Beauty queens and the arc lights

ROAD TO instant stardom, maybe. But after their one year is through, most beauty queens grapple with the heavy burden of stardom and lose track, some end up in Bollywood, only to realise that the rules of the game are different here.

By Ramesh Menon (Contributor)

Published: Mon 30 Apr 2007, 3:58 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 8:39 PM

Barring a few in the last five decades, the Miss India pageant has not produced great women of substance. Why, then the euphoria?

Bollywood has always scouted for talent, and beauty queens with their sudden glory have always been an attractive option to consider. But the girls themselves are to be blamed for messing up the opportunities or simply put in the industry lingo — "They are not acting material".

Yet after parroting all the ‘charitable' and politically correct statements at the pageant, they run to Bollywood at the first given opportunity.

As this years winner Sarah Jane Dias pouted at the post victory Press conference — “Who in their senses would refuse an offer if it’s to act, and why just Bollywood, I have set my sights on Hollywood too".

Well, that then perhaps explains the mindset of most girls wanting to enter the beauty contests. Sarah didn’t divulge that she had already tried her hands at acting in a low budget NRI flick which is yet to see the light of the day.

"My film would now get some fresh lease of life", the producer Girish Acharya was quoted as saying soon after he heard his heroine is the new Miss India.

Such then is the ironies of the contests.

It’s lost its sheen. You don’t find winners with great body language and attitude to match. And that’s perhaps one reason why India has not fared well even at the international pageants, leave alone Bollywood. Yes, there have been Celina Jaitley, Tanushree Duta, Gul Panag, and some others you won’t even remember like Diana Hayden and Yukta Mookhey who failed to make their mark.

Beauty Queens are looked upon with disdain. Not anymore the high pedestal that they were kept on like in the case of Sushmita Sen or Aishwarya Rai or more recently Priyanka Chopra.

The intelligence of the winners has always been in question whatever the answer they might have given to win the coveted tiara. And then on, it's a sudden plunge into oblivion or knocking on the doors of Bollywood. "Its more like an audition for future actresses”, says a film producer.

So then is the Miss India contest a mere platform to enter Bollywood?

Most of today’s beauty queens may think so.

Look down at the history of winners and you would find very few who actually succeeded. Says an industry observer, "In the last four decades we have had more than a hundred beauty queens. You can count on your finger tips how many have entered Bollywood and succeeded. Yes, indeed, it opens doors for you in Bollywood, but beauty queens per se are perceived as non-actors. And that notion is difficult to shake off. Juhi Chawla, who won the crown in 1984, has been the biggest success so far and it’s more to "do with her girl next door image". And then you had a Meenakshi Sheshadri who was an Eve’s Weekly winner. And after many years now you have Priyanka Chopra. Even Aishwarya and Sushmita have not had that successful run here."

Yet there have been a trail of winners who headed to tinseltown in the last decade. Lara Dutta, Dia Mirza, Neha Dhupia, Celina Jaitley, Tanushree Dutta, Gul Panag, and not to forget two former Miss World’s — Diana Hayden, and Yukta Mookhey.

The first Indian ever to go for an international pageant much before Miss India came into existence was Indrani Rehman way back in 1952. And since the first representative Meher Mistry (now renowned journalist and fashion writer Meher Castelino) went in 1954, India has had an interesting history with the pageants. Until mid eighties there were two parallel Miss India contests run by two rival magazines — Femina and Eve’s Weekly, until the latter shut down.

There were winners, some who went the Bollywood way, and most who went back to the obscure life they led prior to the win. Everything changed in 1992 when a leggy lass, from suburban Mumbai and an athlete, walked up the aisles of Miss Universe and lost the crown by a whisker to be placed 1st runners up. And that changed the manner beauty pageants were organised in the country. A virtual assembly line of winners in the following years breaking through at international pageants beginning with Sushmita Sen winning the Miss Universe changed the way the event was perceived.

Girls from small towns started seeing it as a great opportunity to win overnight stardom and a path that would lead them to Bollywood. As the event got grander so did the intense competition and controversies.

Priyanka Chopra who was asked about the one living person she admired most, promptly answered: 'Mother Teresa'. And well, she went on to be Miss World 2000.

There has also been the ongoing contention that the winners reflected countries where the international advertisers were looking for growing market share, the reason cited for India’s harvest in the mid nineties. No other country besides Venezuela has been able to produce assembly line beauties.

The Bollywood way..

Persis Khambatta, Miss India 1965 won more fame internationally

Zeenat Aman, Miss India 1970 won Miss Asia Pacific and went on to act, was always given the ‘sexy bimbette’ roles

Prema Narayen, Miss India runners up 1971, played vamp’s roles in Hindi films.

Kalpana Iyer, Miss India runner 1978, again vamp queen.

Swaroop Sampat, Miss India, 1979

Sangeeta Bijlani, Miss India, 1980

Pamela Singh, nee Bordes, Miss India, 1982

Juhi Chawla, Miss India, 1984

Sonu Walia, Miss India, 1985

Dolly Minhas, Miss India, 1988

Namrata Shirodkar, Miss India, 1993

Sushmita Sen, Miss India Universe, 1994

Aishwarya Rai, Miss India World, 1994

Shwetha Menon, Miss India Asia-Pacific, 1994

Priya Gill, participant at 1995 pageant

Gul Panag, Miss India Universe, 1999

Yukta Mookhey, Miss India World, 1999

Gayatri Joshi, Miss India International, 1999

Lara Dutta, Miss India Universe, 2000

Priyanka Chopra, Miss India World, 2000

Dia Mirza, Miss India Asia Pacific, 2000

Celina Jaitley , Miss India, 2001

Neha Dhupia, Miss India, 2002

Tanushree Dutta, Miss India, 2004

Nikita Anand, Miss India, 2005

Sayali Bhagat, Miss India Earth, 2005

Poonam Sinha, and Meenakshi Sheshadri are other Eve’s Weekly’s winners who tried their hand in Bollywood.

The International Scene

NOT JUST in India, world over there has been a gradual downfall in the public perception of a pageant and its celebrated winners. Just last year there were dime a dozen scandals in the US and UK over the winners. Danielle Lloyd, last years Miss Great Britain, even before she got the ire over remarks to Shilpa Shetty in Big Brother, had been embroiled in a controversy that saw her being dethroned. Soon after her winning, she confessed to having an affair with one of the judges, footballer, Teddy Sheringham. Though the organisers were prompt in issuing the denials suggesting that they became a couple after the contest, Lloyd went on to claim in an interview that she was gifted 7000 pounds Jimmy Choo shoes in bed on Christmas 2005. Well, she didn’t retain the title after that.

In the US, Miss USA Tara Conner too landed in trouble after reports emerged, that at 20 (under the legal drinking age), she had been visiting New York clubs and was rumoured to have been taking drugs.

Donald Trump called for a Press conference to announce her “dethroning”, but displayed his sensitive side by ‘sending her to rehab’ as Tara came from a small town in Kentucky and had got lost in the whirlwind of New York.

Scandals have been aplenty in the pageantry business world over. Once considered one of the top three television events in the world — the Miss Universe contest was once beamed to over 170 nations — nowadays it rates below the Olympics and World Cup Soccer. Way back in 1984, BBC stopped televising beauty pageants as they are ‘anachronistic and almost offensive’.

And yet there was a time when these pageants reflected huge cultural phenomenon.

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