Beauty and intelligence help Indian women win three major pageants this year

The New Paper New Face 2014: Diya Prabhakar. -- PHOTO: DESMOND LIM
The New Paper New Face 2014: Diya Prabhakar. -- PHOTO: DESMOND LIM
Miss Universe Singapore 2014: Ms Rathi Menon is a pharmaceutical technician at an animal hospital. -- PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Miss Universe Singapore 2014: Ms Rathi Menon is a pharmaceutical technician at an animal hospital. -- PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Miss World Singapore 2014: Ms Dalreena Poonam Gill Ganesan is a football referee. -- PHOTO: ICON GROUP COMMUNICATIONS
Miss World Singapore 2014: Ms Dalreena Poonam Gill Ganesan is a football referee. -- PHOTO: ICON GROUP COMMUNICATIONS

Beauty and intelligence help three Indians win Miss World Singapore, Miss Universe Singapore and The New Paper New Face this year

It has been a good year for Indian beauty queens in Singapore, with three of them clinching the titles at high-profile pageants here.

In August, 24-year-old Rathi Menon was crowned Miss Universe Singapore 2014. The following month saw Ms Dalreena Poonam Gill Ganesan, 20, winning the Miss World Singapore 2014 sash. Then last month, The New Paper New Face 2014 title went to 15-year-old Diya Prabhakar.

Judges of the three contests praise the winners not just for their looks but also their intelligence.

Mr Errol Pang, national director of Miss Universe Singapore, who was among the judges at the competition, says Ms Menon, who is a pharmaceutical technician at an animal hospital, had great poise and spoke very well.

Plastic surgeon Woffles Wu, a judge at Miss World Singapore, says Ms Ganesan has a beautiful face. He also likes her intelligent, sincere answers and the fact that she is a football referee.

Ms Ganesan, who was featured in last week's SundayLife!, is the youngest of three qualified female football referees here and has been officiating football matches in schools since she was 17. She plans to join the Singapore Police Force after the Miss World finals in London next month.

Ms Sara Chan, a finalist of The New Paper New Face contest in 2008 and a judge at this year's contest, says it was the 1.83m-tall Ms Prabhakar's physique that made her stand out. "She's the tallest of the contestants and she's very slim. She already has the model package."

While it is a coincidence that three top contests this year have yielded Indian winners, judges say Indian women have features which give them an edge.

Dr Wu says: "The Indian face combines the best of Western and Eastern features and has a pan-global appeal. They have good facial vertical height, high cheekbones and thick lips. That's why they have done so well in beauty pageants through the decades."

Some Indians who did well at global contests include Bollywood stars Aishwarya Rai, the 1994 Miss World winner; and Sushimita Sen, who was crowned Miss Universe that same year.

Ms Menon, however, believes it is her personality that worked to her advantage. "It's the entire package that counts," she says.

leawee@sph.com.sg


MISS UNIVERSE SINGAPORE 2014

She may love her dresses and heels but Miss Universe Singapore 2014 Rathi Menon, 24, is most at ease when riding her 400cc Honda Super Four motorcycle in T-shirt and jeans.

The 1.73m-tall beauty, who weighs 53kg, received her motorbike licence when she was 19.

"I love the feeling of being in control of something that some people may see as being tough for a woman to handle," she says of her 170kg bike.

Her dream is to own a 1,340cc Suzuki Hayabusa, which weighs 250kg.

Her father, a 69-year-old security guard, was supportive of her buying a motorbike with her own savings but she took at least three months to convince her mother, "the stricter one". The 62-year-old works as a trainer at a data storage company.

Ms Menon has an older brother, a 30-year-old operations executive, and an older sister, 28, a staff nurse whom she lets ride pillion sometimes.

She says she has never been harassed on the road.

"In fact, I get a lot of support. Male riders often give me the thumbs-up when I pull up beside them and pedestrians smile and wave at me. Once, a group of women tourists clapped and cheered me on."

Since attending a talk on study techniques by Singapore entrepreneur Adam Khoo about 10 years ago, she has been wanting to live her life to the fullest by constantly challenging herself.

