From Sushmita Sen in the early 1990s to the latest 2011 winners, daughters of the Armed Forces seem to dominate Indian beauty pageants.
The latest Miss India Pageant, where three winners — Kanishtha Dhankhar (Miss India World 2011), Ankita Shorey (Miss India International 2011) and Hasleen Kaur (Miss India Earth 2011) — all with Defense Services background, swept the polls got me thinking. A little research revealed a startling rush of other winners from the same source — Priyanka Chopra, Lara Duta, Celina Jaitley, Neha Dhupia, Nikita Anand, Gul Panag, Manpreet Brar, Pooja Batra, Sushmita Sen, Parvathy Omanakuttam … the list is endless.
What makes them so special? What’s the secret behind this overwhelming domination of the beauty pageant scene? What is so unique, special, exclusive and crown-friendly about this breed?
The skeptics are convinced it’s nothing more than good luck. “It’s just a question of right time, right place and right jury members. It’s not as if other contestants were less beautiful, intelligent, articulate or poised. They were just unlucky,” explains an ex-contestant, who asked to remain anonymous, because she is part of the beauty industry. She goes on to add that if they were as hot as made out to be, how come they were considered B or even C grade starlets in Bollywood, famous for being famous, not for any role, performance, histrionics or blinding glamor, but just cheezy cardboard cutouts? “With the exception of Priyanka Chopra and may be Lara Dutta every single defense beti has flattered to deceive,” she said.
Dedicated pageant-trackers are amused at these broadsides and view them as nothing more than sour grapes. They believe the phenomenon is a combination of many things. For one, these girls don’t have the inherent nakhras or affectations of the city-slickers. They are natural, spontaneous and have an inbuilt sense of confidence that is neither tutored nor imitated. It comes with the territory.
Miss India 1999 Gul Panag points out: “I guess it comes from the gift of adaptability from having to move from place to place. It makes us more open, broad-minded, inclusive, allows us to go with the flow, connect easily with people, places, environment and circumstances that lead us to be, at any point, both flexible and positive.” She added that the social life panning out in the defense orbit offers a wonderful close-up of diverse people, strengthening social skills and developing sensitivity toward both people and the environment.
While Panag agrees that they may lack the glamorous exposure of the city slickers, “the self confidence and ability to conduct oneself with strength, respect and dignity comes naturally to us. Our-broad minded parents also have a huge part to play in this amazing journey.”
Miss India International 2011 Ankita Shorey concurs: “Gul is spot on. In addition, we are constantly exposed to different experiences, cultures, settings and this enriches and empowers us as individuals because we absorb so much. Also, never ignore, forget or underestimate the terrific sense of discipline, protocol and politeness ingrained into each of us from a very early age. There is an intrinsic sophistication — the way to conduct yourself, good manners, etc. — embedded in the very DNA of the Armed Forces, that, I guess we are lucky to benefit from.”
The opinion is shared by Miss India 2003 Nikita Anand, who adds: “Punctuality is another critical aspect we grew up with, along with discipline. During our grooming sessions, often we girls were assigned to one room, one loo. Unless you are totally sorted, you could be in trouble.”
Discipline, protocol, inclusiveness, adaptability, adjustment, flexibility, they all sure help. But what about the glam, glitz and gloss quotient? Where on earth does that come from? The Defense Services is hardly a calling or setting you associate with hi-end glamor, ramp or razzmatazz. Navy Balls Pageant Co-ordinator Ramesh Menon begs to differ: “Most may not know, but catwalk lessons are usually conducted by former Miss India winners and so are at par with the best in the business. There are also celebrity judges, so a very raised bar is a given. Little wonder that many of our candidates have swept the polls.”
So, the charge of the beauty brigade hurtles ahead … and when you have such amazing specimens as the gorgeous Priyanka Chopra, fabulous Lara Dutta, the sexy Celina Jaitley and the sizzling Neha Dhupia, the only reaction from the swooning fans could be … attention!