Friday, April 30, 2010

FEMINA MISS INDIA 2010: Countdown to the Crown - Who will be the winner of Miss India 2010

FEMINA MISS INDIA 2010: Countdown to the Crown
By Albin Beart

Few countries have enjoyed the kind of success that India as enjoyed in pageantry. Out of relative obscurity, Miss India suddenly took the pageant world by storm in the 90s.

By any measure of success – speed (within a few years, they had won both Miss World and Miss Universe), consistency (India won 6 major titles and has had an unbroken 20 year streak of placing in the semis at MW/MU, a record unmatched even by Venezuela) or impact (the advent of the “brainy beauty” forever changed the standard by which beauty queens are judged), Miss India quickly rose to the very pinnacle of the pageant world, with eyes squarely on her anywhere she walked or talked.

The meteoric success of Aishwarya Rai and Sushmita Sen quickly captured the imagination of the public and Femina Miss India transformed itself into a professional organization that spent time and money on grooming its contestants, with just as much emphasis on personality and comportment as on hair and catwalk – the Femina Miss India “boot camp” includes meditation, yoga and lectures on classical art, with an emphasis on churning out national winners who are not only beautiful, but also self aware, confident and articulate.

The formula seemed to work, and within a few short years, India was churning out even more winners – Diana Hayden, Yukta Mookhey, Diya Abraham all appeared in quick succession, followed by a historic sweep in 2000, when Lara Dutta, Priyanka Chopra and Diya Mirza brought home the Miss Universe, Miss World and Miss Asia Pacific crowns.

But as times changed, the Miss India formula stayed static and other countries started to eclipse their success. In many ways, India was going through a crisis of confidence the way Venezuela did in the early half of the decade when India’s success caused it to doubt its own formula.

And as the Indian economy exploded and many other avenues of success for young women interested in glamour opened up, Femina Miss India also struggled to attract the best women from across the country. Last year, armed with a new contestant director, Marc Robinson, who was a leading model in the early 2000s and a director of the Mumbai Fashion Week, Femina decided to reassert itself.

FEMINA MISS INDIA 2010: A New Beginning?

After a freshman year mostly spent observing, Marc and his team return to the 10th anniversary of the historic Lara-Priyanka-Diya win with a renewed focus and vigor, with major changes in the format.

Starting this year, Miss India has decided to focus its energies on the biggest prize in pageantry, the stunning turquoise and sapphire Miss World crown, the only prize that has truly ever mattered to India. For the first time since its founding, Miss India will no longer send a representative to Miss Universe.

Although a new organization, I AM SHE, run by former MU Sushmita Sen will ensure that India is represented at MU, it is a loss that the MUO will be hard pressed to compensate, especially in light of the strength of this year’s Miss India group.

Along with renewed focus, Marc has also worked to entice the best girls in the country to Miss India — a tie-up with some of India’s most famous film directors to offer two contestants a role in their next film productions, has made the contest a huge draw and once again relevant to the industry.

Finally, this year, the contest is expected to see changes in format as well, with more emphasis on presentation in the final show and on community work in the run-up. With Marc’s background in high fashion, we can also expect more shades of couture coloring the show.

After a six month casting tour of the country, and two regional sub contests (Femina Miss India South and Femina Miss India East), Femina Miss India is back stronger than ever before. Marc and his team have kept this year’s contestant pool small at 18 (the Miss India average is 30), and most pundits are already calling it the best group ever.


The 18 finalists this year are already being called the best ever. In pageant circles in India and across the world, there are already hushed whispers about international crowns and many believe that we may have already seen the next Miss World.

Among the contestants are gorgeous Nicole Alvarez, a professional dancer, whose ambition and intelligence mark her out as a true renaissance woman, sassy Gurpreet Bedi, a graphic designer who returned home from London to compete in this year’s contest, the angelic Jinal Pandya, who has captured the imagination of many fans with her throwback looks to classic Indian film actresses and the statuesque Aeshra Patel, a 5’10” stunner who has traveled all the way from a village in Gujarat to the starry lights of Mumbai to realize her dream.

Two girls already have a head start. Gorgeous 19 year old Nicole Faria, 5’9” and with sun kissed skin is the winner of the Femina Miss India South contest, one of two regional preliminaries to Miss India. Among her prizes for winning is a direct entry to the top 10 of Miss India 2010. Nicole is from Bangalore, and a rising star in the modeling world in India, where her striking looks have already won her comparisons to Freida Pinto. Joining her in the top 10 is the winner of the other regional pageant, Miss India East Unnati Davara, who resembles Gabrielle Walcott, Miss Trinidad & Tobago 2008 and 2 RU at Miss World 2008.

