Indian Model Pooja Mor On Her Humble Beginnings, Her Big Move To New York City And The Value Of Experiencing Different Cultures

“I’m now more rooted in a lot of different cultures and have found myself in a lot of different things. It’s not just one singular understanding or vision of life”

Aspara Aali is the name of a song which featured in the 2010 Indian film Natarang, a novella-to-screen adaptation about a young artist overcoming hurdles in the form of family, friends and society in 1970s Maharashtra. It’s a film—and a song—that most of the crew on set of GRAZIA’s shoot had never heard of, but one they were delighted to learn about when model Pooja Mor began dancing to Aspara Aali as the team shot along the coastline of Mumbai; stylised hand gestures, intricate footwork, Mor’s lithe limbs moving at one with the ocean behind her. 

CHLOÉ dress

“As a kid, I was trained in Kathak—a classical Indian dance from Northern India—and a lot of my work as a model is inspired by it,” says Mor, smiling. “In this style of music, and in this specific song, there are a lot of traditional instruments that are used, like the tabla [a pair of hand drums similar in shape to the bongos, used in Hindustani music]. If you’re dialled into Indian classical dance, you will have more elegance. My hands would move more gracefully, like the Divine as the dance is inspired by the Gods.

“It was such a beautiful moment in the shoot, and a wonderful memory to have,” she continues. “Apsara actually means heavenly maiden or a fairy from the heavens.”

LORO PIANA shirt, skirt, boots

Born and raised in the small town of Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh in Northern India, Mor spent her childhood taking swimming lessons with her brother and cousins and learning to paint and dance. 

“I come from a very traditional, spiritual Indian family,” Mor says. “I was trained to practise meditation as a kid. My dad would put me in a room—he used to teach yoga—and he would say, ‘You need to know your heart, you need to know what’s going on in your head.’ The foundation of the practice helped me observe rather than react to things. A part of its belief that I still hold onto is the idea that everything comes from the Divine and beautiful things are given to us to share with people: joy, beauty, art.”

ETRO dress

When Mor finished school, she attended university and studied engineering. Torn between a career in information technology in India or modelling internationally, Mor says the latter felt like her calling, “I could spend an entire day listening to music, having fun, looking beautiful and travelling and get paid for it!” She moved to the big city of Mumbai, 1,144 kilometres away from her hometown, to sign with a local modelling agency. 

“I was doing an MBA and had been studying engineering for so many years. If I was going to leave it all behind for modelling, I wanted to do modelling seriously,” Mor explains. “I was always asking my agency if I could explore the world and sign with other agencies abroad. They asked me, ‘Do you want to go to London? Paris? New York?’ I remember an image that came to my head in that moment, it was Times Square. I said, ‘I think it’s New York.’” Soon after, the revered Elite NYC had responded wanting to sign the young model. 

“My local agency said, ‘You’ll leave for New York in three months.’” Mor recalls.  

She may not have realised it at the time, but her father’s meditation teachings would hold great value when his daughter landed in a bustling Manhattan, a world away from the streets of Mumbai. 

ERDEM dress, gloves; ROGER VIVIER pumps


“In India, if you go to a café, you would be talking to people, it’s a community. In New York, when you order a coffee, it’s like, “OK, thanks, please take it. Bye,” Mor jokes. “Even on a photo shoot, it was like friends coming together. We’d have tea breaks, it never felt like work. It felt like we were just together creating something. In New York, it was very proper, which I appreciate, but in that city you go to work, you work together and then it’s like, ‘I don’t know you. I’ll never see you again’. That’s it.”

Aside from the usual cultural shocks New York smacks upon unsuspecting foreigners—the hum of the subway, the trash on the sidewalk, the very important and busy people, the arctic winters—Mor was immediately thrown into the throes of Fashion Week, a springboard to her now stellar runway resume: Louis Vuitton, Oscar de la Renta, Alexander McQueen, Dolce & Gabbana, Jil Sander, Erdem, Zimmermann, Michael Kors, the list goes on. 


