x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Bollywood not world title now beauty queen goal

India once dominated the Miss World. But now it has gone 12 years without one. It almost doesn't matter.

From left, Miss Australia Jessica Kahawaty, Miss India Vanya Mishra and Miss Mexico Mariana Reynoso pose during the Miss World 2012 final ceremony at Dongsheng Stadium in the inner Mongolian city of Ordos on August 18.
From left, Miss Australia Jessica Kahawaty, Miss India Vanya Mishra and Miss Mexico Mariana Reynoso pose during the Miss World 2012 final ceremony at Dongsheng Stadium in the inner Mongolian city of Ordos on August 18.

NEW DELHI // It almost doesn't matter that Vanya Mishra finished a disappointing seventh in last month's Miss World competition in China.

She was disappointed, of course, telling an Indian television station: "I had bigger expectations. It's not just about me, I really wanted to make India proud. I wanted to win the title, and I was very close to winning it."

Ms Mishra did win the Miss Multimedia and heavily-weighted Miss Beauty with a Purpose. She was a semi-finalist for Miss Beach Fashion and Miss Top Model. And led the whole field, until the dance competition. Judges considered her dance a dud. She did not even finish in the top 25, costing her any chance of wearing the Miss World crown, the one China's Yu Wenxia sports, despite the social media controversy surrounding her victory.

India once dominated the Miss World. But now it has gone 12 years without one. It almost doesn't matter.

"She has what it takes to be a Bollywood star," said Caesar Gonsalves, who is part of the Bosco-Caesar team of choreographers who helped train Ms Mishra two hours a day for a month before the competition, putting together a courtesan dance routine from the 1981 Bollywood film Umrao Jaan.

Indrani Dasgupta, an Indian supermodel and consultant to a personal equity fund based in Singapore, said the main objective for Indian women in beauty pageants is Bollywood.

"In times past, winning the Miss World title was a golden ticket to Bollywood," Ms Dasgupta said. "Now there are many more avenues to pursue a successful acting career, including reality shows on television."

As a result, the pool of candidates for the Miss World title has thinned, she said.

Most women in national pageants "are looking to get a foothold in the film business, and are not necessarily the right representatives for global pageants. Young, beautiful girls wanting to "change the world" had audiences' fancy a while back but then these pageants were nothing but a global audition for Bollywood. All the past Miss Indias went on to try their luck in cinema, some successful, some not so", Ms Dasgupta said.

She said that it has got to the point where a young woman need not to through the rigours of the competitive pageant circuit any longer. "A Bollywood aspirant no longer needs a pageant title."

At least a dozen beauty queens have become famous actresses including Lara Dutta (Miss Universe, 2000), Dia Mirza (Miss Asia-Pacific, 2000), and Gul Panag (Miss India, 1999).

Santosh Desai, an advertising executive, social commentator and author of Mother Pious Lady; Making Sense of Everyday India, said he does not care enough to watch beauty pageants any more.

He does recall when Indian was just about a shoe-in to Miss World.

India's Miss World winning streak started in 1994 with the crowning of Aishwarya Rai. The country then won four of the next seven years.

India's dominance coincided with the opening of the nation's economy, which allowed in many international brands, including in the beauty market. This was a time India hopefuls wore one-piece swimming suits to preserve their modesty. That part of the competition was not broadcast on Indian television.

At the same time, Mr Desai said, international modelling agencies started to arrive in India. Model coaching classes opened in small towns and Miss India pageant winners were no longer plucked from obscurity - instead they came with modelling portfolios with big brands such as Pepsi and L'Oreal, he said.

"After [Aishwarya] Rai, there was a bunch of them, and they were not remarkable" Mr Desai said. "Today, people strain to even remember these names. Later winners were deemed not as worthy. They didn't have the same aura around them. There is no guarantee in a title anymore. It is now about the Bollywood ticket."

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae