How an Indian Girl living in Mumbai Slum became a Model
Maleesha Kharwa is the brand ambassador of the cosmetics company Forest Essentials but just three years ago, she was living in a Mumbai slum.
She was first discovered by Hollywood actor Robert Hoffman in 2020.
He travelled to India to film a music video that featured Maleesha’s cousin. But due to the Covid-19 pandemic, borders were closed and he became stranded.
Robert met Maleesha, who was living in a slum in Dharavi with her father, uncle and brother.
She told them that she dreamt of becoming a fashion model.
Describing his first meeting with Maleesha, Robert said:
“There she stood among a group of slum residents just like any other in the city.
“But her face was so remarkable I don’t know how anyone could have overlooked her before.
“Perhaps, it is the whole Indian perception that beauty is in extremely light skin.
“Never in my life would I have thought that I would have the compulsion to guide another talent.
“The day I met her family I told them that, if they were interested, there was a huge potential for her life to change.”
Before leaving India, Robert created a GoFundMe and an Instagram profile for her.
He also promised to buy her a phone that had a nice camera, so that she could remain in contact with him and could continue vlogging.
Maleesha’s social media activity soon garnered attention and she received numerous opportunities, such as appearing on the October 2020 cover of The Peacock Magazine, where she was styled by Falguni Shane Peacock.
In 2021, Maleesha featured in a short film titled Live Your Fairytale.
Created by Arsala Qureishi and Jas Sagu, the film captured the experience of five slum children dining in a restaurant for the first time.
Recalling her first meeting with Maleesha, Jas said:
“There are moments in life that change you fundamentally. They blow up in front of you and unravel a new dimension.
“That’s how overwhelming it was for us to meet Maleesha and her entire family.
“We didn’t know we were capable of so much love because we were overwhelmed by their expression of love.”
“Maleesha is a vivacious child and loves to make conversations. It is of paramount importance to understand that a whole new world has opened to Maleesha and we are extremely grateful that we are a part of that inner world.”
Speaking about the short film, Arsala added:
“Some of the shots in the film are taken on iPhone.
“But when you have a story as raw and unadulterated emotions nothing else really matters.
“But I am sure when you see the film you won’t even notice these technical anomalies.
“As we iterated, we didn’t even know we were going to get a film. What they got was emotions and fragments of expression, which they then translated into a film.”
Maleesha now has over 316,000 Instagram followers and is known as the Princess of the Slum online.
She now lives in a “chawl-like area” in Mumbai.
Maleesha is an ambassador for Forest Essentials’ new campaign, which is aimed at empowering young minds.
The teenager said: “I am very happy with where I am right now.
“There are times when people see me somewhere and recognise me because of social media. They actually tell me that they are fans, which makes me extremely proud and happy.
“When I met Arsala didi and Jas didi, I was very surprised as they did so much for me, my family and my friends.
“My life has changed and it’s a dream come true for me. I would like to thank both my didis for this.”
It is reported that she has two Hollywood film offers. Maleesha also hopes to take her modelling to the next step.