“During your first season of Fashion Week, you go to so many castings. There is a lot that comes with it,” says Mor. “Back then, I was going through the motions, so I wasn’t aware of how I was feeling. It’s like the New York winter, you don’t know what’s hitting you! You’d have to wait a long time in a long line with a heavy book. Real books with photos in them! You’d have your heels in your bag. You’d get some shows and you’d be excited, and then you’d get rejected for others and think, ‘Oh my God, what did I do wrong?’. 

“There’s so much that young girls go through, including myself,” she continues. “At least, I was not so young when I started—I was 23—so I had a solid sense of self. I knew this was not the end of the world.”

MIU MIU dress

Speaking to the fashion industry’s approach toward cultural inclusivity, Mor says, she’s definitely seen positive changes over the years. 

“There are so many more Indian models now and its lovely to bump into your own hometown girls,” says Mor. “When I started, I think I just used to look at Adriana Lima or Karlie Kloss and think, ‘Wow they are just so pretty and beautiful.’ I just wanted to be like one of them. I didn’t think about different shades of skin colours or cultures until very later. In my head, I wouldn’t think like that. 

“But there are times where I have visited countries where I’m not the majority,” she continues. “I’ve tried to not let that define myself or my career. I feel like at the bottom of it all, we’re all humans.

“If I go at the topic with that angle and that heart, I think I can change other people’s vision of it as well. I don’t feel like I have to fight about it on a superficial level, I just have to, in my heart, let it go, and see myself as any other person and be included in everything. Everybody starts to accept you as one of them when you aren’t shading yourself as different.”



Mor actually appeared on the cover of GRAZIA India in 2014, a shoot shot in Varanasi, and is one that the model remembers fondly. Looking at the pictures now, Mor, 32, realises the impact travelling abroad has had in shaping the woman she is today. 

“To me, it’s like looking at a different person, a different girl,” she observes. “Back then, I hadn’t travelled the world. Now, I have grown and experienced many cultures. I’m now more rooted in a lot of different cultures and have found myself in a lot of different things. It’s not just one singular understanding or vision of life. It’s about learning about lots of different cultures and becoming this person that holds a bigger picture of the world.”

PRADA dress, pumps

But her Indian roots are never far away. Mor will make traditional chai tea for her friends from scratch—“you boil the milk, add black tea, ginger, cardamon and, if you like, sugar or honey. You boil it two or three times and strain”—and finds great comfort in eating dahl and rice whenever she feels like a piece of home.

“Dahl is just a yellow lentil. It’s a warm, comfort food and very healthy,” she says. “Even when I’m away from home, I’ll order simple dahl and rice. It just takes me right back to my comfort zone.”

To beat jetlag, Mor meditates when she wakes up. “I do a meditation practice with music and movement that is rooted in Buddhism,” Mor explains. “It opens up your energy channels and cleanses your energy. I feel like as soon as I start to do it, I’m wide awake. Even though I’m sleepy, I become very aware and alert. The practice believes in truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. Practising this in my daily life, and having these in my mind, helps me.”

To add to this, Mor writes in a journal every morning and says if she weren’t a model or an engineer, she’d love to be a writer. “When I wake up, I always write my thoughts down,” she says. “Sometimes, when you don’t even try, things flow through you. If I was a writer, I’d love to write about different people and their experiences of life.” 

This cover shoot took place is lots of different and vibrant locations about Mumbai: The Dadar Flower Market, the graffiti lanes of Bandra, and the famous Dohbi Ghat. 

“Dohbi Ghat is a very historical place, it’s been used in many Bollywood movies,” says Mor. “It is a very famous spot in Mumbai where people do their laundry. When they hang the clothes all together, it’s almost a surreal scene.”

If you do find yourself in Mumbai, Mor recommends visiting the Taj Mahal Palace. 

“You can do morning or afternoon tea there and there’s a view overlooking the city,” she says. “Even if it’s just a simple tea to share with a friend and have a conversation.”

Photography AVANI RAI
Creative direction DANÉ STOJANOVIC
Senior producer STEFF HAWKER
Digital technician HARMAN ACHINT
Makeup assistant SUCHARITA DAS