Even when Renee Kujur worked on the front end of a high-end apparel store, she was often called “Rihanna” by several visiting customers. Some even took selfies with her. Today, as she is being toasted by the international media for her uncanny resemblance to the Barbadian R&B singer, Kujur says she “finally feels like Rihanna”. The struggling model, who hails from the remote village of Pirai in Chhattisgarh, was felicitated at a special event by the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) at the recently concluded India Couture Week.
“I was always enchanted by the beautiful make-believe world of fashion, make-up and dressing up. I would play dress up at home with dupattas, and make do with whatever meagre makeup supplies at hand — my mother has not even applied lipstick till date,” shares the 33-year-old. “I had once participated in a fancy-dress competition at school where I dressed as an angel in white. Someone shouted kaali pari when I was on stage. That’s when I decided to keep my dressing-up activities restricted to the home turf,” she recalls.
Born Renu Kujur, she was raised in a simple family in Delhi. Her father was a clerk in a government office and her mother worked as a domestic help. “My father had to take voluntary retirement as he was very unwell and my family moved back to the village. Since 2012, I have been alone and struggling in this city (Delhi),” says Kujur.
Kujur, on her way to get a modelling assignment, also worked as a waitress and salesgirl to save up for portfolio shoot. Photographers and agencies rejected her because of her dark complexion and age. Many even approached her for sexual favours, assuming her to be an easy target. “People promised me foreign shoots and magazine covers if I would agree to their demands, but I held my ground. I said ‘no’ and faced rejection many times. I even changed my agencies,” adds Kujur.
Her honesty about her age — she started modeling at 28 — was also a deterrent. “I was once finalised for a shoot in Bengaluru. When I sent my ID card, they realised I was much older than what I looked. I was dropped from the shoot. Later, for another shoot, I said I was 23 and they readily believed me,” adds Kujur.
Things changed for her when a daily newspaper spotted her and ran a feature on her. They styled her on the lines of Rihanna, even replicating the famous close-up of Rihanna with the sapphire blue lipstick. She has since then been featured on BBC and Marie Claire, apart from several Indian newspapers and channels. “I was once scrolling on Instagram and saw a photo of Rihanna, and I thought it was me. I made a collage of her photos and mine and shared them online. I started believing that I too am blessed with the same qualities as she is. And things changed,” says Kujur.
“I used to run after photographers to send me my photos after a small campaign shoot as I wanted to add them to my folio. They would not entertain me. Today, social media is flooded with my photos, where everyone tags me on their posts and pictures,” she says.
And future projects? Even as there are talks of Kujur having bagged a Burberry deal, and a Vogue partnership, she refuses to divulge any details, but she was conspicuously absent from the runway of the Couture Week. Her modelling agency, too, is being tightlipped on her future projects. “I am waiting for the right moment, I don’t want to jinx the future,” she adds.