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‘Youth icons are born through beauty pageants’: Miss Universe 2021 Harnaaz Sandhu

"Beauty pageants empower women and make us confident about the fact that we can bring about a change in the society," the Chandigarh-based actor and model said

Written by Prerna Mittra | New Delhi |
January 17, 2022 12:30:31 pm
Miss Universe 2021 winner Harnaaz Sandhu, Harnaaz Sandhu news, Harnaaz Sandhu interview, Harnaaz Sandhu Miss Universe winning moment, Harnaaz Sandhu pictures, Harnaaz Sandhu pageant winner, Harnaaz Sandhu actor and model, Harnaaz Sandhu life after winning Miss Universe title, India's Harnaaz Sandhu, latest Harnaaz Sandhu news, who is Harnaaz Sandhu, indian express newsMiss Universe winner Miss India Harnaaz Sandhu in the Red Sea resort of Eilat, Israel. (REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

Before she flew out of the country to take over New York City — her residence for the next several months, where she will discharge duties as Miss Universe 2021 — India’s Harnaaz Sandhu had a quick chat with indianexpress.com, during which she discussed many things.

From her thoughts during the final moments of the crowning ceremony, to her faith, the cat impression that became viral on the internet, and whether beauty pageants promote skewed ideas of beauty, the pageant winner candidly talked about it all, dishing out plans about what she intends to do next.

Excerpts from the interaction:

Moments before they announced the winner, what went on in your mind? We also saw you touch the crown in reverence before wearing it.

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I believe that this is a part of our Indian culture, that whatever we want to do in our life, we need to be grateful and start that journey with the blessings of the Almighty. And I have literally prayed for the crown; it is not only about being Miss Universe, but also about having the responsibility to bring a change in your society. So, before I started my journey, I wanted to take the blessings of the crown.

I was confused with my thoughts, thinking, ‘What if they declare India [as the winner], what if they don’t?’ I was waiting for Steve [Harvey] to say ‘India’, and when he did, I got emotional.

Fashion designer Saisha Shinde, who designed your finale gown, said you wanted to wear something sustainable. What does sustainability in fashion mean to you?

Saisha is a wonderful woman. I am thankful that she effortlessly worked on that gown. She listened to me and devoted her time to this. To me, it is not about the kind of gown or makeup you are wearing, it is about how confident you are and your beliefs. We are the youth of tomorrow and we need to understand the sensitivities. The planet is getting disturbed due to our irresponsible behaviour. We need to change our habits right now; if we want to see a future, we need to save the present.

You were born the year Lara Dutta was crowned Miss Universe (2000). Growing up, did you harbour a dream of participating in beauty pageants?

Honestly, no. But I always looked up to [beauty pageant winners]. Lara Dutta, Sushmita Sen and Priyanka Chopra have inspired me. I never wanted to copy them, but I expected to learn from their experiences. However, at 17, when I was in college, I realised that this is something I love doing. That I want to be an inspiration for young women around the world, do something in life and become unstoppable.

Besides the actors, did you have other role models in life?

I look up to Natasha Grover, the National Director of Femina Miss India and Miss Diva, for the amount of hard work she has put in, and for having a humble attitude. She is the one who really deserves to enjoy all the victories, especially this one. It takes a lot to build someone from scratch and she is doing a wonderful job.

Beauty pageants are often accused of promoting a superficial idea of beauty. What do you have to say to that?

I have seen a huge transformation in myself. All of us come from different communities and cultures. These contests empower women and make us confident about the fact that we can bring about a change in the society. I think this is the way we want to tell everyone that beauty pageants are not only about looking beautiful — that is just a small part of it. The major focus has always been on the personality, the question-answer sessions, finding out how you would deal with a situation, and what your agenda is. Youth icons are born through beauty pageants.

We saw you imitating a cat on the international stage, as one of your talents. The video went viral on the internet — did you expect it?

(Laughs) I was not expecting that. But, I felt it was the time to showcase your talents. Steve Harvey is such a spontaneous personality, he is one of my favourites. At that moment [when he asked me to imitate a cat], I was making the most out of it. I was happy he asked me to do it, because in the process, we broke the stereotype associated with a beauty pageant — that it is not all about being perfect, but about being confident. I was so comfortable after that.

What can we next expect from you?

Life is unpredictable, and I am not sure what will happen next. But, my passion is acting and I want to follow it. I want to be an actor who inspires people and breaks stereotypes of what women are and can be, by choosing strong characters.

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