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'Priyanka Chopra Was A Clear Winner'

March 06, 2024 16:25 IST
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'Priyanka has done very well in Bollywood and Hollywood.
But had she joined politics, it might have been a different story altogether.
'Given how ambitious she was, she would have made a good youth leader. She might even have launched her own party.'

IMAGE: Priyanka Chopra thanks everyone for their support after she won the Miss World 2000 title at the Millennium Dome in London. Photograph: Jonathan Evans/Reuters

As editor of Femina, Sathya Saran has been associated with the Miss India contest for almost a decade and has seen four beauty queens -- Aishwarya Rai, Diana Hayden, Yukta Mookhey and Priyanka Chopra -- win the Miss World title.

As the international pageant returns to India this year, Sathya, author of How To Look Like Miss India, speaks to Rediff.Com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya, about these ladies who did the country proud.


IMAGE: On November 17, 1966, Reita Faria became the first Indian and the first Asian to be crowned Miss World. Photograph: Kind courtesy Dr Reita Faria Powell

'Reita Faria's shoe apparently broke when she was on the ramp'

The first Miss World from India was Reita Faria in 1966, who later became a doctor and settled in Ireland with her husband, endocrinologist David Powell and her two daughters.

She was crowned before Femina got the franchise, but I remember (the late) Ameen Sayani, who compered the show, sharing that Reita impressed the judges and him because she had her wits about her.

Apparently, her shoe broke while she was on the ramp, but, showing great presence of mind, she picked it up and completed her walk.

A Miss World has to face all kinds of situations and there's a need for a woman who never panics.

It is also a given that she has to be beautiful, someone who can wear the crown and a gown, and visit children's hospitals and orphanages looking like a fairytale princess.

IMAGE: Komal Ramphal with her actor-brother, Arjun. Photograph: Kind courtesy Arjun Rampal/Instagram

'One of my favourites in 1994 was Arjun Rampal's sister, Komal'

In 1994, there were many worthy candidates in Goa competing for the Miss India crown.

Aishwarya Rai, a familiar face after she appeared in an ad with Aamir Khan, captured everyone's attention with her stunning good looks.

She carried herself well, sparkled on the ramp and was well-spoken.

One of my favourites that year was also Arjun Rampal's sister, Komal, who was lovely, with a perfect body, but did not have the killer instinct to push her way through on the ramp and off it.

Back then, nobody noticed Sushmita Sen who was the dark horse and surprised everyone by not only stealing the thunder from Aishwarya, but also becoming the first Indian to win the Miss Universe title.

IMAGE: Miss South Africa Basetsane Julia Makgalemele, left, Miss India Aishwarya Rai and Miss Venezuela Irene Izquierdo smile for the photographers moments after Aishwarya was crowned Miss World 1994, November 19. Photograph: Juda Ngwenya/Reuters

'Before she left for Miss World, Aishwarya admitted she was anxious'

The fact that Sushmita had won Miss Universe put a lot of pressure on Aishwarya and, before she left for the Miss World pageant, she had a chat with me.

Sitting in my room, she admitted she was a little anxious, wondering if they would give the Miss World crown to another Indian now that Sushmita had won.

I reasoned that it was a completely different contest and, unlike us, the judges would not remember who had won what, where and when.

I told her to just do her best.

We all watched the contest at Pradeep Guha's (then the president of the Times Group) house.

We were confident that Aishwarya would win the crown; at the same time we were a little tense too, having seen a last-minute upset earlier.

Aishwarya was very gracious when she returned and brought little gifts for all of us which was very sweet.

She became the ambassador for L'Oreal and Longines; I think Pradeep Guha had a big hand in her bagging these contracts.

But at the watch fair, when I asked the chairman of Longines why they had signed her up for a second term, he said, "She is bright and professional."

People said that Sushmita had the gift of the gab, but Aishwarya was equally intelligent and well-spoken.

IMAGE: The moment Miss India Diana Hayden was crowned Miss World; 86 women from around the world competed in the pageant in 1997. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

'Diana Hayden was never frazzled, no matter what'

Having worked as a publicity manager to two celebrities earlier, Diana Hayden came to the Miss India contest with a lot of experience.

