Miss Universe 2023: Meet the four contestants with Indian heritage

Mixed-race beauty queens are making a name for themselves in international pageants

Miss Universe South Africa Bryoni Govender pays homage to Indian and Zulu cultures with a reinvented sari. Photo: @designer_casey_jeanne / Instagram
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Beauty queens of mixed heritage are no strangers to the Miss Universe stage. This includes reigning champion R'Bonney Gabriel, a Filipina-American who will crown her successor at the finale in El Salvador on Saturday.

The pageant-adoring Philippines often sends mixed-heritage representatives to Miss Universe. Pia Wurtzbach, who won in 2015, is part-German, while Catriona Gray has Scottish heritage and clinched the title in 2019.

This year, there are three contestants with Indian origins, plus Miss Universe India herself.

Miss Universe Guyana: Lisa Narine

The beauty queen represented the region of Pomeroon-Supenaam and her win marked Guyana's return to the Miss Universe stage after a five-year hiatus.

Narine is a radio show host and creative co-ordinator. She is also in her final year at the University of Guyana where she is studying international relations.

A frequent pageant joiner, Narine emerged as a runner-up at the Miss Global International in 2021. In the same year, she also competed in Miss India Guyana, a national contest for women from the Indian diaspora. She also represented her country at Miss Top Model International last year.

Miss Universe Singapore: Priyanka Annuncia

The Singaporean model has a degree in law and criminology from Murdoch University. She works as a private investigator, mostly dealing with human trafficking cases.

She has a clothing line and has worked as a boxing instructor and public speaking coach.

Annuncia's win made her the first beauty queen to represent Singapore at two major international pageants, Miss Universe this year and Miss Supranational in 2018, where she won various awards such as Miss Congeniality and Miss Photogenic.

Miss Universe South Africa: Bryoni Govender

Govender, who is considered front-runner in this year's Miss Universe pageant, was born in South Africa to parents of Indian descent.

The model and lawyer is the first beauty queen of Indian descent to represent South Africa since 1998 when Kerishnie Naiker represented the country in the contest.

At the time, Naiker's advocacy included putting a spotlight on the large population of South Africans of Indian ancestry.

During this year's national costume round, Govender sported a new take on a sari with Zulu beading and traditional tribal patterns, effectively fusing Indian and African motifs.

“It is an accurate reflection of who I am and represents my rich and diverse cultural heritage,” said Govender.

Miss Universe India: Shweta Sharda

No list would not be complete without Miss Universe India herself.

Shweta Sharda was born in Chandigarh and moved to Mumbai to follow her dreams of conquering the world of entertainment.

She has since appeared in several reality shows, including Dance India Dance and Dance Deewane. Her stint as a choreographer in the reality show Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa led her to work with Bollywood stars including Deepika Padukone, Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif.

Shutting down naysayers

While mixed-race contestants exemplify a multicultural modern world, there are some sceptics of this beauty pageant trend.

When Gray won, critics were quick to question whether she was “Filipino enough”, mostly based on her looks. Responding to them, she said she was representing “the diverse Filipina beauty”.

“We are not just one kind of beauty any more, and if I can open up that conversation, that’s great,” Gray said in an interview with Philippines magazine Preview.

In 2015, Japan crowned its first Miss Universe representative with African-American heritage, Ariana Miyamoto, who faced the same criticisms for “not being Japanese enough”. Similar to Gray, the Japanese beauty queen used her position as a way to break antiquated cultural perceptions.

Updated: November 18, 2023, 7:04 AM