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Who's better -- Ash or Sush?
Merril Diniz | July 31, 2006 17:25 IST
The subject has been, and still is, a hot topic of discussion ever since 1994. Sushmita Sen was declared winner at the Miss India contest and Ash (Aishwarya Rai), the runner-up. During these discussions, I have found myself furiously defending Sush, despite never having met her or being a Bollywood buff.
Still, at times, I would wonder. Was it true? Or was I paying lip service to an image created and further hyped by the media? I received my answers when I met Ms Sen at the recent launch of What Would You Do To Save The World? by Ira Trivedi, a former contestant at the Miss India Pageant 2003.
The venue was packed to the brim with the press and customers. Sush looked chic in a long black dress, black belt sporting a big silver buckle, denim jacket and subtle make-up. She was seated next to Trivedi and ad man Prahlad Kakkar. Cameramen were vying for a strategic view, customers were jostling for space and an elderly lady in a reserved seat was demanding that the media be shown the door immediately. The emcee tried her best to quieten the din, while enthralled fans kept shouting out 'Sushmita'.
Suddenly, a deep, husky voice rose above the noise: "When we go Sush, we go shooooo..." Silence. Sush had spoken.
She went on to welcome 'my little sweetie pies' (referring to a row of children sitting upfront) and the rest of the audience. This spontaneous reaction seemed to enthral the audience. I was impressed at her ability and, more importantly, her inclination to take complete control of a chaotic situation. During the course of the event, a garrulous old man jumped up and launched into a diatribe, something to the effect of "Don't you think beauty pageants contribute to the destruction of the universe...blah...blah...blah".
Sen stayed cool as a cucumber, applauding him for his concern for the environment and saying she wished there were more people like him. This was following by a gem that seemed to go very well with the audience: "If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything." Applause.
Trivedi's book is an autobiographical account of the author's experiences at the Miss India pageant. In a nutshell, they weren't good. She suggests the contest may be rigged to favour certain contestants. Sushmita described the book as 'humourous' and an 'honest account of the author's truth'. But, in the same breath, she mentioned that her own truth was very different. "Nothing is pre-decided," she said. "Aishwariya Rai was at the same pageant as me, and the nation expected her to win. But she didn't."
Would she advise young women to participate? "100 per cent," she vouched. "But it's not about wearing high heels and lipstick. Once you are on that platform, it's who you are that matters. Once you get the crown, so many people listen to you. You have a huge responsibility because you are loved by a billion people. I highly recommend it," she added, before going on to read a few extracts.
Next, Prahlad Kakkar read a chapter featuring a character known as 'Promod Kakre, India's mad 'ad-man'. His pupils dilated when he came to the bit that describes Promod as having a 'fetish for beautiful young things'.
As the event drew to a close, the weather outside grew temperamental. Still, the winds couldn't quite compete with the storm brewing within. As Sush started to leave the venue, cameramen made a beeline for her. A brawl broke out between them and security personnel. The actress made a quick exit, and we suddenly heard a crash -- the front door of glass was knocked down. There was a lot of shouting and some people were hurt.
Coming back to pageants, one thing is for sure. Many Miss Indias have come and vanished into oblivion since Sushmita won her crown. There can be just one Sushmita Sen. Her confidence, simplicity and charm made her the centre of the universe for many that evening.
Obviously, some things cannot be taught by experts. They have to come from within.
Photographs: Arun Patil