encounter.

It was exactly how I wanted it to be with someone who I loved. It was with an older man that had a lot of experience and led me down a road of pure pleasure. My first time was perfect—exactly how I imagined it to be.

Since you are such an expressive and philosophical individual, are there any limits to what you will say?

I must limit my expression with the outside world; otherwise, I could get myself into a lot of trouble. But, between my husband and myself, there are absolutely no limitations, sexual or otherwise. I think expression is a wonderful, necessary thing that no one should be afraid of doing. Expression is the only voice we really have.

Have you ever experienced a same sex encounter?

Use your imagination on this one. I will tell you that your intuition is correct.

Do you feel that being a woman, and that too a beautiful one, has placed limitations on the self-actualization of your self-growth?

Yes, I believe that being a young, beautiful model definitely limited the self-actualization of my own intelligence because of the fact that nobody really cared about what I had to say—they only cared about how I looked and if I could do the job. In my business, clients don’t hire a girl for her mind; and unfortunately, some agents like models who aren’t too smart so that they can take advantage of their expense accounts. It’s an ugly side to the business. I’d like this to change; it totally limits and deludes beautiful, young girls into believing their own bullshit while being completely taken advantage of. The young and beautiful of New York never have their ideas taken seriously. And when they do ask a question, the responses they receive are not real answers. It’s almost like the real world doesn’t want to give a beautiful girl something to think about or a correct way to think, because they are too caught up in the way she looks.

If being culturally secure means being comfortable with what culture is and how it affects our relationship with others and ourselves, would you say you are culturally secure?

There is no such thing as ‘security’ for someone who understands the concept of  ‘change’. Cultural change is all around us. Isn’t there a contradiction in trying to feel secure in a life whose very nature is fluid? Whatever I may allow myself to believe today may very well change in the future. The heart of life’s meaning is to be able to stare ‘insecurity’ right in the face and be comfortable with its nature. The secret is to accept that there is no safety and security—cultural or otherwise. The solution isn’t to fight insecurity—but to be it. It seems that the more people delve into other cultures, the more insecure they feel. This is normal but let me offer a suggestion: In order to appreciate another culture as it is, you must respectfully identify and acknowledge the cultural differences first. Such acknowledgement doesn’t even require immersion into the other culture in question. It requires an intellectual perception: awareness. Then, what is unique about our own respective cultures becomes doubly apparent. Don’t we just need a speck of yellow in order to greater understand and appreciate blue?

Having a mother who is Canadian French-Irish and father who is Punjabi, how did you make sense of being a child of two cultures?

Initially, I didn’t have to make sense of what was considered totally normal to me. My parents made up a culture of their very own. I was born into a family with differences that I understand today, but as a child, it was quite simply the norm. As I grew up, I became curious and started to notice their differences. I began asking questions.

Now, approaching motherhood yourself, how are you going to help your child make sense of it all?

You got it backwards—my kid is going to help me make sense of it all.

We are all familiar with the Generation X era. Now there is talk about Generation Next, but you talk about the future in terms of Generation EA. What is this?

Much of this was inspired from my Newsweek cover. I was depicted as a “new breed” citizen who was born of multicultural parents. The term “Generation E.A.” was coined by Ruth La Ferla in her 12/28/03 New York Times article. It stands for Generation Ethnically Ambiguous. I don’t like the term because I don’t feel that this new generation is ambiguous on the inside.There is certainly ambiguity felt by others who look at just our faces. However, a glance just below the surface into what we’re made of (and made from) will reveal a group of people with a nature that is anything but ambiguous. Actually, I refer to it as “GenEA”.

I do indeed feel that Generation X blew it. These people spent most of their formative years figuring out how not to be judged and influenced by someone older than them…and this was the key to their demise.

In short, the first global generation has a similar calling: If we are to achieve greatness, we must take the new, uncertain and ambiguously defined notion of who we are as individuals ­individuals who are members of a global community – and frame it all into a perspective that creates a productive driver for personal and sustained growth, so as to construct a sense of self that contains the requisite inner traits of greatness: character, integrity and values.

I believe that, with the right leadership, we can influence and empower people around us to decide whether change itself is appropriate—rather than ramming opinions down others’ throats. Essentially, young people can find a deep sense of purpose in their own communities by facilitating an inner process of judgment, forming informed opinions, digesting valid information and then acting morally.

