What makes a woman beautiful? Good looks, sex appeal, inner radiance, immaculate grooming - there can be many answers. So when Brunch decided to draw up a list of the Capital’s most beautiful women, it was not an easy task. Delhi is teeming with stunning women of all ages.
Of course, some young women did make it to our list: there’s no denying the freshness of youth. But there’s also beauty that intensifies with time.
That’s why we finally chose different kinds of women, from upcoming models like Sonalika Sahay to timeless beauties like Sharmila Tagore. But all of them have one thing in common – they are also women of depth, with intelligence, drive and a zest for life. Interviews by Meeta Mishra and Prachi Raturi.
Hot young talent
Anoushka Shankar, Sitar player
Jet black hair that falls carelessly on her shoulders, a nose that’s not exactly sharp but still looks exotic, a full mouth and dark luminous eyes. She might not be your traditional Indian beauty but there’s something about her, something that makes you stop and look at her again.
Anoushka Shankar, legendary sitar player Pandit Ravi Shankar’s daughter and a talented sitar player herself, fits the bill of a beautiful woman. Quiz her on whether she thinks she’s beautiful and she says honestly, “Not everyday! Everyone has good and bad days, but overall, yes, I like the way I look.”
For Anoushka, beauty is best displayed through expression. “I love to see the way women express themselves through their physicality. When a woman adds creative details to herself, it shows an appealing sense of self."
So what does she think makes a woman beautiful? “The wonderful thing about women is that so many things can make them beautiful. More than anything though, some women have a certain spark, and I find that absolutely gorgeous. It can be a deep intelligence or a wild sense of mischief, or even the glow of love. But it adds to physical beauty in a very powerful way.”
Woman of many parts
Jyoti Thapar, Businesswoman
The low-profile wife of industrialist Vikram Thapar, Jyoti is rarely seen at Page 3 parties. That isn’t just because she prefers to stay out of the spotlight – she leads a busy life as a board member of her husband’s aquaculture company, Waterbase, and is also setting up a seafood restaurant in Bangalore. The mother of three grown-up kids, Jyoti could easily have taken to modelling, no questions asked. Her perfectly proportionate face, infectious smile and warm charm make her the ideal candidate for that eternal question: What is the secret of her beauty? Her answer is simple: “Lead a natural life, eat sensibly, exercise and involve yourself in some activity – charity or business. Sitting at home rots both the mind and the body.”
But she isn’t against using technology to correct features or enhance beauty. “It is all right to go for advanced beauty treatments such as botox injections. My daughter Ayesha keeps suggesting these things and I wouldn’t mind trying them out. But right now I don’t think I need them.” She couldn’t be more right.
Woman of substance
Kamayani Kanwar, Homemaker, entrepreneur and lawyer
Kamayani Kanwar has never been happier. The woman who says she lives her life in phases is all set for the next one – the opening of her spa, and perhaps a return to her profession as a lawyer. “I’ve been dedicated to my two sons since they were born, but now that they’ve grown up enough to go to school, I’m ready to join the mainstream again,” says the daughter-in-law of Onkar Kanwar, chairman of Apollo Tyres.
With her sharp features, dusky complexion and yoga-toned body (she practices Ashtang Yoga which she learned from Pattabhi Jois, guru to Madonna and Sting), Kamayani believes beauty doesn’t lie in looks alone. “As far as I’m concerned, intelligence is of prime importance. That’s what makes a person beautiful,” she says. “I totally believe in the fact that beauty lies within.” But since first impressions do matter, it’s a smiling face that attracts attention, she says. “And a female body looks good when it has the right curves and an honest attitude.”
Neesha Singh, Yoga instructor
Hers are the eyes that defined the kohled look. Remember the old Lakme Kajal ad, where a kajal pencil traced huge almond-shaped, exotic eyes?
Well, the eyes are still as lovely as they were and so is the woman. Neesha Singh, former model, actress and TV star, and now yoga instructor, is often referred to as a “classic Indian beauty.” But when you tell her she’s on a list of Delhi’s most beautiful women, her voice rings with surprise.
And the surprise is genuine. As a schoolgirl, Neesha was “painfully thin, wore spectacles and had braces”. And though she grew up to look the way she does, the poor image she carried of herself didn’t fully go away. “I don’t take compliments for granted and though I should be probably used to them, they still surprise me.”
What really makes a woman beautiful, says this mother of a six-year-old daughter, is a certain childlike simplicity, a sense of mystery, a zest for life and yes, lovely skin.
Arundhati Roy , Writer and activist
Arundhati Roy packs quite a punch in her diminutive 5’2” frame. The accident of birth – a Christian mother from Kerala and a Bengali father – is probably responsible for her dusky, delicate looks, but her individuality is very much her own. Arundhati is a trained architect who dabbled in acting (playing the “tribal bimbo” in Massey Sahib) and screenplay writing before coming out with the Booker prize-winning The God of Small Things. That was in 1997, and Roy hasn’t written another novel since, but she’s become something of a campaigning political journalist and gritty activist – whether it is in support of Dalits, or against the Narmada Dam and India’s nuclear tests.
The 1961-born, curly-haired Arundhati has become the darling of the international press – and her elfin beauty has certainly added lustre to her celebrity status (she was one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People in the World in 1998). Briefly married to architect Gerard da Cunha, Arundhati is now with filmmaker-turned-environmentalist Pradeep Krishen.
Priyanka Gandhi, Congress worker, homemaker, mother
Everyone agrees she is arrestingly beautiful. Priyanka Gandhi, with her no-nonsense short hair and elegant wardrobe of handloom saris and salwar kameezs, stands out wherever she goes. It has as much to do with her famous lineage as with her statuesque good looks and spontaneous smile. You can see glimpses of her father Rajiv Gandhi (he too had that open, ready smile) and Italian mother (they both share a certain poised composure), and there is more than a hint of her formidable and always elegant grandmother, Indira Gandhi, in her. Marriage (in 1997 to exporter Robert Vadra) and motherhood (she has two children) don’t seem to have robbed Priyanka of a certain girlish charm.
