“It is personality that matters, not height or skin colour” ; Ansi Kabeer – Miss South India Winner
Says the newly-crowned Manappuram Miss South India Ansi Kabeer who broke free from the shackles of inhibition and orthodoxy
Hailing from an orthodox Muslim family in Attingal, Thiruvananthapuram, it was but natural for Ansi Kabeer to be a no-nonsense front-bencher in school, too studious and bashful for any extra-curricular activities. As the only child to her parents – dad was a non-resident Keralite and mom a homemaker – love and care were there in abundance but ‘discipline’ figured high up on the parenting list. Ansi did not disappoint but delighted her parents by securing admission to an engineering college in Kazhakoottam, not far from her home.
Then it happened. Perhaps it was her height that made her seniors select her as the show-stopper for an inter-collegiate fashion show that they organised at the college. She was adjudged the ‘best model’. “There was no special prize or gift voucher but I felt exhilarated,” says Ansi. The show and the recognition left a deep impression on her. She realised, for the first time, that she was cut out for far more than a mere academic or professional career.
The journey of self-discovery and self-actualisation that began in college culminated in Ansi lifting the coveted Manappuram Miss South India 2021 title on August 27 at a colourful though compact beauty pageant held at the Le Meridien hotel in Coimbatore that saw her triumphing over 13 other pretty and talented lasses selected from the five southern states. “I am overwhelmed and happy,” she reacts to her selection but adds that the process was rather effortless than stressful for her. “Perhaps because I have participated in several other pageants before, I was confident and positive about the outcome,” she lets on but goes on to add that competition was intense. “During the day of grooming, I felt that everyone was equally deserving. But perhaps experience gave me an edge,” she says.
Besides her ambition to make a mark, it was her mom’s constant support and encouragement that catapulted her forward, despite the misgivings of relatives and acquaintances that she should instead be thinking of getting married and ‘settling down’. “I am the only girl who is yet to get married in our family and girls younger than me have become mothers. It is as though marriage and bringing up kids are the only purposeful things in life. I am against this mindset and wonder why none of them have raised their voice against it. The reason why I decided to take part in the pageants is to influence other girls and help them believe in themselves,” she says.
It was after she had been selected to join Infosys as a systems engineer and was waiting for her appointment letter that her mom spotted an ad in the Grihalakshmi magazine’s Face of Kerala contest and asked her to give it a shot. “I enrolled for this competition and took part in the auditions but did not make it to the final line-up. This contest made me realise how ungroomed I was. When every other girl carried a make-up kit, all I had was an eye-liner. I did not even know how to give a good ‘introduction’. I wanted to improve and prove a point to myself,” she says.
She then chanced across the Miss Malabar pageant, took part in it and finished as first runner-up. Then came the Lulu beauty fest where again she was adjudged first runner-up. Meanwhile, the Infosys call letter came and she took up her job at Mysore from where she was later transferred to Thiruvananthapuram. But then, hardly happy with her partial success at the first two pageants, she was determined to become the eventual winner when she signed up for Miss Kerala and fulfilled that dream in 2019, thanks to a new confidence and devil-may-care attitude.
What is it that makes a girl stand out at such pageants? Ansi explains: “I think there is a misconception about beauty pageants among many. I think the word ‘beauty’ should be deleted because every girl is beautiful in her own way. It is not possible to judge people based on their beauty and award them the crown. I think it is personality that matters. It is all about what you are and who you are.”
If this is true, then why is height considered a pre-requisite for contestants? “Yes, I had this doubt too. Pageant managers have told me that this is mainly because, in international competitions, contestants who represent other countries are usually very tall, so our girls need to match up to them. But then, in this year’s Miss Universe competition, Miss Australia was quite short. In my personal opinion, neither height nor skin colour or anything should be a criterion. One’s true self is one’s beauty, in my view. What won the titles for me is my originality, not my beauty. Beauty is subjective.”
What a title victory does is to give one visibility, she says. “It helps you get out of your comfort zone and do something new,” she says. Is she planning to follow on the footsteps of all those beauty queens who have tried their hand at acting? “Soon after the Miss Kerala title, there were some film offers. But I did not want to rush into it. But yes, if a significant role comes along, I may take it up.”
Yet another passion is travelling and she has just returned from a Mysore trip. “I like the work-from-home mode since it allows me to travel and work from anywhere,” she says. How does she plan to strike a balance between her job and other interests? “My job provides me with a stable income, so I don’t intend to give it up. It is possible to earn a stable income from fashion and showbiz provided you are ready to take up all the assignments that come your way. But I am choosy when it comes to many things including the kind of outfits that I would be required to wear. While doing shoots, I make it clear that I am not okay with revealing clothes,” she says.
Is Miss India contest the next stop for her? “Someone had suggested it earlier but I didn’t take the plunge. But I will not hold back now and may go for it,” she says with confidence.
In conclusion, she has this to say about success and failure. “I have failed so many times. People only see your success. For success to happen, there has to be thousands of failures preceding it. So, every girl must step out of her comfort zone and try something new. Experiencing failure is also a success. For me, all those girls who reached the final stages were winners, not just the person who walked away with the crown,” she says.
