A post-arrival impression of the Miss India 2019 finalists
First Day, First Show!
Another year, another chance to capture a crown and hearts! 30 hopefuls gather yet again for the annual competition that reinforces and from time to time, redefines, what it means to be young, female and accomplished in India. Since 2017 though, no girl has arrived at Miss India unknown to the pageant community or without at least a minor intervention in terms of pageant training and grooming – courtesy the Femina Bharat Darshan train. But along with this veneer of polish, come expectations, and the girls are on point from Day 1. No more excited chatter amongst fans gushing over a surprise entrant; no sudden flights of discovery to identify a mystery girl.
Very quietly, the national audition process that takes the Femina Miss India bandwagon across all 30 states, has morphed into a truly national search that has brought a significantly greater diversity of looks, personalities and personal qualities to the contestant pool at Miss India. And we’ve seen that no one state has the lock on a winning candidate. What I find particularly interesting about this year’s batch, compared to previous ones is that for the first time, most of the representatives (except for a few of the southern states) are ethnically from the states that they represent.
First of all, can we please give a shout out to how many pageant look alikes we have this year? Rajasthan looks like Diana Hayden, Karnataka in many angles is giving me a Koyal Rana flashback, Mizoram is Maggie Wilson (Philippines World 1997) reincarnated, and something about Telangana’s smile and gentle aura reminds me of Diya Mirza, Madhya Pradesh reminds me of Disha Patani.
So on to the “judging.” Admittedly, although at this point we know quite a bit about the girls, how a girl turns up in a national/international contest is a whole different thing. All of us already have (and have stated) our opinions on how the girls performed at their state and regional competitions. So I am not going to rehash that. Instead, I am putting my own incoming biases at rest here, and making my early list of standouts based only on what we are seeing since the girls arrived in Mumbai.
Therefore, this is NOT about how good a girl is on stage, how well she can sing, how brilliant her answers were in the state audition, how glamorous her pro-shoots have been. This is about who has stood out to me in the first few days of the Femina Miss India 2019 contest, with all the girls on the same footing. What I am going on are the photos and brief videos that both the organization and the girls themselves have posted. So of course, this list is going to change, as all other aspects are layered in.
But for the moment, let us just consider this aspect of judgement. That instant impression is something inexplicable. There is no formula in the eyes of the juror, nor is there a formula for the contestant to follow. It is about who stands out. For sure, beauty and stature have something to do with it, but there are really pretty girls who are not standing out to me, and there are also tall girls who I am not yet convinced about. It is about some other intangibles – presence, charm, the ability to communicate with a smile or words.
So just on this basis – a few girls immediately stood out to me with their energy and smiles- West Bengal, Rajasthan, Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim, Delhi.
A few more caught my attention with their looks – Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Mizoram, Uttar Pradesh.
And there are a few that have something a bit mysterious that I can’t quite put my finger on, making me want to know more – Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh.
Overall, this is a solid batch. Perhaps the most even – unlike some years, there is no clear front runner for me, and I somehow believe that one is not going to emerge. On the whole, I feel the girls are prettier than most years, they are in better shape and they are more well prepared and polished. On the downside, I am really concerned by the weak communication skills of this batch as a whole. At least in English. There are a few girls here who I believe have the ability to make a strong impression if they speak in their mother tongue and I hope that they will choose to do so when it matters. But it is more than pure “eloquence” that I am concerned about – when I hear many of the girls speak, they are either not confident (and their projection is thus weak and unconvincing) or robotic (too pageantry). This in turn throws up the conundrum – the ones who will advance on a set of physical attributes are let down by their lack of conviction when they speak; and some of the better spoken girls are just not standing out physically to get to that point. In the end, the ones who have a balance will likely come through – but it is possible that it will leave a lot of fans both confused and upset.
To win, you need a balance of beauty, confidence, eloquence and an X factor. At this early stage, three girls are showcasing this most strongly:
Rajasthan– Immediately stands out in this batch. She is one of the most beautiful girls we have had in Miss India! You cannot miss her in a single group shot and I find her even more beautiful than Diana Hayden – her features are more petite but she has Diana’s sparkle and incandescent smile. The question is – does she have Diana’s eloquence? Suman is a confident speaker, but she can come across as a single note – if she learns to modulate her speech and smile, she will be hard to beat.
Jammu & Kashmir – It’s hard to ignore Megha’s eyes, but that is not the only reason she stands out. She has that X factor that captures your attention in still photos, and in videos her energy and charisma elevate her above the others. She is also one of the oldest contestants in the group and her life experience, intelligence translate into her being the best speaker here, which to me is a huge asset. Not only is she thoughtful, but she is natural, unlike many of the others who I feel have had too much pageant training, and her voice projection is a cut above the others. If there is any advice I can give Megha, it is to get her styling right, because her beauty is polarizing.
Uttar Pradesh– Like Rajasthan, Shinata Chauhan is another very complete candidate. She has beauty, great energy and has come prepared in every way. In these early days, she has made her presence felt in a way that belies her relative youth (she is one of the youngest in the contest). To win, Shinata must now start unlearning some of what she has learned, it is all too perfect a package and I am not getting a real feel for who she really is – and unless she does this, she risks losing out to a girl who can make a more genuine and personal connection with the judges.
Nipping at the heels of my top favorites are a few girls who I think could all walk with the main crown! If they are not in that first group, it is more because I have yet to see enough of them.
Madhya Pradesh– OK, Garima Yadav came out as a real surprise to me. Every single appearance has been pitch perfect, and her elegance and carriage are at a level above all the other girls, and I see why she won perhaps the most competitive state contest to get here. Physically, she is impossible to ignore, a really stunning girl. If she can back this up with substance and confidence when she speaks, the crown can easily be hers.
Telangana – Granted, Sanjana was a bit of a surprise winner in her state, but that speaks more to the strength of that contest than any shortcoming in her. I have been a fan of this stunning girl since she competed in CP in 2016 and I am thrilled to see her back. She has undoubtedly one of the most beautiful faces in the batch, with perhaps the most beautiful eyes and smile, and there is something effortless about Sanjana. She is really well prepared, but it doesn’t look fake or contrived. What Sanjana has to bump up is her energy. Easy, breezy is good – until a strong gust of wind comes along.
Mizoram – Physically, Lalnunthari is impossible to ignore in this group. She has a face that is at once sweet but also fierce, and I can’t wait to see her in the years to come – it is a perfect canvas! She also has the height and that X factor that you can’t learn. If anything is holding her back, it is just a jolt of confidence and some extra projection – her presence cannot be ignored, but she has yet to take command of the stage. To break through, that is going to be needed!
So that’s it! My magic 6 at this very early stage. Will they win? Hard to say! So many girls will reveal their strengths as photoshoots, interviews and sub-contests unfurl. In particular, I am going to keep my eyes on girls like Bihar, Kerala, Uttarakhand all of whom to me are very complete contestants, with strong personalities and well prepared. And one cannot ignore the amazing presence of girls like Maharashtra, Delhi and Sikkim.
Lots more to come….
Article by: Jon Arenas
Picture Credits: Femina Miss India Organisation.