Chance encounter transforms girl from Mumbai slum into teenage model, Internet influencer

Three years back, a curious American tourist wandered into a waterfront slum in Mumbai and encountered a little, smiley girl. Maleesha Kharwa currently 15, is still tiny, with the same beautiful smile spreading across her cheeks and her family still possesses a hutment on a shoreline strewn with garbage.

But they currently also rent a one-room apartment, with its own toilet and running water, just a short distance far from the place. In March, a luxury Indian cosmetics brand Forest Essentials chose Maleesha as the face of its Yuvati campaign encouraging and empowering young Indian women. Before that, she shared a cover of Cosmopolitan India magazine that was highlighting the tagline: “Guts! Guts! Guts!”

Maleesha wishes these victories will be the first first step to her entering in career as a model or a dancer, though she also shows her great interest and  focus on her studies until she is done with her school. “I feel good, because I look different on camera and in real life,” Maleesha told a Reuters photographer at her home, adjoined by poster-covered walls.

“Currently several people recognise me and click pictures. I feel very prideful of myself right now,” she said, before saying that on several days she feels people take photographs in extreme. Her story has been contrasted with the movie that won Oscar, Slumdog Millionaire, set in Mumbai. And her breakthrough shows gradually shifting approaches in a nation where advertising, well recognised culture and Bollywood films always appreciate fair skin as a prominent beauty standard.