21 March 2009

Miss India hopefuls shut out

Dreams of Bollywood contracts, television shows and international modelling assignments have been dashed for several young women in the Gulf region who had hoped to compete in the Miss India pageant this year.

The annual Miss India contest has traditionally attracted entries from across India and around the world, and there is fierce competition for the top three positions, which open doors to glamorous careers and other international pageants, including Miss Universe and Miss World.

For Poonam Mahay, 22, of Dubai, and some other would-be contestants in the region, however, it is not to be – this year, at least. Sponsorship has fallen significantly because of the global financial crisis and the organisers decided to call off the necessary preliminary contests or auditions outside India.

For Ms Mahay the news came as a cruel disappointment. Over the past seven years she has been looking forward to the chance to take part in one of India’s top beauty pageants, modelling and honing her speaking skills while she completed her education.

Instead, she finds herself one of several expatriate Gulf Indians who cannot attend.

“I’ve been asked for the past three years to take part. But I told everyone that I would only do it when I was ready for it. I had been working and studying before and I wanted to be prepared completely for it and that’s why, this year, I felt that I was. Then recession hit and bam! and sponsors were backing out.”

Although there are other competitions for expatriate Indians, such as Miss India Worldwide, Ms Mahay said her hopes were on Miss India because it led to the better-known international pageants.

“There were auditions and everything happening. All of a sudden all of it was scrapped. I am very disappointed. I had high hopes for this year but I guess now I have to look forward to it for next year.

Three young women from the Middle East took part last year, and two of them – Aakanksha Mansukhani, of Dubai, and Shruti Dilip, from Oman – finished in the top 10.

Ms Mansukhani, 23, was crowned “Miss Beautiful Eyes” in the final and also won a viewers poll. She has since moved to Mumbai to pursue a career in Bollywood.

The winner in 2007 was also an expatriate, Sarah-Jane Dias, of Muscat, who is now a video jockey with Channel V, a Hong Kong television music channel. With their unconventional looks and attitude, as well as their westernised accents, such women are in demand to present programmes that cater for younger audiences and reach markets outside India.

Emirates Vision, a Dubai-based event management company, has had a contract with Miss India since 2007 to send expatriate contestants to the competition, including girls from the Middle East and Europe.

John Mathew, the managing director of Emirates Vision, said his company and the pageant were working out a permanent strategy to enable overseas contestants to enter again from next year.

“The girls might have been disappointed but we told them that it shall happen next year.”

Ms Dilip, 22, who works as a biotechnology engineer in Doha, has been modelling since she was 16. Since her success last year she had gone on to compete in Miss India Worldwide, where she was crowned “Best Smile”. Now she is considering a couple of Tamil film contracts.

Ms Dilip admitted that it cost a lot of money enter one of these contests. Last year, her expenses had included clothes, flights and “a suitcase full of shoes”. (thenational.ae)
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