Sunday, June 8, 2008

Miss India to Miss Bollywood

When they're vying for the crown, it's always social work and awareness that figures in their answers to pageant questions. But once the crown rests easily on their heads, it's the glitz and glam that takes over.

Bollywood's love affair with models and Miss Indias has been a long one. And why not? Both are about great bodies, beautiful smiles and oodles of talent. Once upon a time, Miss Indias became models and stuck to the ramp and endorsements. These days, even before they win the crown, they decide on their Bollywood debut. True, beauty pageants have become the front door entry to the Hindi film industry.

Time and again, Miss Indias have walked into Bollywood. Some have even proved to be extremely successful, so much so that audiences have even forgotten that they used to be Miss Indias sometime. Who remembers that Juhi Chawla was actually the winner of the 1984 pageant?

One of those who tried her hand at the Hindi film industry and failed was Madhu Sapre, one of the first ones to make an impact at the international pageant. India's entry to Miss Universe 1992, Madhu dated Indian model Milind Soman but married an Italian businessman Gian Maria.

Though Madhu's modelling stint was not without controversy – she posed nude with Milind for an advert – the lady did put India on the world map. She was the first to have come in the final three of Miss Universe 1992 – she placed third. Madhu's efforts to Indian beauty queens in the fine art of winning international pageants didn't go waste. Within two years, India had its first Miss Universe in Sushmita Sen, who today is one of the most known faces of Bollywood.

Madhu debuted in the Hindi film industry with Boom but unfortunately couldn't find the success she did as a model in acting. A wise woman as always, she returned to the ramp and stayed there till love took her to Italy and into the arms of Gian Maria. Once in a while, Madhu does come to India and do ramp shows here. But for most parts, she jetsets between Italy and here. She's even opened a boutique in Milan, the fashion capital of the world. "I entered Bollywood only because I was given an opportunity. Modelling came naturally to me. In Bollywood, the bucks were big but I guess you can't really do well in any profession unless you are passionate about it," she says.

The year after Madhu bagged the Miss India crown belonged to Namrata Shirodkar, whose sister Shilpa was already into films. Namrata was a model who won the pageant in 1993 and went on the Miss Universe contest, coming in at the fourth place.

But like Madhu, Namrata couldn't crack the Bollywood code even though her sister Shilpa was quite a known name in Bollywood. Namrata debuted with a supporting role in Jab Pyar Kisise Hota Hai alongside Salman Khan and Twinkle Khanna. She also had to her credit the Sanjay Dutt-starrer Vaastav. Unfortunately, all that she was offered were supporting roles in films like Pukar, Hera Pheri and Astitva. Recently, in 2004, she was seen in a promising role in the cross-culture Bride and Prejudice. Though the film did well abroad, it bombed in India. Namrata has now left the film industry and has settled down in holy matrimony with south star Mahesh Babu. Mahesh and Namrata married in 2000 and they live in Hyderabad. In August 2006, she became mommy to a boy.

Then there was the tall, lanky Pooja Batra. Pooja's mother Neelam too was a Miss India contestant in 1971. What she couldn't achieve, the daughter did. The athletic model was a well-educated one, an Economics major from Fergusson College of Pune and an MBA in marketing from Symbiosis College, Pune. Pooja was all set to become a pilot when modelling beckoned.

She did the Liril soap commercial and became a known face on television and print ads. In 1993, Pooja was crowned Miss India second runner up in 1993. She did as many as 250 fashion shows in India and abroad and took the plunge in Bollywood in 1997 with Virasat. Pooja's run in tinsel town was more successful than that of her contemporary Namrata. She did as many as 21 films including Haseena Maan Jayegi, Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya and Kahin Pyar Na Ho Jaye. Pooja also tapped the southern film industry with films opposite established actors such as Mohanlal and Mamooty. Somewhere along the way, she tied the knot with an orthopaedic surgeon Dr Sonu Ahluwalia, and moved to Los Angeles, United States. Pooja now divides her time between India and LA and works for charitable causes.

Perhaps the most successful Miss Indias have been those from the year 1994. Both the winner and the runner-up Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai are forces to reckon with in Bollywood.

Trumping hot favourite model Aishwarya Rai, Sushmita Sen stole the limelight with her intelligence and international looks at the Miss India 1994 pageant. The Bengali beauty was to become a journalist but fate had other plans. Sushmita was the first Indian to become Miss Universe. However, like her predecessors, her Bollywood debut wasn't a good one. Dastak in 1996 showed her in the role of a victim of a stalker and Sush did some supporting roles in films like Biwi No 1. She was appreciated in Main Hoon Na, Filhaal and Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya but Sushmita hasn't been as successful as an actress as she was as a model. Luckily, she's a smart businesswoman and besides businesses, has decided to turn director. How this pans out remains to be seen.

"Passion and money both substantiate each other. Without passion you will not be able to give your hundred percent. Yes! Money keeps you going. I was passionate about the Miss India contest so I won it," is how Sush explains her surprise win.

Aishwarya Rai did lose her Miss India crown to Sush. But she raced much ahead when it came to films, thanks to the 'most beautiful woman' tag attached to her. She not only won the Miss World crown in 1994 but also gained an easy entry into Bollywood.

The lady made her acting debut with none other than noted director Mani Ratnam in Tamil film Iruvar in 1997. Jeans followed in 1998 but it was 1999 that marked Ash's Bollywood debut with Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. A string of hits including Taal, Devdas, Josh, Chokher Bali, Bride & Prejudice, Dhoom 2, Jodhaa Akbar, Guru

Priyanka Chopra, the winner of the 2000 pageant, too is pretty successful in films. Initially, she had a weak debut but after hits like Krrish and Don, she's hot property too.

Their examples continue to attract a number of pretty young things to the pageant.

Director Madhur Bhandarkar mentioned the synergy between Bollywood and Miss India pageants in his hard-hitting film Page 3. "All the Miss Indias, Miss Worlds and Miss Universe I know have really worked hard to get where they are. Passion is what helps them work so hard," he says.

Fashion to films, the distance is pretty short.
and others later, she's one of the biggest stars of the Hindi film industry. She's also become the bahu of the Bachchan family, married to Amitabh's son Abhishek. Till date, Aishwarya remains the most successful Miss India in Bollywood.

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