For children brought up in middle-class Indian families, landing a government job with the security it offers is enough for them to declare that they have made it in life. While the story of 63-year-old Dinesh Mohan started off at that point, it unravelled in a way he could possibly have not imagined.
Growing up, his parents, both educationists, wanted him to work towards getting a government job. He did succeed and started working for the Punjab government in Chandigarh. “They were very right because government jobs have pension and other benefits,” he says.
“But sadly, life never turns out the way we want it to turn out. Certain things happened to me because of which I slipped into depression. It came to a point where I had to seek voluntary retirement and give up that job. That was a tough phase for me,” Mohan continues. In 2004, at 45, he decided to quit his job and shift to Delhi to be with his family.
Little did he know that he had a second chance waiting for him with the world of social media and glamour beckoning him.
Mohan spent eight years without a job, struggling to get a handle on his life. He does not shy away from talking about his battle with acute depression which resulted in several physical ailments.
Today, if you scroll through the fit sexagenarian’s Instagram page, you will not be able to imagine that the same Mohan had once put on so much weight that he was unable to even walk. “I put on a lot of weight because I was not mentally fit. I ended up being restricted to my home and was bedridden for a long time. This cycle continued for 11-12 years and then I gradually decided to reclaim my life,” Mohan says.
With the help of his family, who took him for psychiatric help, he decided to take control of his physical and mental health—one day at a time. His fitness journey began with him taking care of his diet and gradually getting into exercising. The result? From touching close to 130 kgs, Mohan weighs a healthy 80 kgs today.
“Losing weight was not the difficult part for me because I was very determined to get some sense of normalcy back in my life. The difficult part was to relearn how to walk again. I could not walk properly for four-five years. Relearning that through physiotherapy, mental strength and will power was challenging. By that time, the belief that I will not be able to walk ever again had sunk into me,” Mohan recalls.
As his body began to transform, his confidence started to grow. Once he started seeing a shift in his physical health, his professional life also began witnessing a sea of change.
It all started when a friend of Mohan’s, who wrote on fashion, interviewed him and published an article that talked about his journey—from his depression to his body transformation in 2015 at the age of 56. That marked his beginning in the fashion industry.
Soon, modelling agencies started getting in touch with him after reading the story. Mohan was initially not convinced about taking it up as a profession, but his sister, who has been his constant support throughout, encouraged him to take the plunge.
“I was not always a model and an actor. Initially, I did not, in fact, know something like this exists for someone above 50-55 years of age,” says Mohan, sitting in his beautifully decorated Gurugram home.
With that, he dived into the uncertainty of the glamour industry, leaving behind the nightmare that had followed him since his retirement.
“I think this (modelling) profession chose me. I used to go somewhere for my physiotherapy and somebody there asked me if I had ever tried modelling and acting since I looked very different after losing weight. They randomly sent my profile to a modelling agency in Delhi and those guys immediately got back to me within a day or two. I went for an audition and my first stint was in 2016 which was still photographs. Since then, I have not looked back,” he says with a smile.
Since then, Mohan has modelled for designers like Tarun Tahiliani and has worked with brands like Vogue, ICICI Bank, Kleat Shoes, Iris Eyewear, Seven Hills Tea, among others.
Back in Business
The ‘Silver Fox’, as he goes by on Instagram, and his unusual looks have managed to successfully grab eyeballs on the internet as well. Mohan’s Instagram page is full of pictures of his smartly kept silver beard and moustache, fitness and fashion content.
Most of his 3,05,000 Instagram followers, he says, are between the ages of 17 and 28. He laughs about the fact that he hardly has anyone from his own age group following him.
In the last decade or so, social media has paved the way for a whole new career for several influencers. Covid-induced lockdowns gave another push to that with companies cutting advertising costs to make up for the loss on economic activities. Mohan says that the pandemic was actually good in terms of business as far as social media marketing is concerned.
“While it was a sad time, everyone was on social media. That time opened up a lot of doors for those who had a presence on social media. That way, it was a boom time. There were paid lives. There were too many endorsements because actual shoots were not happening. So this concept of home shoots and collaborations boomed,” he elaborates.
In terms of endorsements, there is always a conflict wherein influencers’ financial interests are often pitted against their personal values and beliefs. What to endorse and what not to is a question that most social media influencers struggle with. For instance, can a fitness enthusiast endorse cola? Mohan has his own way of resolving these internal conflicts.
“I will never say no to a chips endorsement because there are lots of people who eat chips and enjoy eating chips. I have a different take on my endorsements. I am very against anti-aging products and things like hair colour. I have consciously decided not to endorse these kinds of products. I believe in flaunting your age proudly,” Mohan explains.
No discussion about brands and endorsements is complete without the mention of challenges of a steady income flow. Mohan, however, says that money has never been a factor for him as he is now doing things that he truly enjoys.
“A regular income or money is not everything. This profession gives you a lot in return. There is fame, recognition and travel. Meeting amazing people. The money is also okay. I will not say it is good but it is fine,” he says.
Currently, Mohan is basking in the glory that his new-found profession has got him. He laughs like a child when he talks about the recognition that he enjoys on the roads. In a recent incident involving traffic rules, Mohan had a rather amusing encounter with a policeman. “I was convincing him to let me go and he said, ‘How can I let you go without a picture with you?’,” he laughs.
Mohan, who had never faced a camera, courageously restarted his journey in his 50s, creating a brand for himself in a space that most did not even know existed. More importantly, he found his silver lining and his confidence along the way which the internet and its brands will always find attractive.