Miss International – India’s Achilles Heel or Just a Case of Misdirected Priorities?
"If I’m a beautiful woman, I am beautiful in many ways." – Nafisa Ali, Miss International 1976 2nd Runner-up
Since its inception in 1959 as a separate pageant from Miss Universe, the Miss International Beauty Pageant aims to select Goodwill Ambassadors who would advocate its vision of achieving world peace through mutual understanding by promoting people-to-people and cultural exchanges.
5 Miss Worlds, 2 Miss Universes, 1 Miss Earth, – India’s achievements in the international beauty pageant scene are stellar, thus pageant experts classify it as one of the Beauty Pageant Powerhouses in the world. Owing to their Aryan and Dravidian lineage, with a sprinkling of British, French and Portuguese ancestry, Indians have a look which is uniquely their own. Indian beauty queens are known for their exquisite faces, their runway skills and their eloquence which makes them formidable opponents once they enter the latter stages of a competition. Such was the success of the Indians in the 1990s that they were able to accomplish a back to back victory in Miss World (1999-2000) and they were able to win 2 big 4 crowns in the same year, 1994 and 2000, respectively. Magali Febles, the National Director of Miss Dominican Republic Universe allegedly said in an informal interview “if you want to win, never let an Indian girl enter the top 5.”
Oddly enough, despite its participation in the Miss International Pageant since 1960, it seems that the title is proving to be very elusive to the beauties from the Indian sub-continent. Currently, 3 1st runners-up, 3 2nd runners-up and 12 semifinalists make up India's tally at Miss International. Despite designating a titleholder to compete since 2010, India is still searching for that special girl who will win the fur-trimmed coronet and enter the elite club of countries who have won all of the Big 4 crowns at least once. So far, only Brazil and Venezuela are in this club. Here are the 11 countries that are on the verge and the title that they need to secure:
Australia - Earth
USA - Earth
Finland - Earth
Germany - Earth
Argentina - Earth
France - Earth
Puerto Rico – Earth
Greece - Earth
Philippines - World
India - International
However, we should remember that India did not send delegates to Miss International in 1963 -1967, 1972, 1977, 1989 and 1990. In their absence in 1964, Philippines won the title and earned the distinction of being the first Asian country to capture the title. Oddly enough, there was no pageant in 1966, when India won its first Miss World through Reita Faria.
Here are India’s Miss International top 15 placements over the years:
A kaleidoscope of beauties represented India through the years.
1968 Sumita Sen
1970 Patricia D'Souza
1984 Nalanda Ravindra Bhandar
1987 Erika Maria de Souza
1991 Preeti Mankotia
1993 Pooja Batra
2000 Gayatri Joshi
2001 Kanwal Toor
2004 Mihika Verma
2006 Sonali Sehgal
2010 Neha Hinge
2012 Rochelle Maria Rao
Now let’s give a sharper focus to India’s top 3 finishers:
1960 – Iona Pinto – 1st runner-up
The smile-a-thon silver medalist
Winner – Stella Marquez Zawadsky – Colombia
Miss Photogenic – Sigridur Geirsdottir - Iceland
Stella captured the price with her unwavering smile.
India created a stir on its first participation by sending the elegant Iona Pinto. The judges were so enamored by her beauty she was locked in a tie with pageant veteran Stella Marquez of Colombia who was a semi-finalist in Miss Universe earlier that year. The judges decided to let the top 5 stand on the stage form 10 minutes and try to observe flaws. In the end they saw Iona very briefly stop smiling, and decided to deduct half a point from her score. As Victor Melling said in Miss Congeniality “Smilers wear a crown, losers wear a frown.” In the end of this “smile-a-thon” Miss Colombia was victorious and was crowned as the first Miss International and everything else was history.
RIP Miss Pinto
Iona became a household name in her native India as a very successful model and had a very fruitful married life as well. On June 2012, Ms. Pinto succumbed to cancer, but is forever remembered as one of India’s beauty icons.
1975- Indira Maria Bredemeyer 2nd RUNNER UP
Indira was a knockout in a printed swimsuit
Winner: Lidija Vera Manic – Yugoslavia
Miss Photogenic: Isabelle Krumacker – France
Pageant veterans Lidija and Isabelle reigned supreme that night.
In 1975, Indira had to contend with a tough year, when she competed with several pageant veterans:
In the end, the judges elected brown-haired Lidija as Miss International 1975, getting her country’s first Big 4 crown. Indira did her country proud by finishing 3rd, getting the highest placement among the Asians in the top 15.
1976- NAFISA ALI 2nd runner up
Many thought that she was robbed of the crown.
Winner: Sophie Sonia Perin – France
Miss Photogenic: Elvira Botempo - Austria
3rd time’s the charm for Sophie
India had another year to celebrate as the stunning Nafisa Ali brought the country back in the top 5, placing 3rd. Miss France Sophie Perin, a veteran from Miss Universe and Miss World the previous year, finally had her major title.