We have a shot at greatness if we allow ourselves to believe in the people around us—and the people that came before us—on behalf of the people that will come after us. I am sure we can do this without attempting the offensive action of arguing the various cultural definitions of what is right and what is wrong. Instead, we ought to attempt to tap into the human definition of right and wrong. In other words, human nature itself has a powerful desire and orientation to do what is right, irrespective of the specific definitions of “what is right”. In other words, all cultures have common traits, such as fathers that work hard. These things are beyond culture—they are simply human!

What do you hope to achieve through the development of this philosophy?

I simply want to provoke thought in all areas of life. I am NOT an activist in any way. When I was working as a teenager in New York, I didn’t think much of “consequence”. There is more to this concept than just staying out of trouble. Formulating a purpose in life is much more exciting when you’re 25 years-old than trying to figure it all out when you’re 65. I want to be clear that I am definitely still “figuring it all out”—but I am passionate about the ways that I think this new, global generation can affect attitudes.

For example, there are still some misguided remnants from the botched Generation X regime for GenEA to address. These leftovers most readily manifest itself in a very erroneous definition of ‘goodness’, thinking that “to be good” means “one should not be judgmental”, that one ought to turn completely dispassionate to the foibles of others. After all, I hear young people say, “Who am I to judge?”

There is an inherent danger in this attitude: If you don’t expect to judge others, then you yourself must not expect to be judged. It is impossible to build great communities with people who don’t expect their own individual behaviour to ever come into question.

I have a passion to inspire others to recognize that the thought to “not be judgmental” can offer fertile ground for sowing seeds of behavioral agnosticism, not moral fortitude. By trying to escape judgment and judging, one is escaping their societal responsibilities. Moreover, we want to influence new members of the global community to not preclude mentorship by the one group most qualified to guide us in becoming effective judges-of­character in today’s complicated world: our parents.

You have an affinity for sci-fi movies like the Matrix, which depict symbolic political undertones of the era. What is your take on politics?

Politics is 100 percent bullshit. One subject area that is new to me is the idea of “fallacy” or “illegal” arguments. Have you ever heard a floor debate on the U.S. Senate? Arguments from senators, such as “The 20 million people of my home state cannot possibly be wrong on this issue,” are simply not arguments or reason for any. Politics equals lies…but politics also equals a fun dinner conversation. That’s about all it’s good for. In the end, they all raise taxes anyway.

You seem to be obsessed with the notion of ‘truth’. One of your paintings even speaks about this. Is this why you started the Saira Mohan Educational Society?

I have been afforded a rare, rare opportunity in this life—to make public statements and have them be heard. It is a sort of power. The natural question I asked myself was, “What do I want to do with this?” True to form, I wanted to do something to help people, but wanted to do it in a completely different way. The obvious thing to do would have been to raise money for some cause or another. Rather than raising money and then redistributing it, I thought it would be cool to raise knowledge and distribute it. While the specifics are still being worked out, things are quite far along in this endeavour. I have partnered with the Round Table Group, thus forming a network of over 10,000 highly specialized university professors, deans, and trustees worldwide. The intention is to bring some of the most cutting-edge research and thinking in various disciplines to areas of the world that need such knowledge the most. Think of it like a “knowledge bridge” between the East and West. I also have help from my first board member, Dr. Marc Faber. I don’t know another person on the planet that understands the idea of “historical context” better than he. So, I gave him the title “Director of Historical Context”. There will be others that follow, and you will be hearing much more of this soon.

Share an epiphany.

The realization that nobody makes you a success but you – that you get very little help from other people.

On your website, www.saira.com, you state: “When I travel the world with my eyes and mind open, my staunchest beliefs are eventually questioned and challenged. This is the very moment that I find myself contributing to a longstanding, steadfast goal of mine: ‘The constant betterment of me.’” Are you your greatest love affair?

In a word, YES! Seriously, though, I really liked the way that particular sentence flowed. It does have a delicious ring of bullshit to it all, doesn’t it!

What is the highlight of your life so far?

Next to my husband, my pregnancy has been the major highlight of my life. The uncertainty of what this little guy is going to bring into our lives is extremely thrilling…and scary.

What are you working on today?

I have a ton of letters from fans that I must answer. They are waiting for my advice on relationships, and as I said before, I love to help people where I can. I have a lot of bookkeeping to do, and apart from all that, I must think about what to cook my husband for dinner.

First Published in Spring 2004 Issue. www.AnokhiMagazine.com

Photo Credits:
Photos Courtesy of Saira Mohan

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