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‘Time spent in India changed me’

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Twenty-year-old Suhani Gandhi from Bedford will be representing the UK for Miss India Worldwide competition in Dubai this week. In an exclusive interview with Anjana Parikh from Asian Lite, the winner of Miss India Europe title and an LLB student at the University of Birmingham, Gandhi talks about the three traits that a beauty queen needs to have. They are talent, charisma and a warm personality; genuineness and humility will shine through and people do value that.

 

How does it feel to have been selected for the 23rd Miss India Worldwide competition?

Suhani: It feels wonderful. This pageant has provided a great platform and stepping stone for many young women in the past so it’s a huge honour to be a part of it. I hadn’t planned on even applying, but I guess destiny just takes it’s own path sometimes.

Can you tell us in brief about this beauty pageant?

Suhani: Well, this beauty pageant isn’t a typical pageant. There is no swim-wear round and the focus is more on talent rather than your appearance or the way your body looks. There will be 4 rounds; one evening gown, Indian wear, talent round and question and answer session. During the training week, we’ll have experts flown over to help us prepare. Forty other girls from different countries will be participating so it will be interesting to meet Indian girls from all over the world. The pageant shall be aired on Colors TV and MTV India. Or you can also follow my journey in Dubai through www.facebook.com/suhanigandhipage

What made you enter the competition?

Suhani: For me, it’s all about the experience. When I took part in Miss India Europe, winning it was a humbling achievement, but the memories and experiences in Barcelona were equally special. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to show your passion and talents on an international platform. I think one of the fears that most people live with is the fear of being judged. When you’re in a competition like this, that fear evaporates because you are constantly being judged and you realise that it no longer matters what other people think of you. I’m not sure whether the other girls went through this, but I certainly did.  I had a positive experience taking part in Miss India Europe and I thought why not expand it further and challenge myself more to a worldwide platform on a bigger level.

If you win the competition, what do you plan to achieve? What are your goals?

Suhani: It would be a huge honour to win this competition however the winning would come with a lot of responsibility. I don’t simply see this title as a glamorous platform. For me, winning would mean making a difference in society. An opportunity that has already come my way is being part of an NGO in India called Adarana Seva Samiti. This summer, I shall be going to India to make a series of documentaries with them about social issues that need to be further highlighted in India to catalyse change.

Do platforms such as these help bridge the gap between the UK and India?

Suhani: I think to some extent they do. British Asians can sometimes feel trapped between two different cultures; they don’t feel completely British or completely Indian. But platforms like these promote both cultures simultaneously.

How did you get into modeling?

Suhani: As I child, I was always drawn to creative things; be it playing an instrument, dancing, acting, painting or writing. I was actually very shy as a kid, and I think performing was a form of expression that I enjoyed and was more comfortable with. Modelling was something that I had been approached for as a child/teenager and I did a few jobs here and there just for fun and pocket money. The first big step that I took into the “glamour world” as such was when I decided to take a gap year and go to India for a year to pursue acting and modelling further.

You are an LLB student. Modelling and Law are equally demanding fields. How do you manage time for both?

Suhani: The key to balance anything in life is to prioritize. When exams were coming up, I turned down all the work that was coming my way and gave the exams my all. Luckily, Law requires a lot of self-study and reading, so I usually take my books to auditions or shoots because there’s a lot of waiting around or travelling to do. But there’s still quite a few compromises that I’ve had to make to fit both my studies and my career in, one of them being my social life which I’ve had to quiet down quite significantly. For the Miss India Europe finals in Barcelona, I remember that I had taken an essay to do on the plane. It’s all possible, but requires good organisation skills and a few sacrifices here and there.

Isn’t it challenging?

Suhani: It can be a bit stressful at times because I like to give everything my best, for example I simply won’t allow myself to go onto stage semi-prepared, or go into an exam without properly revising everything through- I’m a bit of a perfectionist in that sense. But I think the two contrasting worlds keep me on my toes. It means I rarely get bored. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

How has the gap year which you spent in India helped you to nurture and enrich your personality and outlook?

Suhani: It completely changed me. I was 18 when I was living there in India alone. The culture, the language, the people, the way of life was quite alien to me and I had to adapt to that. Taking on responsibility and becoming completely independent in a different country always enriches you. I think my gap year made me grow up faster than most people of my age. When I went to the university afterwards, it was a bit of a step down as I found that most things were being spoon-fed and student life was definitely a lot easier. But the gap year has also made me a lot more sensitive and grateful for everything in my life. When you see people living below the poverty line, it really puts your life into perspective. All the petty things that we complain about just seem irrelevant after my experience in India.

What does success mean to you?

Suhani: I think inner success and outer success are two different things. Outer success is linked to achievements according to me. And inner success is about staying happy, content, loving your close ones and really living your life. It’s ideal to have a combination of the two. There’s no point in winning an Oscar and seeing the heights of success and fame if behind that success is dissatisfaction, loneliness, addictions, desperation and emptiness. Hollywood presents us a multitude of examples of celebrities who had money, success, fame and power, but in the end it was self-destructive and they ended up committing suicide. For me, that is not success.

In order to win beauty pageants, what are the other virtues/ characters one needs to have besides the physical appearance?

Suhani: I think the three most important traits that a beauty queen needs to have is talent, charisma and a warm personality. Genuineness and humility shine through and people do value that. Being a model and presenting yourself in a pageant are two different things. For example, pageants require public speaking skills, talent to show case, staying up to date with current affairs and having an opinion on issues.

What is your message to aspiring youngsters who want to make their careers in the glamour world?

Suhani: I think the glamour world is quite unpredictable- you can’t be in it forever, especially a modelling career, so it’s important to have other skills and careers that you also enjoy. Take it as an experience or an experiment- it might not be what you are expecting. As they say “all that glitters is not gold”.  It’s a world of two extremes; you’ll get a lot of compliments as well as a lot of criticism. For that reason, it’s important to be very strong from the inside, grounded, and focused on what it is that you are doing and why you are doing it. I think the toughest thing is not allowing other people’s opinions to become your reality. At the end of the day, I believe that you are neither the best nor the worst in anything in this world. Someone, somewhere, will always be better or worse than you. So when you accept this fact, you open yourself up to your own individuality and you live for yourself, not for comparison with others.

Any plans to knock the doors of Bollywood?

Suhani: Well, I’ve completed an acting course at Anupam Kher’s institute in Mumbai and have performed in many main lead theatre shows in India and England also. Around about the time where my gap year was about to finish, I started getting offers from Hindi, Telugu and Tamil films. Some of them were good scripts but I know that a career in Bollywood requires full attention and commitment, and I wasn’t ready to give up my education for those opportunities yet but you never know, maybe in the future.