Perhaps it’s in her genes, but Priyanka’s magnetism and ability to reach out to people have been very much in evidence whenever she has campaigned for the Congress party – whether it was for her mother in 1999 or for her brother in the 2004 elections. Though it is brother Rahul who has plunged into active electoral politics, Priyanka – it is widely believed – is merely marking time before she too joins the family calling.
Sharmila Tagore, Actress
Her husband, the Nawab of Pataudi, told her she would get more beautiful with age, and he was right. Sharmila Tagore had us weak at the knees when she acted in Kashmir Ki Kali years ago. She has the same effect even now.
But she was never comfortable with compliments. “I knew people were being kind when they said good things about me but I didn’t know how handle it. Now I am able to say ‘thank you’.” For Sharmila, beauty goes beyond looks; it is natural, inherent poi-se that makes someone’s personality stand out. Elegance is vital, but most important, one must be comfortable with oneself.
Sonalika Sahay, Model
S tanding tall at 5 ft 10-and-a-half inches, with a perfect figure of 34-25-35, Sonalika Sahay is every designer’s dream come true. And she’s no expressionless model either – her versatile face works with any look.
Which was why Sonalika was acknowledged ‘Sensation of the Year’ by the luxury goods brand Dior at the Lakme India Fashion Week earlier this year. And while she rather likes the appellation she’s been given, she believes that looks alone don’t matter – they should be matched with a well-rounded personality.
“There can be no fixed definition of beauty,” says Sonalika. “A person can be beautiful not only because of the way he/she looks but also because of the kind of aura and personality he /she has. Princess Diana, Maharani Gayatri Devi and Brooke Shields are truly beautiful women.”
Based in Delhi, Sonalika graduated in hotel management from the Pusa Institute. And in spite of her busy schedule, she’s working on an MBA from Symbiosis, Pune.
Ritu Beri, Fashion designer
Without any doubt, Ritu Beri is Delhi’s best-looking fashion designer and certainly one of the city’s most beautiful women. But Ritu modestly discounts her movie star good looks. “I think I’m quite attractive,” she says. “But I don’t think I’m beautiful from the outside. I’m blessed with the ability to feel, which I think is a big strength. People touch me.” That may be so, but thick wavy hair, a sensuous mouth and taut gym-toned figure definitely help.
This National Institute of Fashion Technology product was the first Asian designer to head the French fashion house Scherrer. Though her Scherrer experience was short-lived, Ritu continues to show in Paris.
Ritu has never seen her looks as a handicap. “It has opened doors for me,” she says frankly, “and then my work takes over.” Who does she consider beautiful? “Jackie Onasis, Madonna, Rekha,” she answers without hesitation.
Karisma Kapoor, Actress
You could say she’s not conventionally beautiful, but you’d be nit-picking. Yes, if you saw her in her debut film Prem Qaidi (1991), she looked raw and unpolished. But over the years – specially by the time Raja Hindustani released in 1996 – Raj Kapoor’s granddaughter had metamorphosed into a sleek, well-groomed, gorgeous young woman. Blessed with the fair Kapoor skin and blue eyes, Karisma’s knockout figure (shown off to full advantage in trendy sporty clothes in Dil To Pagal Hai) and expert dancing – not to forget competent acting skills – made sure that she became one of Hindi cinema’s leading actresses. And as anyone who knows the film industry will tell you, the box office is unforgiving and makes no distinction between film royalty and commoner.
Marriage to businessman Sunjay Kapur has made her a Delhiite, which is how lovely Karisma makes it to this list.
Simar Dugal, Model and entrepreneur
Married to businessman Premjit Dugal and mother of a 13-year-old boy, model-turned-entrepreneur Simar Dugal started modelling only after marriage and motherhood – which says a lot about the way she looks. Her tall, slim frame and well-etched features, together with her confident walk made her an instant hit in the Indian fashion industry.
Though she never planned her career, Simar has done several assignments for well-known fashion designers and walked the ramp for countless shows. And enjoyed every bit of it. She’s definitely been at the receiving end of thousands of compliments, but she rates appearance last when she explains what beauty means to her.
“Physical appearance is not enough,” she says. “Beauty is in-depth. It is the whole personality which makes a person stand out. Look at Chandralekha (the dancer) and Shabana Azmi, for instance. They probably don’t fit into the conventional ideas that people have about beauty, but I think they are stunning.”
A keen golfer, Simar has more or less quit modelling. She is busy manufacturing garments for the Indian market and leatherwear for exports. “One should always try and do different things in order to grow as a person,” says Simar.
Jaya Prada, Actress-politician
N o less a person than Satyajit Ray called her the most beautiful woman in the Indian film industry. Jaya Prada is your quintessential Indian beauty (the sari, bindi, bangles look) with a radiant smile. Somehow – though she has worn them in her films – it is not possible to imagine her in Western clothes. The Telugu actress made her Hindi film debut with Sargam, a big hit. She did many indifferent films, but for every Mawali, she had a Sharabi. She made a great on-screen pair with megastar Amitabh Bachchan and did some memorable films with him.
Even so many years after her debut, Jaya Prada still looks eye-catchingly lovely. After films, politics beckoned. Here too, she made a success of her life – first joining the Telugu Desam Party, at N T Rama Rao’s urging. Today, as the triumphant Samajwadi Party MP from Rampur, Jaya Prada has shown herself to be a winner once again. She’s certainly added glamour to the present Parliament – but she also seems determined to make her mark as an MP.