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Aug 24 Models avoid beauty pageant route to Bollywood.

Have beauty pageants become passe? With just one international win in 12 years, India’s dry run continues with insiders saying that models and other aspirants to the glitz and glamour world are bypassing the pageant route to head straight for Bollywood. It was the other way around in the decades gone past with women like Aishwarya Rai, Sushmita Sen and Lara Dutta winning their international crowns and then going to the movie world. On Saturday, Miss India World Vanya Mishra made it to the top seven at the 62nd edition of the Miss World contest in Ordos, China, but the crown went to China’s Xia Yu. Had she clinched it, she would have got the first big win in 12 years. The last Miss Universe title came home in 2000 with Lara Dutta winning the crown; the last Miss World also came the same year with Priyanka Chopra bagging the title.

So why this drought, even though the money and perks remain pretty much the same? According to model Shamita Singha, who represented India during the Miss Earth 2001 pageant, the problem starts at the root level. “The girls participating in such pageants don’t match expectations. We can’t blame the judges panel. We are not getting good entries. Most girls want to make a career in Bollywood and with so many modelling agencies these days, it is easier for them. So they avoid taking the longer beauty pageant route,” Singha told IANS. Amongst the models who have taken the direct road to Bollywood are Deepika Padukone and Katrina Kaif, who catapulted to big time stardom, as well as those like Sayali Bhagat, Geeta Basra, Mugdha Godse and Jiah Khan. India first made its mark in the international beauty pageant scenario way back in 1966 with Reita Faria winning the Miss World title. In 1994, Aishwarya brought back the crown, while Sushmita became the first Indian to be crowned Miss Universe the same year.

Describing Bollywood as a major roadblock, Shonal Rawat, Femina Miss India Asia Pacific 2003, said: “Bollywood might be the reason that girls are not interested in getting into such pageants. I believe the young generation simply gets attracted by short-term fame they receive during their initial days and this somehow stops them from looking at different career options.” She also feels that girls lack the right attitude. “Miss India requires the culmination of different things like poise, confidence, looks and intelligence. It is about the whole packaging needed to win the crown.”

Neha Dhupia, now an actress, started as a model, won the Femina Miss India 2002 crown and then made inroads into showbiz. In her opinion, the luck factor is equally important. “I don’t think anyone is lacking at any level. It is about the person who shines that day. Everyone’s beautiful as you are competing with the 80 most beautiful women in the world. No one is lacking anywhere. The reason why everyone’s there is that they are winners in themselves,” she said.

Over the years, the craze for beauty pageants and viewer interest has also dipped. “Earlier, people used to be excited about watching Miss India contests on TV or in person. But that is dying. We need to get public interest back. This will help us in winning,” said Shweta Vijay, Femina Miss India Earth 2003.

Till 2009, the Femina Miss India title winner used to participate in the Miss Universe pageant. From 2010 on awards, Sushmita’s organisation I Am She chooses the country’s official entry for Miss Universe and Miss Asia Pacific.