India has done it again. On December 4, way past the ist Cinderella hour, four women in white paled away as the name Maiden India, the fifth of the lot, was called out. Yukta Mookhey had repeated the success which had been tasted by predecessors Aishwarya Rai in Sun City and Diana Hayden in Seychelles not so long ago. In the Queen's own country, the six-feet stunner strode off with the Miss World crown.
It was time to celebrate for the winning team comprising fashion designer Hemant Trivedi, Anjali Mukherjee, Dr Jamuna Pai, Mickey Mehta, Sabira Merchant, and of course, mastermind Pradeep Guha and Femina editor Sathya Saran. But jubilation, now, is something to which the team has got a lot used to. What had begun as a surprise package over five years ago has evolved into an almost surefire recipe for success.
The formula, which has been worked out to the last decimal of perfection, has, of late, been elbowing the Venezuelans out of the victory spot. Personalised food plans from Health Total; fitness and tapping the spiritual within at Body One; shaping up and 'losing weight around the hips' with Ramma Bans; turning questions in their pretty heads and tossing up politically right answers with Sabira Merchant, every step is sashayed towards achieving the victorious blend.
Or is it the creation of the perfect product for the supreme marketplace? With Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai, the code had been cracked. Being pretty was merely a prerequisite. Positioning and packaging were perceived to be of utmost importance. Consequently, a panel of professionals was roped in to build on the looks of the winner. The judges too, says Guha, the executive director of the Times Group and national director of the contest, have identified as to what the organisers are looking for. Sabira Merchant has compiled a bank of questions which she throws at the participants.
Avers Guha: 'We think of India as a big market. Currently, though it's small but recognition of its potential is important.' Rajesh Jain, the director of Pranav Securities, calls it a chicken-and-egg syndrome. Says he: 'The influence works both ways. India is perceived as a potential market and the Indian woman has been growing dynamically. A study done by Pathfinders in the '80s and subsequently in the '90s revealed the changing profile of the Indian woman. The hedonistic woman has at last come of age.'
And from the look of it, it's mostly to do with business, the changing character of the consumer and the shifting orientation of the market. The beauty business worth around Rs 1,500 crore in the country six years ago has today grown to over Rs 3,000 crore and can only spiral exponentially. Correspondingly, major international outfits have started making their presence felt. Amway and Oriflame through direct marketing and most of the others through exclusive outlets or counters at upmarket stores. Says Jain: 'L'Oreal, Maybelline, Aviance, Garnier Laboratories are but a few. Both basic and top-end cosmetics have been made available with price tags that are not hindering. Even though the volumes are not large, they are aware that the buyers are there.'
Further, the Indian beauty boom has been validated by the increasing tribe of ambassadresses for international brands from this part of the world Diana Hayden as the face of L'Oreal, Rhea Pillai for Piaget, Sushmita Sen for Seiko Epson computer printers, Aishwarya Rai for Longines.
So, it's market legitimacy once again. 'In fact, on the Longines webpage,' says fashion expert Meher Castellino, 'Aishwarya Rai shares the honour of place with other international models. That means we're being taken seriously.'
THE huge cosmetic companies are finished with the West. They have realised the huge market that is India and the fact that we have been winning just proves that India's time has come.' K. Nanjundaswamy of the Karnataka State Farmer's Association (ksfa), therefore, is not completely off the mark when he terms the Indian beauty-run as an 'mnc conspiracy'.
Former Miss India Nafisa Ali, who occupies her space on the other side of the divide, seems to agree with Nanjundaswamy, though obviously to take a sympathetic view of the contest. Says she: 'The Western world had always been wise to grooming and sponsorship of clothes. Their participants were sent with professional backing. We've now wizened up to that. Today, our girls are well-prepared to take on the various aspects of the contest.'
Meanwhile, the next batch of 26 beauties await their moment of glory as they go through the rigours. At the Khar Education Society in suburban Mumbai, they have finished with their workouts, have watched photographer Atul Kasbekar shoot Lisa Ray and are now reeling under the onslaught of questions flung at them by model Noyonika Chatterjee and Trivedi. 'What will you do during your one-year reign as Miss India?', goes one. 'What does the word 'beautiful' mean to you?', goes another.
But long before the rigours of training mould and package the woman into the perfect winner, the discerning eye of the selectors wins half the battle. Explains Guha: 'It begins with the selection of the contestants. We have a clear view of the international contest and are basically looking for a Miss Universe or a Miss World who happens to be living in India. In fact, anyone who gets past the selection process can have a crack at any of the international contests.'
The entries which land up with the organisers have, according to Saran, become more focused and indicate a qualitative rather than competitive growth. Says fitness trainer Mickey Mehta: 'It has become easy to predict a winner.'
The gameplan, therefore, is fail-proof an eye on the crown and to groom with that view.