In an attempt to make the girl-next-door's dream of becoming a beauty queen come true, Pantaloon Femina Miss India - the country's oldest beauty pageant - has taken to the streets to pick one of its 25 contestants in a novel walk-in round for the first time this year.
Small-time model Ekta Chaudhary and management professional Akansha Yadav won the Delhi leg of the “Nivea Visage Princess”, a wildcard round that will ensure the national winner a slot in the Miss India 2009 contest.
The Delhi leg of the event, an open-air interactive competition, was held in the lobby of the MGF Metropolitan Mall in suburban Gurgaon Sunday evening, crammed with shoppers, diners and curious bystanders.
The Delhi winners will have to compete with the “princesses” from Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore to win the national round.
Judge Soha Ali Khan, who said she has never judged such an event before, felt it provided an excellent platform to the average Indian woman who often had no access to the glittering world of haute beauty.
“I think this wild card round is a brilliant concept because it chose talent from the masses. All the 22 contestants were smart, young and intelligent,” Soha said after crowning the winners.
For the aspirants, most of whom came to shop at the mall and were roped in to walk the ramp, it was an occasion to remember. And to celebrate the fact that the working women and students from the residential neighbourhoods of Delhi, Gurgaon and even from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh were glamorous enough to merit a mention as a Miss India contestant.
Anugya Sudan of Patna, who has just begin to work after graduating with honours in history from the capital's Kirori Mal College, said it had always been her dream to become Miss India.
The enthusiastic aspirant, clad in a striped knee-length dress, told IANS: “Every time I watched models sashaying down the ramp in beauty pageants on television while in school in Patna, I wanted to cat walk.”
The dusky girl said Bihar had changed since the days when conservative parents would not allow their daughters to take up showbiz as a profession. “Fashion shows are common in Patna now and modelling is fashionable,” she said.
Clad in tight pants, beads and jacket, petite Chanchal is a model and starlet from Meerut.
Her accent gave her away, but she wore her attitude on her sleeve and managed to hold a spirited conversation in English even when grilled by the judges on the ramp.
“I was crowned Miss Delhi in a contest last year and won prizes for best hair and the model in the Modelling Guru competition in Meerut. I also won the Beautiful Smile award at Victoria face of the Year contest in Chandigarh,” she later told IANS, tossing her long tresses.
Chanchal, who appears in serial called “Naina” on DD1 and has starred as a junior artist in the controversial Bhojpuri film “Desh Drohi”, feels Meerut abounds in “beautiful girls but they do not have the opportunity to walk the ramp”.
In contrast, Neetika is composed, smart and proud - but nervous. A BBA student from New Delhi's posh Vasant Vihar locality, she had already walked the runway for the Ford Supermodel rounds in January.
She felt a walk-in round was the best judge of beauty because “more contestants can try their luck for a pageant like Miss India".
“Delhi girls have a great attitude, great looks and good presence. They wear the right clothes,” said Neetika, whose “ultimate dream is to make it to Bollywood”.
The opportunity to see a Miss India round live rubbed off on the audience - mostly the casual weekend crowd. Khushboo, a working girl from Gurgaon who watched the pageant with a friend, said she would love to model if given an opportunity.
“Indian girls are shy and are reluctant to approach modelling agents. This is a good platform - where you can just walk in for a Miss India round without feeling embarrassed,” Khushboo said.