(1994) Times of India Coverage of Miss World

Second Chapter of India’s Beauty Blitzkrieg

T clouds roll in, mistily, thick and fast. Music pulsates, loud and sensuous, in the velvet he lights die out and the darkness. Ghostly figures loom up in the dim glow. They seem to be waiting, still and silent, for someone… A blaze flares up suddenly, blinding your eyes, and there she is. Sylph-like apparitions clothed in the stuff dreams are made of. A collective sigh goes up from the audience. Can jade sparkle, you quiz yourself quickly. Is that face for real?

Yes, jade definitely sparkles if it’s set in the big beautiful eyes of Aishwarya Rai. And, since it’s a fashion show, the face of that creature floating down the runway is real-not Plaster of Paris.

Ash or Aishwarya Rai, the second chapter of India’s beauty blitzkrieg (the Sun City smash hit after the Manila marvel) this year, is that heady tropical cocktail of beauty, brains and warmth that seems to have become the favorites appetizer of judges at international beauty pageants.

Her rise to fame was sudden. Though not as meteoric as Miss Universe ‘94, it came in a rush all the same: One day her face was in a newspaper, and, before you could say, “let’s take a second look at that” it was everywhere-from red, red lips in the Pepsi ad, on to catwalks stretching from Bombay to Beijing to the back and beyond on covers of glossies, gracing centrespreads.

From Femina Miss India-II to Miss World ‘94, Aishwarya covered the vast distance pretty quickly. With her devastating looks and, now, a glittering tiara sitting over her serene brow, she has “taken the world by storm”, exults hi-fi designer and choreographer, Hemant Trivedi. The English presses, the Australian press, the French press, all the international press for that matter, call her a perfect international beauty. “And that she definitely is,” raves Hemant. “She has the very international looks, with the right mix of confidence and beauty. I know it’ll sound pretty hackneyed by now, but she’s more than perfect. She’s a true-blue genuine beauty. Her outward appearance is perfect, she’s intelligent, educated and very well brought up. Pure. That’s what she is. “And he adds as an afterthought, “Never speaks bad of anyone.” Hemant knows Aishwarya has the potential to fly high and reach dizzying heights if she lets herself go. “She will go very high, internationally if she sets her heart on it. But that’s the main point. Her heart. It’s so family-oriented. She’s very close to her family, her parents, and her brother. I don’t know if she’s willing to stay that far away from them.”

How was the build-up to the Miss World show? Did she work hard at it? “She kept putting off the costume trials and fitness work-outs. She’s lazy. I kept on telling her, let’s work it out. I wanted to work on the outfits. She left everything on me, sayings ‘you’re the expert’. The last two weeks before her trip to South Africa were really chaotic. Then she tried to throw in everything at once—dance classes with Shaimak Davar and the dress trials. As a matter of fact, the evening gown arrived just hours before she left for SA. And all hell broke when she tried it on and the zip burst! She was hysterical. But it all worked out in the end.”

What kind of wardrobe did Hemant plan for her? And what about that nose stud business? “There were 40 outfits, sponsored by the fashion house, Sheetal, designed by my team. It was a mix of western and ethnic designs. I kept the lines simple. The focus was on her beautiful face. I did not want an elaborate costume to distract from it. We combined traditional Indian fabrics and western wear to give the outfit an Indian stamp. The evening gown was a slim sheath, embroidered with silk threads and pearls. A crystal joined the torso pieces at the shoulders. There was silk organza falling, swirling in graceful, frothy folds from behind the gown…

“I admit, I was shocked at first to see Ash sporting the nose stud with the gown, but the effect was stunning. Went down very well with the judges. It was a great hit with all the contestants in the Sun City.” It’s quite ‘in’ fashion circles and most of the beauties were clamoring for a nose stud. “Ash, as a matter of fact, had asked her mother to get 90 pairs of those studs for the girls.”

That’s exactly like Aishwarya, says Ziraq, a very dear and close friend of hers. Trust her to think about he other girls in this fierce do-or-die-battle-for-the –crown. Ziraq, who has known Aishwarya since their Jai Hind junior college days in Bombay, says she’s always been around for her friends. “We saw her change with the success and change for better. From this shy, conservative girl, she has blossomed into a very confident and self-sufficient young woman.

His friend, says Ziraq, is fun loving but hard working and she has time for all her friends in spite of her busy schedule. “Whenever I’ve needed to talk to her and she has not been around to take my call, she makes it a point to ring me back and ask about it. Knowing how busy she is, it’s reassuring to know that she still cares.”

That’s the refrain all the time. Ask ace photographer Gautam Rajadhyaksha. “Oh! She’s a fine person. Extremely professional. Absolutely top-notch, in league with Anna Bradmeyer and few others. She is dedicated, is punctual and always ready to get involved with the work. She’s very flexible and is putty in the hands of the photographer. It’s a delight to direct shoots with her as the model. And she does have valuable suggestions to offer when asked for an opinion.

“I think that’s the reason why she’s made it to the top-because of her warm nature, her professionalism,” adds Gautam. “She has the right face for cosmetics. The perfect combination for the Garden campaign where good body and a face was a must. That’s why she’s been successful on the ramp as well as the ad films.

“And that’s also why I was not surprised when she walked off with the Miss World crown in spite of the fact that another Indian had walked off with the Miss Universe crown. But I was very happy. Delighted, to be sure.” We cannot expect too mach of a good thing. But when there are two good things out there, vying for two prestigious titles, shouldn’t we expect a lot?

“Success has come to Aishwarya because she’s a good human being,” says photographer Rafique Syed. “I’m quite notorious for instigating people to say nasty things about others, but I’ve given up on her. She refuses to say a thing against anyone and smiles all the time. Lot things were said about her after the Femina Miss India contest, but she never reacted. She didn’t need to.

