Take Two

The Death of Miss India

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The pageant is happening this week but does it even matter anymore?

Do you know who Miss India 2009 was? Or when the finals for Miss India 2010 will be? A decade ago, it would have been at the tip of your tongue. You would have been rooting for a favourite contestant, or telling your friend about how she happens to be the neighbour of your cousin. But not anymore. Miss India, the beauty pageant, didn’t just die—it became boring and inconsequential.

In those heady days, Miss India used to be the only international ambassador we knew. We stayed awake at ghastly hours to see how she fared at the Miss World and Miss Universe contest. We gloated when Sushmita Sen gave her winning answer—if she could turn back history, she would prevent Gandhi’s assassination—to bag the Miss India crown in 1994. It made up for the damage Madhu Sapre had caused two years before by being foolishly honest to the simplest question in the book (what is the first thing you would do if you were the head of your country?). Even a pre-pubescent convent school kid like me knew that the correct answer was to feed and clothe the poor, and not build the biggest sports track and field ground in the country.

There’s a theory that such pageants are a marketing façade for promoting cosmetic giants in developing countries, which get most of the Miss Universes and Worlds. We don’t get many of those now. It could be a marker of our prosperity. We have moved beyond the developing world. But no economic theory can explain why Miss India is now called PFMI—Pantaloon Femina Miss India. A title that sounds like something out of an advertising manual is not the best way to attract your audience of teenage girls.

Miss India thrived in a world where little girls played with Barbie and modest cleavage was in fashion. But even Ms Universe Sushmita Sen allegedly underwent cleavage enhancement to enter Bollywood, the dream destination of all beauty pageant winners. Being beautiful and smart isn’t enough. You have to be sexy. A friend, who works for a men’s magazine, was mailed images of the current Miss India contestants as potential cover options. He found them so devoid of ‘oomph’ that he suspected a quota system at work.

For a long time, Miss India was also the only reality show in the country. Now, there’s MTV Splitsvilla and Emotional Atyachar, a world of manicured catfights, girls abusing in Jat Hindi, flirting brazenly to entrap men and win shows. Miss India is as boring as political correctness.

The pageant is on 30 April, by the way.