As I sit here writing this, excitement and pride are fighting for place in my heart. Excitement because for the first time in over a decade, I have seen an Indian representative deliver a world beating performance in a Miss Universe preliminary. Pride because this performance was built and delivered on the back of nothing more than ambition, drive and hard work. If there is one thing that a national winner is admired for, it is the values that she embodies. The finest of these were on display in preliminary night in Bangkok and I couldn’t be more pleased than to see the flag of India draped on the deserving shoulders of Nehal Chudasama, who, based on what I saw, could go all the way in the finale till the crown. No matter what happens on Sunday, she is a winner for India already!
But let’s go back to the actual performance. Now, I try to be diplomatic as much as I can, but I am also never one to give glib compliments. And to be honest, in a battle as fierce as the MU preliminary, there is no room for that. If Miss World is a marathon, and the candidates have to find the strength and depth to impress over a month of daily examination, Miss Universe is a sprint. Sure, you are watched after the cameras are turned off, and points are added and subtracted for attitude, but let’s be honest, when the lights are turned on that prelim stage, every girl has her finger on a button that could propel her to the semis. And in that 30 second strut, you have to show that you are fit, confident, poised, elegant, fun, unique and have the charisma to hold a camera’s attention for an entire year to follow! Whew!!! How does one do all that? Even thinking about it makes my head spin. I have a three part formula to win Miss Universe- Fit, Form, Flow.
Fit refers to having the basics down – have a good body for the SS competition. Have a decent gown that creates impact and won’t impede a walk. Have a story to tell and the words to tell it with. And a pretty face to capture attention. Now it all sounds easy but remember that the challenge is that it is relative. And what stands out in Miss Diva may not appeal at Miss Universe or be good enough. With a large and unpredictable jury panel, a level of broad appeal is a must. As is consistency. In the past, India has been very inconsistent across these elements, whether a Gul Panag (who honestly, with even a fraction of Nehal’s fitness quotient could have walked with the MU crown), a Simran Kaur Mundi who for some inexplicable reason decided to wrap her sofa cover around her waist, or a Tanushree Dutta who quite honestly didn’t have the facial beauty to match her presence.
Form refers to the mechanics of presenting these “goods.” A good walk, no loose swinging hands. Confidence and eloquence in the interview. The right styling to match the gown. After all, no point having done all the hard work and not being able to showcase it in your thirty seconds! Again, this is not as easy at it sounds. Spectacular winners like Puja Gupta and Celina Jaitley have lost it here with a weak walk or a gown. Or consider a top favorite like Neha Kapur who made all kinds of strange styling and fashion choices in 2006 to knock herself out of contention. It is this element that elevates a simple gown to a winning performance like Evelina Papantoniou in 2001 or reduces a spectacular body to just another one in a parade of 90 girls .
And finally, Flow. This is just that one magical moment when it all comes together. When you get to be yourself and show that there is something beyond just the pretty gown and perfect body that makes everyone want to see more of you. And all the winners have this. Sure, Lara had an exceptional walk and a spectacular gown, but is that what won her the competition? Was it Iris Mittenaire’s body? This is only achieved when the barrier between the girl and the audience is shattered in one spectacular moment and it rests on authenticity. (No names mentioned here, but it is what has cost many favorites in the past from winning the crown…). There is no formula for this. Every girl does it her own way. Mpule Kwelagobe’s delight at simply being in the top 5 radiated. When Lara took the mike from Sinbad in the 2000 finale, she literally “drew the crowd in” (as the color commentator said!). Pia Wurtzbach did it by cracking up on stage when she tried to be fierce. That’s the thing…you can’t orchestrate it…but it is an ease of being there, of living the moment, truly, of taking all that wonderful energy in the stadium and shining with it that makes it happen. All you can do is be so well prepared that you are no longer thinking. And when you no longer think, you are no longer acting. That is authenticity.
With that out of the way – I can truly say that Nehal nailed it in prelims. The long hours at the gym showed. She didn’t have to flex any muscle. Contort her body in strange ways to mask a weakness. No exaggerated walk necessary. She just turned up, confident about herself. And it showed. Similarly in gown, the fit and styling highlighted her amazing figure and she just came across as someone elegant, confident, graceful. The gown was just right – pretty but not distracting. It kept the focus on the girl. In her 30 seconds, she distinguished herself. That’s an achievement! For whatever reason, in a crowded field, she stood out. Why? Well, part of it is what I have mentioned above. All the fundamentals were there. A big part of it was consistency – she was one of the very few girls who had a balance of beauty, body, presentation (was there a better walk that night? If there was, I didn’t see it!) and energy. But most of all, it was the pride she radiated. Of her hard work. Of achieving a lifelong dream. Of her family. And most of all, the pride of over a billion Indians channeled into her walk! If there is one thing that she must do in the finale, it is to just capture this and let go. No more projecting. Just let that joy radiate! The hard work is done! She has done all of us proud!
I told you that I am excited and proud! Can you feel the magic too? I can’t wait for Sunday!