Ten years ago, Lara Dutta, Priyanka Chopra and Dia Mirza were relatively unknown faces, whose only claim to fame was that they had just won the top three Miss India titles. And since the year 2000, when the three brought home the Miss Universe, Miss World and Miss Asia Pacific crowns respectively, India’s winning streak has ground to a halt.
“I don’t know what is stopping us,’ exclaims Chopra. “Either the best girls are not competing or our luck has run out. India has tremendous potential, maybe not enough opportunities to represent that anymore.”
Ask Dutta whether beauty pageants are still efficient talent hunts and she says, “Beauty pageants are specific in their requirements. They look for girls who can represent India internationally while retaining their Indianness.”
Mirza says, “People ask this question because India hasn’t returned home with the crown over the last few years, but that does not take away from the credibility that beauty pageants deserve. A beauty queen’s achievements cannot only be measured against the titles she wins because the opportunities presented are so much more.”
Diction expert Sabira Merchant, who had trained Mirza when she won the Miss Asia Pacific, explains, “World competition has increased unbelievably and we have to raise the bar with our contestants. We need the best talent to come forward fearlessly.”
When asked why even Miss India winners haven’t managed to catch a break in Bollywood, she responds, “Beauty requires one platform, talent another. Bollywood requires a mix of both. Those who have that mix have made it. It’s also possible that not all want a movie career.”Top model and former beauty queen Shamita Singha has another view. "After the management of the Miss India contest changed, the standard has dropped. The girls being selected don’t even match the criteria of beauty queens, from the height to body type. That’s why you don’t even remember the names or the faces of the girls who’ve won in the past few years."
But 2006 winner Natasha Suri defends the contest saying, “Lots of factors go into winning the pageant. The formula is not just about the right looks and answers. Sometimes, it’s about the face that can be best marketed internationally.”