Model for a Famous Music Album in Exotic Bangladesh
Once upon a time long ago in an exotic faraway land, I served as the face of a love song.
From a shy party guest with unexpected paparazzi to a model posing on the cover of a famous Bangla music album, relive this surprising moment with me again. It’s a tale too good not to share, so keep reading for my surreal experience as a music industry model in the tropical country of Bangladesh.
It was almost summer in the hot city of Dhaka and much of the entertainment revolved around socializing in air conditioned spaces. Drinking and red meat are outlawed under the Muslim government, but if you’re a foreigner and in a private place, rules and laws don’t really apply. If you can afford the local custom of bribery, that is. Members clubs exist to alleviate this situation for local expatriates, foreign workers, diplomatic families, and even affluent tourists.
Once through the elaborately detailed doors of this hidden aristocratic world in the heart of some of the most harrowing poverty on earth, life is very European. I was reminded of the British conquest of India and the reigning elite they left in a state of luxury, waited on by a nation of the nearly enslaved. I was introduced to some of the wealthy glitterati of Bangladesh, some local but most were foreign and native English speakers.
One of the locals that was quite popular in the jet-set scene was an older gentleman who dressed head to toe in ultra-trendy designer outfits absolutely glittering with jewelry. His style was so opulent and ridiculous I thought everything had to be fake, including his wild stories about celebrities and business moguls. He turned out to be the top music producer of hits sung in Bangla, the language of the region.
One night I was left alone to my own devices at a club for the evening. While I was innocently downing shots from the private bartender, this music producer was talking about his latest hit song to a crowd. His talent was a famous male pop singer who was known for being quite modern and provocative. The producer caught my eye as he elaborated on what ‘hip’ and ‘edgy’ songs his new hit was just like, including Justin Bieber, but I politely avoided an eye roll.
The music producer didn’t stop there, but kept staring at me as he talked about all the famous stars his singer hung out with from England on a recent tour. Sadly for him, I’m American and didn’t know any of them, but it sounded impressive. His singer loved getting inspiration from American-style music, and movies… and girls, he let me know with an exaggerated wink. I was hooked.
Wealthy Music Producer Was My Personal Paparazzo
One thing led to another, further drinks were drunk, and much bragging from said producer ensued. He asked if he could take some pictures of me, that he loved my style. He let me wear his red, green, blue and white diamond-encrusted Rolex and a gold chain so heavy my shoulders were sore. Don’t worry, he still had enough bling on to outfit 4 other girls, easy.
I was only too happy to play pretend celebrity photo shoot after a few delicious drinks, especially by the absolutely gorgeous pool, drenched in gold. I’m surprised he wasn’t worried I’d take off on him.
My figure was svelte from a month of relentless e. coli poisoning and IV fluids, draped in locally slave-crafted luxury garments, full of illegal booze, and I was ready to party!
After all, it isn’t every day you have a music producer lending you a watch more expensive than your car asking you to pose (not nude) for a potential modeling job while onlookers cheer.
My travel motto is to embrace every non-life-threating experience, no matter how crazy. So I took a few shots, and I did.
Though I might not have agreed to model for anyone had I been sober, I had a fabulous time pretending like I was a famous Bollywood star for a night. The appeal of parading around like a royal princess in gorgeous jewels, gowns, and situations was undeniable.
It was just a silly fantasy though, and I never thought anything would come from it except for some cute Facebook photos. (NB: This was before Instagram.)
Singer Wanted ME on the Cover of His Album
Fate however, had a little something more in mind.
The next night while I was getting ready to go out, the music producer got in touch with me. It was quite an ordeal for him, because I didn’t have an international cell phone and the land lines were jammed due to storms and power outages. He finally called a friend of a friend who happened to be with me at an event, and we talked on his phone.
Once he had me on the line, he asked me for a favor. The producer told me that he had shown his star singer our silly snapshots and that he loved my look. He thought I was a perfect mix of American and local culture, and he especially liked my incredibly heavy eye makeup. (I was trying to blend in, ok?)
The craziest part was that he wanted ME to be on the cover of his new CD!
I was extremely flattered and quite bewildered, since until then I thought the music producer might just be making it all up. I pretty much thought his entire lifestyle and career were just a lie to get young people to party with him. He proved me wrong, though! My friends insisted I accept, so I was happy to go along with it.
By then I realized that my dark hair and pale skin, coupled with the especially heavy-handed cosmetics application that I preferred, made me a person of public interest. As in, actually stopping traffic and having a swarm of dozens follow you at a semi-respectful, semi-terrifying distance in markets and at monuments.
I just happened to look the way that regional movie stars did, and I was often mistaken for Bollywood actresses. So, I just rolled with it. Since I already had droves of locals line up to stare at me in the shopping mall and markets, I thought I might as well have something to feel noteworthy about.
Now I could just smile and say ‘why yes, I am a model’. Or rather, have our driver or bodyguard say it. And then I’d give a queenly wave.
Clearly I was cut out for the supermodel life from the start.
The photoshoot was very low-key, like most of the professional services in Bangladesh. The singer wasn’t involved, he was in India performing, and I actually never heard from him at all.
On a bright and glorious morning I donned my custom tailored sari. It was made by a master tailor that we had to personally visit in his shop, and not sewn by slaves. I was so happy to have something that was made with love for once, and not created to satisfy the sickening exploitation that is the Bengali garment industry.
The sari was a stunning bright teal with gorgeous molten gold accents, and I felt like a princess. We capped off the look with a pair of massive golden bejeweled earrings that sadly you can barely see from this angle.
Trying to figure out how to get into a sari for the first time with only men to help comprised the bulk of the shoot.
Modesty is a huge concern for locals, so at one point I had four men trying to wrap me in yards of cloth while making absolutely certain they didn’t touch a single inch of my exposed skin. Rather difficult, considering the top of the sari is the size of a sports bra!
I think in the end, someone made a call to their mother and dictated her instructions to me. Mother always knows best!
You Are the Bhalobasi, My Beloved One
The aesthetic of the photo shoot was unrequited love.
I was told to smile only with my eyes to show my beautiful mysteriousness. The title of the main song of the album was ‘Bhalobasi’ which translated to ‘My Love.’ It sounds romantic but actually it’s sad song about a love you can never catch.
I was supposed to portray a ghost or a dream, a lover you could only think about but never hold in your arms. I don’t remember how to say any of the other Bangla words in the album name, but I’ll never forget ‘Bhalobasi’.
After 15 minutes and several poses they were satisfied, and my first music industry shoot was over.
Though the editors chose to employ some heavy handed techniques that stripped away the beautiful blue and gold colors, it could have been much worse. They used this shot with an overlay of Bengali script and a black rectangle on the side that the text crossed over onto.
It looked really cheesy with the text, like a bootleg DVD, but sadly I can’t find an image of it.
This amazing super HD image was a pre-production copy the producer emailed to me. I have the entire shoot on a dead hard drive, so someday this may come back to haunt us all. The sari is still in perfect condition, however, so might have to do a re-enactment one of these days… leave me a comment if you’d like to see that!
Would You Be Up for Fame in Another Country?
So there you have it. That was the story of how I became a cover model for a famous musician’s album halfway across the world. A tiny bit glamorous, a little bit silly, and a lot of good fun with random people met while traveling the world. What did you think?
If you could be someone famous in another country, what would you like to be known for? And how would you feel if swarms of people in a foreign land thought you were a movie star? Tell me in the comments, I’d love to know!