The Rediff US Special/Aseem Chhabra
Desi beauty queen Lara Dutta is moving permanently to New York City to pursue her acting and modelling career.
Dutta's agent at Wilhelmina Models Inc has confirmed that the move could happen as early as July or the beginning of August and the former Miss Universe will settle down in Manhattan.
"She is a brand-new client of ours and we will be pitching her for film and television shows," said Marta Michaund, director of Wilhelmina Creative Management, the film and television unit of the modelling agency.
"I don't have offers yet. She won't be here until July. We have started to get her things out, but she will have to go out and meet clients and heads of networks," she added.
Michaund and Dutta's publicist/manager Kristen Silverman said the former beauty queen is currently in India. Silverman had represented Dutta during the latter's tenure as Miss Universe as well.
"I am basically trying to straighten out her finances and business, getting her set up here in Manhattan and [transferring] her things from India," Silverman said.
Silverman added that Dutta, 22, already has an apartment in Manhattan. This will give her the opportunity to see her friends in New York, especially the city's beloved baseball player, 27-year-old Derek Jeter, shortstop with the New York Yankees.
Last year, several gossip columnists had suggested that Dutta was romantically linked with Jeter. The two were sighted at several events, including on November 27, 2000, at a New York Knicks basketball game at the Madison Square Garden.
Lara Dutta with Derek Jeter
This February, The New York Post reported that Dutta was the first person Jeter called after he signed his $189 million, ten-year contract with the Yankees. "He's in love with her, but she just thinks of him as a friend," the Post quoted a friend of Dutta as saying.
"I was actually more excited that she is East Indian and not because she is the former Miss Universe," Michaund said, adding that Wilhelmina would arrange a green card for her. "We do not have too many East Indian clients, let alone as beautiful as she is. She is incredible."
Wilhelmina is one of the top modelling agencies in the US. Over the past 30 years it has represented clients such as Whitney Houston, Lauren Hutton, Jessica Lange and Daisy Fuentes.
Michaund could not confirm or deny recent reports that Dutta had already landed some film offers. One such report by a Bombay-based reporter for Reuters said Dutta had been cast to act in a film to be made by the producers of the sci-fi thriller The Matrix. The report was, however, riddled with inaccuracies and misstatements.
"She may have been approached as a result of her title," Michaund said. "She meets a lot of people. I am sure when she gets here she will let us know what she wants us to follow."
Dutta's publicist Silverman stated that the July 27, 2001, Reuters report was false and misleading. "I don't know where all that information came from," she said. "I just don't believe 90 per cent of it to be true."
The Reuters report quoted Dutta as saying that the film project was to be directed by the 'Cohen' brothers, who, it said, were the producers of The Matrix. Actually, The Matrix, a 1999 hit starring Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne, was written and directed by another set of siblings, the Wachowski brothers, Andy and Larry. The two are also listed as executive producers of the film.
After the success of The Matrix, the brothers are working on two sequels to the film -- The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix 3. The sequels are scheduled to be released over the next two years. Dutta is not listed as an actress in those two films.
The only other team of sibling film-makers whose last name comes close to 'Cohen' are Joel and Ethan Coen, whose works have included critically acclaimed and hit independent films like Blood Simple (1984), Fargo (1996) and last year's Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, which starred George Clooney.
The Coen brothers' next three film projects -- The Man Who Wasn't There; To the White Sea and Incredible Cruelty -- all scheduled to be released in 2002 and 2003, also do not list Dutta among the actors.
The Reuters news item also said that Dutta was planning to put her acting career on hold for two years as she had enrolled in the journalism and film-making programme at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
In the past Dutta has indicated a desire to pursue journalism as a career. In a May 2000 interview with the United News of India, Dutta had said that she wanted to write and that her role model is CNN's anchor, Christine Amanpour.
"She is not coming here," said Kathy Palagonia, assistant director of admission and financial aid at Columbia's journalism school. "She has not applied nor is she attending the school. She is not enrolled anywhere else in the campus."
Palagonia said she first heard about Dutta's so-called enrolment at the school in February when she received a call from a researcher at Talk, the celebrity-driven publication backed by Miramax Films and Disney and edited by Tina Brown.
"They were in fact checking a story where she was quoted as saying that she was going to be enrolled at Columbia," Palagonia said. "I said this is not true. Now this is the second time I am hearing this report."
A spokesperson for Talk could not confirm whether the publication was planning to run a piece on Dutta.
Palagonia said Dutta was also not enrolled to join the fall semester programme at New York University's graduate journalism school.
"I checked with NYU and they said they had never heard of her and did not know anything," she said.
The Columbia school has two different journalism programmes. Full-time students can finish their degree programme in 10 months. Part-time students have the option of finishing it in two or three years. Part-time students can start the programme in January or May. The deadline for the January 2002 session is November 2001, Palagonia said.
"If she is intending to do that, and hasn't sent an application, well, that is different," she said. "Right now, to this day, I have not received an application or a request for information from her."
Palagonia said Dutta's former beauty queen status would not ensure her admission to the school. "Any person who applies here, their entire application is looked at. Admission is based on merit, what they have done and what they hope to accomplish as a journalist. Bottom line is that she has to be able to and want to report and write."
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