From winning the Miss Universe crown in 2000 to paving her way in Bollywood and now mentoring aspiring models for international beauty contests, Lara Dutta Bhupathi feels that, in India, people recognise models only after they win a crown internationally.
Lara is currently mentoring the candidates of Miss Diva, the winner of which will represent India at the Miss Universe pageant.
Citing the case of the reigning Miss World Manushi Chhillar, Lara told IANS: "Before her win, no one even knew anything about her. But when she won the title of Miss World 2017, everyone was like 'Oh my God', and started appreciating her."
According to the model-turned-actress, it is very important for people to know the candidates who are representing their country as it takes tremendous hard work to reach that position.
Lara, who was the second Indian after Sushmita Sen to win the Miss Universe crown, says that "India has been waiting far too long to bring the title back home".
"It has been 18 years since we have won the crown, now I want to pass on that crown to my successor. I was Miss Universe 2000, and since then, every year thousands of girls are undergoing a lot of pressure, hard work and training just to bring the title back. People should understand them and lend support to them," said the 40-year-old actress, who has been a part of the glamour world for almost two decades.
Also, to make people aware of what goes into the making of a beauty queen, Miss Diva Miss Universe is organising sub-contests in different cities.
Recalling her own modelling days and comparing them to the present day, Lara said: "Now everything has changed. Earlier, we had to do just a few photoshoots, but now there is social media which dictates everything. It's the social media that decides whether they accept a person or not, so now it has become tougher as girls have to do multi-tasking at each step."
While mentoring the girls, Lara is not just reliving her days, but also re-learning a lot.
"When I guide the girls, I never consider or look at myself as, 'Oh, I was the Miss Universe, I know everything'. To be honest, every day I am learning something new from these young girls. It is a give-and-take process. Be it in terms of outlook or the views, I am trying to understand these girls and their requirements," she added.
Lara finds herself "fortunate" to get an opportunity to mentor the models and prepare them for the Miss Universe contest as she feels there is no better person than her to train the girls as she has experienced it and knows what it really takes to be in that phase.
Asked about the negative social stereotyping associated with modelling, Lara, who is also a film producer, said: "Things are changing now; parents have become more liberal and are allowing their children to step into this field. And if there are still people who think that it is not a viable industry to be a part of, then I feel it is an outdated view.
"Every work comes with its own challenges, it depends on the person what choice to make and which path to follow. It is just that you have to be wise enough to decide. Also, now girls are breaking the stereotypical thinking, and are rewriting the rules."
"Today, women have more choices and have a bigger voice than earlier." - IANS
By Simran Sethi (Simran Sethi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)