That leaves 16 girls battling it out for 8 spots. Nicole and Unnati will have to contend again with their runners-up in their regional contests – the statuesque and eloquent Kritika Babu (5’10” and already the winner of Miss Perfect Ten and Best Catwalk) and the stunning Rohini Mukherjee, whose doe eyes and impossibly beautiful face have already invited comparisons to Diya Mirza.

Gurpreet Bedi has plans of her own, it would seem. With the chic quotient of Ekta Chowdhry and gentle beauty of Puja Gupta, she would be a contender just on her looks alone, but it is her combination of sophistication, sass and eloquence that distinguish her. Her only drawback is her height – at 5’7”, she is one of the shortest contestants this year, but as grils like Celina Jaitley, Tara Conner and Honey Lee have shown, a beautiful face can never be held back.

Height is certainly not a drawback for Neha Hinge, who at 5’11” is one of the tallest contestants in this year’s group. Neha’s earthy beauty, eloquence and spiritual aura bring to mind a young Sushmita Sen, and with a couple of sub-contests under her belt already, she has shown that she is here to win. She will have to battle with the equally tall and beautiful Dimple Patel, who is joined by another Miss India returnee, Alisha Pekha.

Dimple and Alisha competed in 2009 and 2008 respectively, and both were among the top favorites in their years. To the utter shock of many, both failed to advance to the top 10. In retrospect, perhaps they were a bit too “raw.” This year, they are both stronger than ever, Alisha with renewed focus, and Dimple with a much improved body and presence.

If Dimple and Alisha are here to justify faith in second chances, Jinal Pandya and Tahira Kocchar are here to prove that old may well be gold, with their throwback looks. Jinal’s ‘girl next door’ looks, classicially Indian, have captivated fans in India for their resemblance to actress Bhagyashree, who was India’s sweetheart in the late 80s. Tahira brings to mind a more recent sweetheart, Simran Kaur Mundi, so cruelly robbed of a semi-finalist spot at Miss Universe 2008.

But the biggest challenger of all may well be Manasvi Mamgai, who is already one of India’s most well established models (signed with Elite Models). With her experience both on the ramp and a warm up run in a minor international pageant (Manasvi won Miss Tourism International in 2008), she brings to mind Lara Dutta who had a similarly undefeated run of success when she competed in 2000. Manasvi’s classically beautiful face, eloquence and quiet confidence have certainly distinguished her thus far in the competition.


Miss India is a notoriously difficult contest. The winner must not only have stage presence and beauty, but also great presence of mind and eloquence to win.

And it is not only the girls who have struggled with the contest. On no less than 4 occassions in the last two decades (1994, 1997, 2000 and 2004), the judges have had to resort to a tie-break to decide the winner.

The competition this year seems to suggest that they may yet again have to resort to such additional measures to see who is worthy of the pure gold crown that will grace head of the winner.

It is our wish that at least a few alumnae of this batch will chose to revisit Miss India again, if they leave without the crown. With such a strong and competitive batch, it may well be luck that separates the destinies of the girls, and there are at least a few in this group who will come back as definite contenders for an international crown with a year or two of personal and professional growth behind them.

For now, in our view, there are three girls who have clearly distinguished themselves in this group. Nicole Faria and Manasvi Mamgai are possessed with extraordinary beauty, up there with some of the most successful Miss Indias like Priyanka Chopra.

Nicole Faria has the elegance and projection of a top couture model, and projects a sincerity and sweetness that will resonate well at Miss World, while Manasvi has a more classic movie star face, oodles of glamour and has a vibrance and acute awareness of the moment – so critical in a pageant.

To their company, we add Neha Hinge, whose strong sense of self and intelligence shines through to light up her beauty. These three girls have everything necessary to win not just the Miss India crown but an international crown today.

Close behind are Kritika Babu, Gurpreet Bedi, Rohini Mukhrjee, Nicole Alvarez, Jinal Pandya and Dimple Patel. These girls have all the potential in the world, but only time will tell if they can overcome minor limitations in experience, age, projection and styling. The finals will test how well they have made use of their month long grooming and training sessions.

But the contest is far from closed. In our opinion, almost every single girl in contention has the beauty and charisma to contend for a spot and even win a crown. This is a group that has every right to be immensely proud of itself, and that has announced loud and clear to the world that MISS INDIA is back!

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