Joining the Miss Universe Singapore pageant was one such challenge, as doing the catwalk and posing for the camera were things she had never tried before.

She did not expect to win as this was her first pageant. "I think what made me stand out were my determination and passion. I did not know how to catwalk but I practised three to four times a week for 1½ hours till I became one of the better ones," she says.

The best thing that has happened since her win was having strangers come up to congratulate her. "It made me feel so encouraged," she says.

On the flip side, she has read online comments about how she did not deserve to win, but she is not losing sleep over them.

"People have a right to say what they feel. I have always taken criticism constructively."

Ms Menon, who is single and describes herself as a "people person", wants to become a human resource specialist and a motivational speaker like Mr Khoo.

She is working as a pharmaceutical technician at Mount Pleasant Vet Centre and hopes to work more with people.

She has a diploma in chemical and pharmaceutical technology from Nanyang Polytechnic, and is doing a part-time degree in human resource management at the Singapore Institute of Management.

"I find that many Singaporeans do not look forward to going to work. As a human resource specialist, I hope to help people find jobs they can be passionate about," she says.

She is now on leave to prepare for the Miss Universe pageant, which takes place in the city of Doral Miami, Florida, on Jan 25.

She thinks she stands as good a chance as any other contestant and promises to do her best.

"I am looking forward to making new friends and learning about their culture. I hope that our bond goes beyond Miami."


THE NEW PAPER NEW FACE 2014

Diya Prabhakar used to hate being the tallest kid in school.

She was already 1.75m tall when she was in Primary 6 and by Secondary 2, she had hit her current height of 1.82m.

"People didn't like to come up to me because they felt I looked intimidating. I had few friends," says the 15-year-old, who beat 19 other hopefuls last month to be crowned The New Paper New Face 2014.

She also hated shopping for clothes because she had problems finding pieces that fit.

Her father Annamalai Prabhakar, 48, a director of a restaurant group, and mother Asha, 46, a housewife, are not exceptionally tall, but her 18-year-old brother Siddarth, who is doing an International Baccalaureate diploma at St Joseph's Institution Senior School, is 1.92m tall. Her mother's younger brother is almost 2m tall.

But after Diya ventured into modelling two years ago, she no longer hated being tall.

She was at a fashion show at a mall with her parents during a family holiday in Bangalore, India, in 2012 when Indian fashion choreographer Prasad Bidapa spotted her.

"He asked me to go to his office the next day. The following day, I was on stage modelling in the mall."

She loved modelling from the start. "I love being on stage. I love the 30 seconds when the spotlight is on me and everyone is looking at me. It makes me feel so special."

When she returned to Singapore, she signed up with home-grown modelling agency Looque with her parents' blessings.

Fashion director Daniel Boey, 49, took her under his wing and helped to groom her.

He says: "I always believe that models are born and not made and Diya is a perfect example of that. She's perfectly proportioned, has great height, lovely skin and an amazing personality and stage presence."

Describing herself as "very shy", Diya says modelling has helped boost her confidence.

The Tampines Secondary student, who sat her O levels last month, says: "In the past, I wouldn't dare to ask teachers questions in class but now I shout out answers."

She has also grown more at ease in social settings. "In the past, I didn't know what to say to people but I am more comfortable with small talk now."

Diya, who turns 16 in December, joined the annual contest by The New Paper after she was approached by the organiser. But it took her parents about two to three weeks to give their consent.

The finals were held two weeks before her O levels.

Says Mr Prabhakar: "I agreed because I saw that the schedule was not too taxing. The rehearsals were only on weekends."

He was hopeful that she would win as she had previous stage experience.

Diya, who describes herself as an above-average student, hopes to do well enough to join her brother at SJI Senior School. She wants to pursue a career in banking and finance as she says she is good with figures.

But if she does not do well enough, she plans to go to New York or London to try to make it as a professional model.

For now, she is saying no to lingerie or bikini shows, out of respect for her parents as well as her own wishes.

She has turned down requests to wear clothes which show "too much cleavage" on two to three occasions.

She says: "I feel that I am too young for these clothes. I don't feel comfortable in them anyway."