Valentine's Day was very special for American communications student Nikkitasha Marwaha when over 2,000 people cheered as an international panel of judges named her Miss India Worldwide 2009 at a glittering function on the beach in Durban.
Australian honours student in sleep research Kanchan Verma, 23, was named the first runner-up Saturday evening and Sunaina Bhoendie of the Netherlands, a 20-year-old business management student, was placed third.
"It's a surreal feeling, which just shows that if one perseveres, anyone can achieve what they want if they go for it with a passion," 19-year-old Marwaha told IANS after she beat 24 other entrants from every corner of the globe at the 18th version of the international pageant started by Dharmatma Saran of New York.
It was the second consecutive pageant held in South Africa after one in Johannesburg last year.
All three winners were hopeful that Bollywood doors would now open for them, like it did for several of their predecessors, with both Marwaha and Verma citing actress Madhuri Dixit as their role model.
"Madhuri is the epitome of what dancing should be, and she had definitely inspired my dancing," said Marwaha, who brought the house down with her dance.
She started her dance with a pot on her head and then ended as she stepped onto a thali (plate) on the floor in frenetic movements.
Whittled down to five finalists who each had to answer a question from the judges, Marwaha also impressed as she explained how she would choose between a modelling career or a family life.
"A modelling career is fairly short, about five to ten years, so I would choose that and then give it up for my family," she said.
Marwaha, who received her crown from last year's winner Shagun Sarabhai of Mumbai, told IANS that she wished she had been asked the question that another finalist got about whether recently-elected US President Barack Obama was an inspiration.
Agreeing with the answer from Pamela Mangroelal of Suriname, Marwaha said Obama's election had set the pace for Indians across the world to show that they could also rise to high positions, wherever they found themselves in the diaspora.
"Obama's promise of change are not just empty words. He will show in his four years in office that he can do what he said he would and serve as an inspiration to all, including American Indians," Marwaha said.
"The amount of talent that the entrants show every year just keeps improving," Saran told IANS, commenting on the performances as diverse as Kubra Sait of Qatar doing stand-up Punjabi comedy to all kinds of dance combinations.
"The 25 countries participating this year was a record and I am confident that we will have 30 next year," Saran said.
He said there was a strong possibility of a hat-trick for South Africa as the venue again next year to coincide with celebrations here of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first indentured labourers from India.
"We have also had keen interest from South America and New Zealand so that will ensure that the Miss India Worldwide Pageant has been to every continent within the next few years," Saran added.