She was never frazzled, no matter what.

After Sushmita won the Miss Universe title, we focused intensely on Aishwarya, wanting one more international glory for India.

By the time it was Diana's turn, the team was in place and, having trained her well, we didn't see any reason why she shouldn't hold her own against the Venezuelan or Canadian contestants.

She was poised, well-spoken, knew how to handle the audience and was a favourite to win a third Miss World title for India, which she did.

IMAGE: Miss World 1999 Yukta Mookhey with Aishwarya Rai, Sushmita Sen, Diana Hayden and Sathya Saran. Photograph: Kind courtesy Sathya Saran

'Yukta had the presence of a Miss India'

Yukta Mookhey was very raw and had a tendency to put on weight.

But she had the height and looks and that worked to her advantage; also, a willingness to work really hard towards her goal.

After being crowned Miss India, she went to Rama Bans, trained really hard and got into shape. She also had a personal mentor in her uncle, (the late) Dr Rakesh Sinha (a gynaecologist, he held two Guinness Book World Records for laparoscopic surgeries)

With the puffiness on her face gone, her body taut and sculpted, Yukta had the presence of a Miss World.

It was not surprising when she won the crown.

IMAGE: Former Miss World Priyanka Chopra speaks during a news conference to promote the Hindi movie, Andaaz, on April 24, 2003. Photograph: Sucheta Das/Reuters

'For a contest like this, Priyanka Chopra was a clear winner'

Priyanka Chopra was very ambitious and focussed and she had a great voice. For a contest like this, she was a clear winner.

She wanted to be Miss Universe, but Lara Dutta, who was extremely poised, was a better spokesperson.

Priyanka won the Miss World crown though we had to live down the gaffe of her naming Mother Teresa as her living role model during the question and answer session, which created a huge furore in the press.

Since I was the editor of Femina then, I had to accompany her to Bareilly for the homecoming.

It was a tricky situation because Uttar Pradesh had just banned beauty contests. En route, I got a message that I had to speak in Hindi in Bareilly.

Those days, I would stumble on a word when speaking in Hindi or slip into English halfway through. Since there was no way out, I psyched myself into believing that I was Indira Gandhi giving an election speech.

IMAGE: Miss Asia Pacific Dia Mirza and Miss World Priyanka Chopra met then Indian President K R Narayanan in New Delhi, December 21, 2000. Photograph: Kamal Kishore/Reuters

'She said, "Achcha, aisa kya?" and promptly signed a film'

Luckily, the event was in a cantonment area so there was a decent crowd and no naara-baazi as I did an Indira Gandhi.

I told the assembled gathering, "Main aapki beti aapko lauta rahi hoon, sar par taj pehenkar (I am returning your daughter to you with a crown on her head).'

While returning from Bareilly, Priyanka asked me what she should do since she was getting offers for films and was also being asked to join politics.

I advised her to join politics since she was a good speaker. As a youth icon, she would have been able to bring about change.

She said, "Achcha, aisa kya?" and promptly signed a film.

She has done very well in Bollywood and Hollywood. But had she joined politics, it might have been a different story altogether. Given how ambitious she was, she would have made a good youth leader.

She might even have launched her own party.

IMAGE: Miss World Manushi Chhillar holds hands with first runner-up Miss Mexico Andrea Meza, left, and second runner-up Miss England Stephanie Hill at the Miss World pageant in Sanya, China, November 18, 2017. Photograph: CNS/Luo Yunfei/Reuters

'Manushi Chhillar has done the country proud'

I was associated with the contest till 2000 when Neha Dhupia became Miss India.

The pageants have been happening since the 1960s, but they became big news in India only in 1994, when Sushmita and Aishwarya returned with the Miss Universe and Miss World titles respectively.

The highpoint was in 2000, when all three Miss Indias, Lara, Priyanka and Dia Mirza, bagged the Miss Universe, Miss World and Miss Asia Pacific titles.

Now, I feel that with reality shows making celebrities every fortnight, the aura around them has faded slightly.

But Manushi Chhillar, who was crowned Miss World in 2017, was impressive. She speaks well and has the right values. She has done the country proud.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/

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