The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Call of the crown

A mountaineering instructor, a practising lawyer, a fashion graduate, a management student ' and all keen to take a crack at the Vatika Honey & Saffron Soap Sananda Tilottama 2006 crown.

This is no longer about a passing fancy or stray peer pressure. Filling up the form for a beauty pageant is as much about a conscious career choice as it is about dreams in eyes, as much about strategy as it is about stardom.

And the ramp is definitely not a fill in the blank between the classroom and a career, between books and biye.

'Exactly,' stresses model-turned-grooming expert Nayanika Chatterjee. 'During our times we were lucky to get one show a month, but these days modelling is far from just time-pass. Girls can, without a doubt, make a proper career out of it.'

Modelling, she points out, is not part of the entertainment industry anymore where fashion shows were used as fillers in a musical show.

Nayanika, who also happens to be the Tilottama grooming in-charge, is on a mission these days: 'To get Calcutta a whole new set of models.'

And her present platform for Model Mission is 'east India's largest beauty pageant', Sananda Tilottama, now in its 10th year.

'The girls look styled and they are beginning to look groomed. Though there hasn't been much of a difference in their bodies, there is a noticeable change in their walk and posture,' observes Nayanika, a fortnight into the grooming crash course for 20 finalists.

Number and nature

The applications have undergone a makeover ' both in number and nature. While the Tilottama team confirms that preliminary applications have gone up phenomenally ' from 600 last year to 3,000 this year ' it adds that the quality of applications has surpassed expectations.

'We began 10 years ago with Bipasha Basu and Koena Mitra as part of the first gang. Things were different then, the girls were raw and unaware. Now, with such tremendous exposure, the overall look is global and the girls are much more confident and competitive,' reveals a Sananda spokesperson.

Try this for confident and competitive. 'I feel that Northeast India is a cut off, neglected part of the country; I have come here to show what we are really made of,' declares Mizo contestant Rochelle Zochuani Darkin.

The spirited style statements among Northeast girls prompted Tilottama to take a preliminary round to Guwahati this year for the first time.

Closer home, the profile of the Tilottama contestant is changing fast. She might still be naive and in need of guidance, but no longer is she fresh out of school or college with just stars in her eyes. Today, many professionals who know exactly what they want from life are signing up for the mega beauty contest.

And almost every application has the backing of family and friends. No more bunking college to enrol for a pageant on the sly. The preliminary rounds at ITC Sonar Bangla Sheraton & Towers had as many keyed-up contestants as moral-support pillars ' moms, sisters and boyfriends.

'I have the full support of my mother,' smiles Deepa Gupta, a Tilottama finalist and budding fashion designer.

'I am extremely proud that my daughter (Rochelle) has been selected as a Tilottama finalist and I am sure that Calcutta can bring out the best in her,' gushes Nutei Darkin from Guwahati.

It's not just the glamour and glitz, but also the grind that is winning parental approval. Harsha Doshi, mother of 16-year-old Prachi, is very happy about the 'grooming par excellence' her daughter is receiving from the likes of Nayanika and Ria Mitra, also a former model.

And Prachi, a state-level swimmer, has more than one reason to smile: 'Everyone is very happy with me. Earlier, I was forced to study after swimming practice but now they pamper me!'

The fact that more and more parents ' particularly mothers ' are all for their daughter's decisions allows the girls to be more confident and less pressured about their ramp debut.

Moumi Banerjee, a practising lawyer, is studying for her LLM exams while going through the Tilottama routine. 'Once kids grow up, it's their call. I will always support her decision,' says mother Sudipta.

Spotlight and stardom

Another departure from the past is that the Tilottama age-bracket of 16 to 24 no longer seems to have its marriage meter ticking overtime. While most seem to be in no rush to settle and slow down, some like Bharati are in the contest with the 'supportive approval' of her fiance.

If the immediate family is increasingly supportive of a girl's decision to covet a beauty crown, even the neighbourhood has turned far more friendly towards 'fashion'.

With reality shows on television bringing stardom to the next-door neighbour and fashion emerging as a high-profile industry, being a Tilottama finalist bestows instant celebrityhood on the young girls.

From 'being recognised' in their favourite hangouts to 'being mobbed on the building staircase' life has changed almost overnight for the wannabe beauty queens.

Ask Madhabilata Mitra, a IIIrd-year BA student, about it. 'It's unbelievable' I have such a full-on eager audience every evening when I return home, wanting to know minute-by-minute details about my day's Tilottama training.'

Prachi already feels like a superstar. 'All the building kids want to know me better,' she grins. Cousins and friends who otherwise hardly keep in touch are calling and connecting.

So, wanting to be a beauty queen in Calcutta 2006 isn't such a bad idea after all.

Shradha Agarwal

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