ABU DHABI // South Indian Nivetha Pethuraj was crowned winner of the annual Miss India UAE pageant on Saturday night.
“This is my dream. I’ve wanted to enter pageants since I was five years old and this is like a dream come true,” the 23-year-old from Chennai said.
“I want to pursue a career in acting and modelling and this is going to help me a lot.”
Ms Pethuraj is an alumna of Our Own Indian School in Dubai and holds a management degree from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.
She works as a VIP attendant for fashion brands.
She beat 15 other contestants to the title. The competition was open to all single Indian women between the ages of 18 and 25 years who reside in the UAE.
“She was a complete package,” said Shonal Rawat, former Miss Asia Pacific who helped judge the pageant with other Indian celebrities. “She had poise and presence.”
The contestants spent one week training for the pageant held at Al Raha Beach Hotel in Abu Dhabi, with some sessions lasting up to 12 hours.
Their transformation, at the hands of expert hairstylists, choreographers and fashion designers, was broadcast in a video presentation during the event showing before and after photos.
“Most of them are new to this profession, so what we’re trying to do is to show them the business,” said Eisha Ramrakhiani, spokeswoman for the event.
“Most of them are very keen to get into the world of modelling and acting, to try out for auditions and things like that, so we’re prepping them. We are training them how to walk, how to groom themselves, how to talk, how to audition well when they go for castings.”
The first round of the pageant featured the young women in high heels and traditional Indian dresses in bold reds, pinks and orange adorned in gold detailing and brilliant chandelier earrings. Many wore dazzling maang tikkas, an Indian hair ornament that dangles over the forehead.
Then came one of the most nerve-racking rounds, in which each woman strides to centre stage, faces the audience of about 250 admirers under hot spotlights and briefly introduces herself.
For a couple of the contestants, the pressure was enough to make them repeat or forget their lines, sometimes standing in awkward silence. The sympathetic audience cheered them in these moments, sometimes helping then to refocus.
“It’s hard enough coming up on stage in front of hundreds of people, but when you do it with eight layers of make-up and five-inch heels, believe it, that’s a task in itself,” said Malavika Varadan Sharma of Dubai radio station City 101.6, who acted as co-host for the event.
In the second round, the young women showed off their Bollywood dance moves in a synchronised number set to a compilation of musical hits. Finally, they paraded in evening gowns before the judges eliminated all but five contestants.
The final five were put through a question-and-answer session in which they were asked about the battle of the sexes, retirement policies in India and choices they have made that changed their lives.
One simple question that elicited a complex answer from one of them was: “Where is home?”
“To me my heart belongs in India, definitely, but I cannot leave the life I have over here and go back because of the comfort that the UAE has given me and I don’t believe any other place can ever do that,” said Jyotsna Arora, 23.
“My dance, my engineering, basically my entire life, who I am right now is because of the UAE, so I owe a lot. So my heart might be in Delhi, but my soul, my everything is in the UAE.”
Ms Arora was second runner-up and Stephanie Lahole, 18, was crowned first runner-up. Ms Pethuraj will represent the UAE at the Miss India Worldwide competition in Mumbai this September.