With Navneet Kaur Dhillon recently crowned Ponds Femina Miss India 2013, the list of women from defence background winning this pageant, gets longer. What gives them the edge over others?
Someone once said, 'uneasy lies the head that wears the crown', but looking at the winners of the Ponds Femina Miss India (PFMI) 2013, one would be forced to cast the idiom aside for good. Twenty-year-old Navneet Kaur Dhillon, from Patiala, raised in army barracks around the country, displayed grace, wit, confidence and poise all at the same time as she was crowned the winner. Sobhita Dhulipala from Visakhapatnam, adjudged the first runner-up, too comes from a defence background. Navy to be precise. With the two of them clinching the top two positions on the coveted podium of PFMI (which incidentally, celebrates its golden jubilee this year), the list of young women from defence background winning this crown in the last two decades, gets longer. From Sushmita Sen in 1994 to Dhillon this year, there has been at least one; at times, two; or as in 2011, all three winners, who have come from army, navy or air force families.
What really makes these defence women such inborn winners?
Says Alesia Raut, model and fashion choreographer, "The girls from defence background have stronger personalities, and are also very disciplined and punctual. Being a model is all about walking into a room, where everyone will take note of you — how you walk, how you sit, how you talk etc. Because of their backgrounds, these girls are taught grace and poise from an early age. It comes naturally to them." Dhillon explains why she attributes her success to an army upbringing, "I was born in Ambala, grew up in Siliguri, Coimbatore, Ferozpur, Allahabad, Bhatinda, Manipur, Imphal and Patiala. I've grown up in small towns as well as big cities. I can ride the roughness of a small village, and survive the madness and high of a metro at the same time. In short, I'm adaptive, open-minded, a survivor and thus, a winner."
Hasleen Kaur, Miss India Earth (2011) says, "We develop great conversational skills and carry ourselves with oomph and confidence. We interact with a lot of people who belong to different age groups and different cultures. I would never hesitate to speak to a stranger or a new person. Ultimately, our communication skills help us become winners." Adds Ankita Shorey, Miss India International (2011), "Making new friends, going to new schools makes us ooze confidence. I remember how we would swim, play tennis every evening, at the army compound. People mingle with one another at the various sports activities, beauty contests and balls. A defence hub has a particular culture, which becomes an integral part of our personality. We pick up good etiquette and manners like, how to use a fork and knife, how to eat with grace, and walk with dignity. These aren't qualities one can learn over a month-long crash course. It's the army upbringing of 22 years that helped me stand out and win."
Dhulipala adds, "The defence background gives people a multi-dimensional personality. My dad was in the navy. I've travelled to almost 50 countries! I have imbibed bits of so many cultures. I've harnessed a great sense of adventure and fun and can relate to continuous changes, which have added to my personal growth from an early age."
The maturity and wit at a young age, as displayed by the defence kids have often propelled them ahead of their civilian counterparts. Add to that the fact that defence areas come with their own sports complexes and clubs which hold various contests that help these girls to stay fit, be competitive and acquire social grace and poise. Fashion historian and designer Ritu Kumar, one of the judges of PFMI 2013, says, "These girls are already well-groomed from a young age. Their confidence, well-maintained figure and smartness build from the fact that they engage in a lot of outdoor activities and receive multi-faceted education. Discipline, sportsmanship and high-quality education trains them to be confident to stand up and answer questions without hesitation or shyness, in comparison to others."
Nikita Anand Dutta, who was crowned Miss India in 2003, says, "Girls from an army background are tougher, calmer, and in control of their emotions. We know how to deal with stress. Our parents get posted in remote areas of India, where we naturally get trained to be tough survivors, adapt to new situations and people. The grooming and etiquette also come naturally, as we watch our mothers wear their clothes with grace, fathers adopt immaculate manners.
"Also, in the defence, the May Queen and Navy Queen contests are big. Most girls go through the grind before entering the Miss India contest," adds Dutta, whose father was a doctor with the Indian Army. Sen, who won in 1994, has often talked about her father, retired Wing Commander Subeer Sen, being instrumental in developing her oratory skills. She imbibed confidence in the defence environment, which helped her become Miss India and Miss Universe 1994, and eventually, take the bold decision to adopt two girls and become a single parent. Lara Dutta, who won the Miss India and Miss Universe crowns in 2000, comes from an air force background; and Priyanka Chopra, who was the first runner-up the same year — and went on to win the Miss World crown — comes from a family of army doctors.
Parents from defence background have a more liberated set of values than most civilians. That too adds to the inherent confidence and self-belief that these women display. No wonder they wear their crowns with such ease.
List of Miss Indias from defence background
Priyanka Chopra - Army
Lara Dutta - Air Force
Celina Jaitly- Army
Neha Dhupia - Navy
Sushmita Sen - Air Force
Pooja Batra- Army
Gul Panag - Army
Manpreet Brar - Army
Nikita Anand - Army
Ankita Shorey - Army
Kanishtha Dhankar - Navy
Hasleen Kaur - Army
Navneet Kaur Dhillon - Army
Sobhita Dhulipala - Navy