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Lara Dutta - Miss Universe 2000

An Exclusive Up Close and Personal Interview
by Govind Shanadi

Lara after winning Miss Universe

Lara Dutta, 21, from India was crowned Miss Universe 2000 in Cyprus on May 13, beating out 78 other delegates. She consistently scored high, coming in first in the swimsuit contest with a score of 9.44 out of 10, and fourth in the evening gown competition with a 9.4. The judges revealed their choice of Dutta was near-unanimous after the final round in which Venezuela's Claudia Moreno, Spain's Helen Lindes, and Dutta were asked: What would you say to those who condemn the contest as an affront to women? Dutta's poise and answer, "It gives us a platform to voice our choices and opinions and it makes us strong and independent that we are today" clinched the crown for the economics graduate and model who grew up in Bangalore. Afterwards, she said it was a birthday present for her father, a retired Indian airforce pilot who turned sixty on the day of the contest. Her mother, Jennifer, is an Anglo-Indian who was Miss Madras in 1967 and was one of the finalists at the Miss India pageant later that year.

I want to congratulate you first of all.
Thank you.

What has your schedule been like in the two weeks since you've won the title?
Oh, it's been absolutely crazy. I've had media week this week, so I've been doing all the media, television shows, radio shows. And I've moved to New York, so I've been getting used to New York and my new apartment that I'll have during my reign here.

Is this your first time in New York?
No, I've been to New York earlier, but I've never lived here, so just getting used to where I'm going, I've gotten lost about a million times already.

What type of issues do you want to promote or bring awareness to during your reign as Miss Universe?
Well, Lara in competitionthe Miss Universe Organization, the cause they've taken up, is AIDS and HIV awareness, so we'll be working with them on AIDS and HIV awareness throughout the world. I'll also be working in collaboration with the Harvard AIDS Institute, and these organizations will help me promote this cause. And later on this month I'll fly to Geneva to meet with the United Nations to be made a good will ambassador to the United Nations from India, and they run a fabulous program called Face to Face which works against exploitation of women, so I'll be working with them extensively in India with that program.

Is AIDS awareness an issue you're concerned about personally?
Yes, extremely. In about twenty years time, one person out of every family in India is going to be HIV positive. It's really scary because a lot of people don't realize how fast it's coming close to home. It's a very scary issue, and I think it's a great cause that they have because it doesn't really restrict itself to any part of the world or male or female sexes. It's really an important issue the world over.

Recently, India crossed the one billion population mark. Is this a related issue?
I think so, definitely. What's even scarier is that 55% of that one billion is uneducated, and really cannot even comprehend the sort of preventive methods you are trying to make them aware of where AIDS and HIV are concerned. So in India, you really have to start one step lower by first trying to educate the people, especially the women, and the women are the highest risk.

Long term, what are your career goals?
Well, I'd like to do what I've always wanted to do. I'd like to direct, and I want to go to New York University if I can, which would be lovely, to learn filming. I'd like to combine a career in journalism with direction.

Are you more interested in working behind the camera or...
No, no. (laughs) I've worked for a number of years in front of the camera. I was a model in Bombay for three and a half years.

Would taking the plunge into Bollywood be interesting to you?
Well, really I have received offers right after the Miss India pageant. I really don't know if that is something I want to do or not. I think I'm going to weigh my options during this year because I'm sure a lot of opportunities are going to come, and I'm going to keep those open. If that is something that I think will make me happy, I might look into it, but right now, I'm not too sure.

To what do you attribute the recent success of Indian women in international beauty pageants?
I think the organization we have back home in India, which is The Times of India, which organizes the Miss India pageant is really an incredible organization who realize it isn't just beauty pageants where they're looking for the prettiest face. The pageant in India is very,very high standard, especially where intelligence is concerned. They train you really well, and if you're selected as Miss India they have a very intense training program before you go to Miss Universe where they work with you on physical fitness, you work with a speech and diction therapist, you work with a dietician, a nutritionist, you work with a designer on what sort of clothes you want to take with you, how you want to present yourself. So it's very professionally done.

What's your definition of the modern Indian woman?
Well, today I think she is someone who has really found her place in the sun and is creating sort of a niche for herself in whatever field she is making a foray into or choosing and is able to handle her workplace as efficiently as she does her home, standing shoulder to shoulder with man in every field.

What are your views when it comes to arranged marriages versus love marriages?
Well really, from my experience, my parents had a love marriage, both my elder sisters have had love marriages. I really haven't had much experience or dealt with arranged marriages, and I don't really know anybody who has had an arranged marriage. So I don't have a biased view or I don't think it's negative. What I feel is that if parents are going to give their children an arranged marriage, then they should at least give the two people who are going to get married sort of a chance to meet and figure out if that person is someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. And in a lot of cases that doesn't happen.

What would you describe as a perfect man or qualities you would look for in a perfect man?
(laughs) Firstly, I think in any relationship Emotions running highboth people have to realize no one's perfect, but it would definitely be someone with whom I have a great deal of compatibility and a sense of humor, of course, and someone who understands me and communicates with me.

Have you found anyone with these qualities?
Well, yes I am dating somebody right now, and we've been dating about a year and a half.

Is he going to be able to spend time with you now that you're in the U.S.?
Yes, he will.

Are you a romantic idealist or a practical realist?
I think I'm practical. (laughs)

What advice would you give to aspiring models?
Well really, it's a tough business. I know a lot of girls who are just not very secure about themselves, and that's the first thing you have to be: confident and secure about who you are, what your morals and ethics are, and what it is you will do, and what it is you won't do, and dream big and follow your dream.

I've read Christianne Amanpour, CNN's war correspondent, is your role model. What do you find so appealing about her?
It's her great determination, her energy to go out there, uncover the truth and bring it into your living room. I think she's excellent at her job, and I admire the way she presents it. I think she's brilliant.

How much traveling do you plan to do in the next year?
I'll travel 85% of my year. I'll travel a lot.

How much time will you spend in India?
I think I'll be able to go back to India, I'm hoping, at the end of July for my homecoming. I'll be there for about two weeks, but I'll keep going back to India with the program that I'm doing there.

I know you have a degree in communications. Is that applicable to what you're doing with AIDS awareness?
My degree is actually in economics and my minor was communications. I'm sure it's going to come in handy and help me out.

In reaching the Indian female population on AIDS education, what is the best way to reach them?
Well, media definitely. You know people have asked me whether it's tough being under a microscope during this year, and really being under a microscope is going to help put the spotlight on this issue. I'm happy to be in the position that I am. I think the media is great to work with because wherever you go, media is with you. It sort of highlights the problem, and the government has to wake up and do something about it because the people are not just going to lie back and say ok.

What do you consider your hometown to be?
I've studied and grownup in the south of India in a city called Bangalore. Bangalore will always be home.

Bangalore has become famous now as a software center. Do think it is deserving of its recognition?
Of course. India's going to be one of the biggest superpowers when it comes to information technology.

Have you seen the changes taking place over the years?
Yes, definitely and what's wonderful is that I think it's going to filter down into the economy so it's not going to be just the rich who are going to get richer. It's also going to be able to penetrate the rest of the society and different strata of the economy.

Who is your favorite actor?
Jack Nicholson.

Jodie Foster.

And your favorite singer or musician?
That's a tough one. I'm going to be biased. My cousin brother is a musician in England and he does fusion sort of music. It's wonderful.

What's your schedule for the next week?
I'm going to be in New York until the end of this week, then I'm going to Spain for two days, and from there I go to Indonesia.

Well thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule for
You're welcome.

Do you have any thoughts on this? Feel free to send Govind an e-mail @ Govind Shanadi.

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