When Rushali Yadav studied leather designing at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, she was hoping to become a designer.
Instead, as she explored the fashion industry, she realised that it was modelling that interested her more.
"I started out when I was in college," says the 25 year old model, who was among the top three contestants in Season 4 of India's Next Top Model. She was also one of the wildcard entries in the Miss Diva 2022 beauty pageant.
"I started with pageantry, then got into modelling before I listed myself with an agency," Rushali tells Rediff.com's Mayur Sanap on the sidelines of the recently concluded FDCI x Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai, approximately 1,000 kilometres away from her hometown in Ajmer, Rajasthan, where she was brought up by her protective parents.
In 2015, she was launched by entrepreneur Badal Saboo as the winner of Face of India.
But it wasn't an easy decision, she says, to travel so far away from home and become a model. Especially since she had no mentor or professional experience.
"I come from a very small Rajasthani family. My parents, who worked in government jobs, were initially scared that I was entering this totally different world. But they have been supportive of my career choice, though they worry about the fact that I might be misled by the wrong kind of people."
Once she'd made up her mind, Rushali signed up with a grooming agency.
"There, I learned how to use makeup, how to talk, how to walk, how to develop my personality... Of course, when you get into this profession, you eventually learn all these things."
A beaming smile crosses her face when she remembers her first moment on the runway.
"It was my first ever official show and it took place at the Elephanta Caves in Mumbai. I was a newbie among all the supermodels and I really felt blessed doing that show."
Behind the glamour of the bright spotlight and flashing cameras, models work just as hard as anyone else.
There are countless rehearsals, deadlines to chase, a lot of travel between shows and shoots, coupled with sleepless nights and physical and mental stress.
"Once," recalls Rushali, "the heel of my shoe broke on the runway. I simply removed it and finished my walk barefoot. It was actually quite fun because I learnt how to find a solution to a difficult moment during a ramp show."
Modelling can get pretty competitive at times.
But Rushali likes to look at the brighter side.
"There's this assumption that models are b****y about each other. I think that's absolutely false. We are very supportive towards each other. When I come across any newcomer, I encourage that person because that's how I was treated."
From a hard working design student to a successful model who now has her own footwear label, Rushali is happy to have crafted her own path.
If she had a choice, would she opt for an alternate career?
"Nothing is difficult really as long as you love your job. And I really do like my job. I enjoy every aspect involved in it," she smiles.
Rushali's advice to aspiring models is simple: "Don't be scared if you're coming from a small city or a restrictive background. Have a good heart, have dreams and you will go far. Do not be afraid; just be confident and retain your individuality."