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|October 22, 1997||
Madhu Sapre will always remain the girl who almostbecame Miss Universe. Like she will always remain the girl with the funny English and the faultless, feline body. She sailed through the swimsuit round of the Miss Universe contest with a score of 9.9 out of 10 and was adjudged the number one in her Sangeeta Chopra evening gown. Then the judges at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre in Bangkok asked her what she would do if she was the prime minister of her country. In her imperfect English, Madhu gave an answer that is probably the most widely discussed and debated retort over given in a pageant: she replied that she would build a sports complex. Even today, Madhu refuses to retract the answer that cost her the crown. "All the officials had told us that our answers had to be truthful," she says, "and coming from the heart. Nobody told us we had to be politically correct. I said what my heart told me and I lost. According to me India has been in poverty for many years, so it was not going to suddenly change in one year by my becoming the prime minister. But there are other areas like art and sports in which we can improve. And being a sportsgirl I had suffered because we don't have the equipment and the grounds in India. In the brief time you get to answer I wanted to say all this but perhaps because of my inadequacy in English, I could not express myself."
Madhu had come closer to winning the elusive Miss Universe crown than any Indian girl and when she returned she drew up a battle plan for the future Miss Indias: "I told Pradeep Guha to have a swimsuit round for the Miss India competition. He felt that if they had the swimwear round then only three or four girls would participate. But I urged, 'Then take those three girls and have a contest because they will be the best,' I gave in writing how the Miss Universe contest was conducted, and accordingly he prepared for the next contest." It was this contribution of Madhu Sapre and the willingness of Pradeep Guha to experiment that catapulted the Miss India contest to international standards and eventually won India the Miss Universe crown two years later. India certainly owes a big thank you to Madhu Sapre
Back in India, she and her longtime boyfriend, model Milind Soman were captured in flashlit eternity in a contentious advertisement, inspired by Nastassja Kinski's famous poster, which featured them in the raw, coiled by a python. The nationwide debate that this single photograph generated made them both media targets and a free punching bag for one and all. For Madhu Sapre, life for the next few months was like a whirlpool. She rode the controversy and is today wiser for the experience
Excerpted from Pride of India by Persis Khambatta, Rs 1495, Parijat Media Limited, with the publishers permission. Special copies, signed by many of the Miss Indias and priced at Rs 5000, are also available. The proceeds of this special copies will go to the Missionaries of Charity.
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