He recalls a day when he was very upset about something. “Aishwarya sensed there was something wrong and, for about two hours after the shoot, when she could have gone home, she sat with me, trying to cheer me up. She has a kind word for everyone-the make-up people, the shoot assistants. That’s why she’s so popular,” he says.

Hey! What’s all this talk about warmth and friendliness, didn’t someone mention something about an aloof iceberg? “Ice maiden?’ scoffs Vrinda Rai, Aishwarya’s mother
Who close. “Have you heard her talking? She yaps on non-stop most of the time. It’s just that people have formed some pre-conceived notions about her. She’s an extrovert, actually, but needs someone to break the ice. That’s all.”

Who is she close to, her dad or her mom? “Well! To both of us actually, but, the trouble is, her father’s a marine engineer and is away from home most of the time. I was always there for her, 365 days a year. And so she tells me most of everything.

“Aishwarya’s always been a bright student. She’s never had any problems with her studies. Has never fussed about going to school.” Vrinda remembers the first day Aishwarya went to the Arya Vidya Mandir with her brother, Aditya. His friend, excited to see their classfellow’s little sister, crowded around her. “They used to call her the walkie-talkie doll, because she used to talk all the time. You know what she told me when she came back from school? She said, ‘Mummy, those boys in Aditya’s class were pushing me and making a lot of noise. I hated it. I told them, if you want to kiss me, then stand in a line…!’ ” Young Ms Rai had men falling at her feet even at the tender age of three-and a-half. “The boys must have been in Std 1 or so. She recounted the incident so gravely, so innocently, that I had a good laugh even though I wanted to give the impression that I was listening seriously to her,” says Vrinda.

That must have given her an idea of the things to come later. How did she feel to have a daughter who is the most beautiful woman in the world? Laughing, Vrinda says, “Great,” as she must have said again, reviling that one special moment when Miss World name was announced.

“To tell you the truth, I never expected it, I thought she was getting too much publicity in Sun City (before the contest) and that would go against her somehow. There were just two of us, my husband and I, to cheer Ash on. The other contestants had aunts and uncles and all sorts of relatives turning up from all corners of the world. We were also not given any special treatment at the final show. You had to buy your own tickets. Form my seat, I could get an angled view of the stage. We could only meet her once in a day, probably because of the security. We were not allowed to stay in the hotel were the girls were putting up. On the day of the finals, Aishwarya seemed a little nervous. Even I was. But I told her to do her best and not to bother about anything else. Everyone kept telling me, “your daughter is going to win, she’s likely to be a winner”. They were so sure of it that I thought it was being a bit overdone. She was definitely the hot favorite there. The girls were taken to Durban for a trip from Sun City and a lot of Indians turned up to cheer her on. Many of them flew down from Durban to Sun City to cheer her on at the finals.
“I thought everything was over when she got the Miss Photogenic award. To think of her getting two titles at that time seemed impossible. And, when her name was finally announced, I kept jumping up and down on my chair. My husband told me to take it easy,” she laughs. “The other girl’s parents were around us, congratulating us. It was really great.” And then the proud parents went for the coronation ball. “We could not meet Ash immediately after the coronation because they didn’t want ‘scenes’ or ‘tears’. They had a competition later for ‘Queen of Beauty’, to pick up the most beautiful girl from each continent. Aishwarya was selected for Asia. It was only later when she was allowed to go up to her room that we could meet and talk,” says Vrinda.

We returned to India the next day. We would have stayed on had she been there. But she was leaving for London that evening.” So, what’s Aishwarya doing now in London? “She took a complete rest for a week after the contest. She is staying with Mr. and Mrs. Morley, the organizers of the Miss World contest. At least that’s what Aishwarya told me the other day when she called up. They have a huge house, where the Miss Worlds usually stays. It’s like being a part of their family. She has, I think, now started work on modelling assignments… Then she’ll be back to Bombay by December 15th.”

What about reports that Aishwarya is considering some offers form Hollywood? “No, I don’t know anything about that,” says Vrinda. “She never mentioned anything to me.” OK, what about Hindi films then? “No. That’s ruled out for a year now because she’s under contract with the Miss World people.” What about her studies? “I would like it if she gets her architecture degree,’ says Vrinda. “Ash was desperate to get into medical college, but she applied for architecture also in case she didn’t get admission. She got into architecture at Jai Hind College, but her medical results came in later. She was selected, but the college she had to join was somewhere in interior Maharashtra and, for her, leaving Bombay and home was not possible. By then she continued with architecture. She started modelling while she was studying. But even then (after modelling offers started pouring in thick and fast) she managed to get a first class in her first year.

“It got a little too much in the second year. Then she was well into modelling and going for shoots, meetings and fashion shows. She used to sit up all night and study and complete her drawings and finish her models and then get up in the morning and go to college. For the shoots, she used to ask th photographers to out her in the second shift. It was all right for sometime, but then it got difficult. She asked the principal and her teachers if she could drop a year. They said it would be good for since her modelling career was doing very well. Also, in architecture, you can stretch a five-year course to an eight-year one. So she dropped a year. Then decided to go for the Femina Miss India contest and rest is history.

“Now I don’t know where Aishwarya will go form here. It is up to her to decide,” concludes Vrinda, adding, “She’s been away for home for a month now and we are really missing her,” Chatting with me, sitting in her daughter’s room dominated by stuffed pandas and teddy bears, Vrinda smiles sweetly. Her little girl has made it big. Once upon a time some little boys stood in a queue to kiss her. Today the queue straddles the length and breadth of the globe.

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