Still stunning even with graying hair
Perhaps the most popular Miss India to International to date, Nafisa later became famous in India not just for being an actress and wife to Col. RS Sodhi and mother to 3 children, but for her social advocacies. She worked tirelessly in HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness campaigns and started Ashraya –a care home for HIV/AIDS and TB infected patients. She was also was a major part of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and was the official government delegate for the 49th UN summit on the Status of Women. She was also a one-time congress candidate from 23 South Kolkata Parliamentary Constituency.
Diya Abraham 1st RUNNER UP
Beautiful Dia almost got the crown
Winner: Consuelo Adler –Venezuela
Miss Photogenic: Consuelo Adler - Venezuela
Her photogenic face soon earned her campaigns in New York
The night was a date with destiny indeed for the fabulous Consuelo Adler of Venezuela. Already a winner as Miss Photogenic in her national pageant, Consuelo also won the same award and later the Miss International title. However, copper-skinned runner-up Diya is also another interesting story. Coming from a middle-class family, Diya was discovered while accompanying her elder sister to photoshoots. Upon her parents’ encouragement she entered and became a finalist at the 1995 Femina Look of the Year and later placed 4th in the 1997 Femina Miss India earning the right to represent her country in Miss International. Her winsome smile, elegant stance and long legs helped her win 2nd place and $10,000 which she placed in a fixed deposit.
She is Nick’s one and only Miss
Since then Diya became one of Bangalore’s successful models. In 2004 she married graphic designer Nicholas Boney in Sydney.
1998 Shvetha Jaishankar 2nd RUNNER UP
Her long legs wowed the judges
Winner: Lia Victoria Borrero – Panama
Miss Photogenic: Daniela Kosan Montcourt - Venezuela
Defenitely it was Lia's night
Shvetha may have grabbed the headlines in her country after finishing 3rd behind Miss Universe 1997 Top 5 finalist Lia Victoria Borrero of Panama and Miss Photogenic Daniela Kosan of Venezuela but her personal life later would grab more of the media’s attention as it got intertwined with another beauty queen, Miss Universe 2000 Lara Dutta.
Shvetha got the Bangalore flat, Lara got the guy.
After her 7-year marriage to Indian tennis star Mahesh Bhupathi formally ended in mid-July 2010, it was said to be one of the costliest celebrity divorces. As part of the deal, Shvetha got to keep their flat in the upmarket Langford Gardens in Bangalore. Later Shvetha would speak for the first time about the failed marriage and divorce, claiming that Mahesh met Lara as a client in their sports and celebrity management company Globosport and she believed their relationship started before their marriage ended and started going out publicly even when their divorce was not yet finalized. After her divorce she stayed with her parents in Chennai where she met her future husband, businessman Raghu Kailas, whom she married last year, a day after ex-husband Mahesh and Lara’s well-publicized wedding.
2003 SHONALI NAGRANI 1st runner up
Stunning in red sari
Winner: Goizeder Azua Barrios – Venezuela
Miss Photogenic: Goizeder Azua Barrios - Venezuela
It was Goizeder's revenge after Miss World 2002
Delhi-born beauty Shonali finished 2nd in the 2003 edition behind Miss World 2002 Top 10 finalist Goizeder Azua Barrios who was also the night’s Miss Photogenic awardee.
Shonali later on became an actress and TV presenter. In 2012 she got engaged to musician Shiraz Bhattacharya.
Happy with a Bengali
If you would look closely the Miss India top 3 finishers lost only to these women:
• Previous entrants to other big 4 pageants
• Miss Photogenic winners
Clearly, Miss International has always crowned a beautiful face no matter what ethnicity the girl has and it is something that India has to take note when choosing their Miss International representative. In the Miss International arena, you don’t need a fierce catwalk, or a fashion forward gown. Claims of Miss International being a “racist” pageant is out of the question. If it were racist, there would have been no non-caucasian delegates to be allowed to compete. Recent winners Precious Lara Quigaman, Jeymmy Vargas and Elizabeth Mosquera are testaments that Miss International also crowns non-Caucasian beauties. IMHO, there has been a conflict of priorities as India has been fixated in getting its third Miss Universe title and in the process the other girls who would have found success in other pageants such as Miss International have been “wasted”. Since Shilpa Singh already ended India’s very brief dry spell in Miss Universe, the greater task should be to win Miss International, where the India’s REAL drought is.
The future holds hope as 2013 year marks the 50th anniversary of Femina Miss India. It is projected that there will be 7 regional winners and 27 other girls who will come from auditions in Mumbai. With a better understanding of the sensibilities of the International Culture Association, it won’t be too long than an Indian stunner would be wearing the fur-lined pearl coronet. I believe that the Indian woman is truly beautiful in many ways, and coming from a multilingual and multicultural country, would be a great ambassador to promote cultural exchange and worldwide understanding.
2 girls who IMO might win India's 1st MI crown
I see the MI judges responding positively to her beauty
I've heard so much about her. I believe she can win this title for India
These are just my personal views. Clarifications were welcome.
Special thanks to Roopesh for his insights on Femina Miss India.