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Beauty queen in town


SHE WAS nursing an aching tooth at the Kochi hotel room, her home for two nights, where she takes a much-needed break from her frenetic, action-packed life. But Neha Dhupia puts up a brave front and declares, "My toothache doesn't really matter. What I love is to be with you people".

It's been a year since she was crowned Miss India-International and you realise it doesn't take long to learn the tricks of the trade. We talked a bit about Kochi, the city of her birth, the pristine beauty of its backwaters, the prawns that her throbbing jaw did not allow her to bite into, and finally the conversation veered to herself.

Neha is currently in the midst of shooting for her maiden film, Qayamat, where she stars opposite "the highly professional and experienced" Ajay Devgan. Her first foray into the film world and she had only the best to report. "Bollywood is a highly professional place. There is no time for anything except work out here. Specially now, when projects are limited and the industry is teeming with stars. You have to be lucky enough to fit the bill, be the flavour of the season, in a sense."

Others have done it before her and many are sure to follow. So is filmdom the natural path for the winner of a beauty queen contest to take? "You know it is not only about looks and beauty. It's a gruelling session at the sets. The director wants the perfect shot and you have to give it to him, even if your feet hurt and you look like hell." But what about talent and the ability to act? Are beauty queens naturally gifted with the art to perform? "You have to put in your 200 percent into a shot," she says with the wisdom of a veteran.

Meanwhile, hard work and ramrod discipline comes easy to this cantonment kid whose father is a serving naval officer. Years of frequent moves from one town to the other meant fresher, newer challenges, which had to be faced head-on. Logically, a cosmopolitan sensibility became a part of the profile. You would think this kind of rearing would make one confident and self-assured. Yet, it wasn't always like this. Hear this. "In all my years of growing up, I never took part in a single Navy Queen or May Queen contest. I just didn't have the guts. I was so afraid of making a fool of myself in front of known people." Participating in the Miss India contest wasn't inevitable and there was no way she was going to rush headlong into it. It was an uphill struggle and months of practice because "I didn't want to bust this one up".

So what is it about a beauty pageant that has teenyboppers drooling? Some might say it occupies the top slot on a young girl's wish list. "Winning a title can boost your confidence like nothing else. It makes you think you can face the world, regardless of the hurdles. Moreover people start to take you more seriously. Suddenly you have a standing in society. You get to see places and the exposure is mind-boggling. Yet you have to keep your perspective. All this glamour has its pitfalls and that it is stressful is an understatement. My ultimate goal is happiness."

Having seen it all, Neha Dhupia feels that Malayali girls lack the right training to help them make a mark on the beauty scene. Their training is not enough and needs to be fine-tuned. Once that happens, the fashion and advertising agencies will take them seriously and beckon them. Neha who started her career as a model now limits herself to endorsements. She is the brand ambassador of Yamaha and the Sahara group.

The tête-à-tête over, Neha readies to leave. As a parting shot she says, "I know you want to ask me about marriage. I'll let you know in four years time. By then, if I'm not already married, at least I'll know who it's going to be."

The lady knows her mind; no matter what, she'll chart her own course.

S.K

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