Shy & Overweight to Confident,
Fit and Driven
Chandralekha, the first runner-up at Miss South India, is determined to go places
Chandralekha Nath, the first runner-up at the keenly contested Miss South India competition organised by Pegasus, is delighted with her performance and shows no remorse in missing the title by a whisker. “I am happy that I could make it to the top three as the competition was very tough,” says the girl who started her stint with the pageants by enrolling and winning the Miss Queen Kerala competition, another Pegasus event, last year. “I am happy with my journey so far and my next aim is to take part, and perhaps win, the forthcoming Queen of India contest.” The Queen of India contest is a national pageant organised by Pegasus Events.
From childhood, Chandralekha had a dream of taking part in beauty competitions and acting in films. “I used to watch national and international beauty contests on TV along with my mother,” she says. Understanding this secret desire, her mother who is an entrepreneur, egged her on to take part in such shows but Chandralekha lacked the confidence to go for it. “I was overweight and shy. Though it was a passion, I did not have the courage to be on stage or be photographed. I did not take part in any fashion show even at the college level,” she says. “The only time I took part in any contest during college was a group Thiruvathira competition for a youth fest,” says Chandralekha, who is a trained Bharatnatyam dancer.
Finally, after completing her MBA from Christ University, Bangalore, she decided that it was now or never. “While the pandemic put paid to many people’s plans, for me it provided a lot of time to prepare myself both physically and mentally,” she says. “I wasn’t confident about my body. I also used to panic at the thought of public speaking. But after my post-graduation, I told myself that if I at least did not make an attempt, I would regret it later.” It was during a pageant training class that she came to know about the Miss Queen Kerala. After winning this title, she gained an automatic entry to Miss South India.
She now has her task cut out and plans to enroll for the national-level pageants which are the stepping stones for Miss World and Miss Universe. “It requires a lot of training, both physical and mental. Physical fitness plays a very important role because you are presenting yourself before such a big audience. People may think that taking part in pageants is easy and that one has to just smile and walk around but then to put yourself out there like that and be judged is very difficult. You are not only judged on your looks but on your mental abilities and overall personality. How you speak, how you walk and how you carry yourself – everything needs to be moulded. I still need to work a lot on myself,” she says.
Acting is also on the cards, she says, but she has put a temporary pause to that aim. I want to finish with the pageant run and then take it up. “I did a small part in a movie that is yet to be released,” she reveals. Surely, the journey has only just begun for Chandralekha.
“What makes the difference is your aura on stage”
Shwetha Jayaram has a keen understanding about pageants
and she wants to pass on that knowledge to other aspirants
Shwetha Jayaram is who you would describe as a girl of eclectic interests. Pursuing her final year of graduation in chemistry in Sacred Hearts College in Kochi, she is naturally interested in science but also likes to read about psychology, human emotions and spirituality. In school and college, she has been active in public speaking, acting and recitation. Second runner-up in Miss South India 2021, she has already taken part in five beauty pageants, does a bit of modelling and is slowly establishing herself as a social media influencer.
“Miss South India this year was a very nice experience for me,” she says. “I took part in this pageant last year, too, but I could not make it to the top 12. So, it was truly fulfilling and I intend to participate in the Queen of India contest whenever it happens.”
It was in 2016 that Shwetha developed an interest in beauty pageants after watching episodes of Miss India on YouTube. “I was always attracted by the fact that pageants are a platform where you get to know more about yourself. It also merges a lot of my interests together. I love performing on stage, I love fashion, experience new things and meet new people. Pageantry is something that amalgamates all these things together. Once I started participating, I realised that it really improved my confidence and enhanced my life skills in different ways. I don’t know if I can make a career out of it yet since I am way too young to know it. But it is something I truly enjoy doing. Preparing for pageants, performing and all the rest of it have truly transformed my personality in a very positive way,” she says.
What separates the winner from the other contestants? “When it comes to a pageant, it is all about how the judges perceive you,” she explains. “It all depends on who performs best on stage on that particular night. Personality, your smile, it could be any aspect that could tilt the scales. As the judges told us, it is often a half mark or quarter mark that can bring you down a position.”
She goes on to add: “I think what makes a difference is your aura on stage and that comes when you truly believe in yourself. No matter what dress you are wearing, what make-up, what your height is or complexion, it doesn’t matter. If you are confident from within, it will truly show on stage. That’s what the judges will be able to connect with. That connection is what you are trying to establish while you are on stage. That I think is what decides a winner.”
With such a clear understanding of what goes into a pageant, it is not surprising that she aspires to be a pageant groomer someday. “I would love to share my knowledge with other girls and help them believe in themselves and help them win,” she says. She is still figuring out which of her various interests she would like to pursue in the long term and perhaps she would multi-task with a corporate career along with one in glam and showbiz.
She pooh-poohs the idea that pageants and fashion fests project an unrealistic standard of beauty for women. “Pageants don’t objectify women,” she says. “It is people who objectify them. If you see the women who participate, each one of them is different. Even when on stage, with a full face of make-up and all glammed up, we are still individuals with flaws and we are as imperfect as anyone else. As a pageant winner, what I try to establish is a relatability quotient. Whether through my social media or otherwise, I want to show that pageants are not just about the glam side of things, that there is a lot of hard work that girls put into it, that it is a place where you need a lot of confidence. In a world that is primarily patriarchal, pageants really empower women to be themselves and to be confident in who they are. It is a platform where you introspect about yourself and gain self-awareness. When people realise this, the wrong perception will start changing.”