File photo of 18-year-old Priyanka Chopra (c) of India posing after she won the Miss World finals with second placed 18-year-old Giorgia Palmas (l) and third placed 20-year-old Yuksel Ak of Turkey (r) in the Millennium Dome in London, Nov. 30, 2000. (Gerry Penny/AFP/Getty Images)
Priyanka Chopra was not the obvious choice for the Miss India title 18 years ago as one of the jury members felt her complexion was “too dark,” says a new book on the star who turned 36, July 18.
Then 17, Priyanka took part in the beauty contest from Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, and emerged as the runner-up in Femina Miss India World 2000.
Lara Dutta was crowned Femina Miss India Universe, while the second runner-up Dia Mirza won the Femina Miss India Asia Pacific title. All three women went on to clinch the title in their respective categories—Miss Universe, Miss World and Miss Asia Pacific.
In “Priyanka Chopra: The Incredible Story of a Global Bollywood Star,” Pradeep Guha, one of the mentors of the contestants for that year’s contest, remembers how one of the jury members was uncertain about Priyanka.
“Not everybody in the jury was initially in favor of her. One person mentioned she’s too dark,” he recalls, without naming the jury member.
“I said, ‘Yaar come on—look at South American girls. They keep winning and some of them are pretty dark as are all the girls from Africa. So, I said what are you talking about? ‘I was always very certain about her and as I said this woman never made a mistake twice,” Guha is quoted in the biography by Aseem Chhabra.
The contestants faced a range of celebrity judges – actors Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla and Waheeda Rehman, cricketer Mohammed Azharuddin, media mogul and film producer Pritish Nandy, painter Anjolie Ela Menon, the then founder-chairman of Zee Media (and now Rajya Sabha MP) Subhash Chandra, fashion designer and perfume queen Carolina Herrera, and Marcus Swarovski, the great-great-grand-nephew of the founder of the Austrian crystal company.
“She kind of always improved on herself day on day, day on day. I knew that she would give in 200 percent if she gets in,” Guha says in the Rupa Publications’ book.
He says he was impressed with Priyanka from the beginning but for some reason she did not come up as the “obvious choice” although she grew through the contest.
“I think she needed a little more confidence. I think she wasn’t quite sure initially whether this was the thing she wanted to do. She came in a bit tentatively. By the time the contest started she seemed a lot more collected and definitely more confident of herself.”
Part of the reason Priyanka felt unsure was because she was an outsider, as compared to some of the other contestants, including Lara who was already a professional model, Guha says.
Another mentor, Sathya Saran, says she remembers Priyanka because they did not notice her in the beginning.
“I noticed her at the talent contest, because she sang beautifully. I told Pradeep she is going to win something,” Saran says.
When the results were announced, there was a tie between the top contestants Priyanka and Lara. Guha and Saran had experienced a similar situation with Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai in 1994.
“This time, they were better prepared and additional questions were posed to both Priyanka and Lara. The final results were no surprise to anyone. The suave, elegant well-spoken Lara Dutta won the Miss India title,” the book says.
Both Lara and Priyanka worked together in one of their initial films “Andaz” alongside Akshay Kumar in 2003.
Priyanka has managed to carve an international career and is now one of the most recognizable Indian faces working in Hollywood.
The actor, in past interviews, has spoken about facing issues due to her complexion even within her “Punjabi family.”