After winning Miss Universe at 22, how Lara Dutta hustled her way to build a beauty & skincare business
The year was 2000, and all eyes were on the stunning trio – Lara Dutta, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Dia Mirza – representing India simultaneously at international beauty pageants. While Lara, born to a Punjabi father, retired Wing Commander L.K. Dutta, and Anglo-Indian mother Jennifer Dutta, went on to create history by becoming the second-ever Indian to be crowned Miss Universe; her fellow pageant contestants too bagged winning titles.
That year, our very own Desi girl was crowned Miss World while UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador Dia Mirza bagged the Miss Asia Pacific title.
It was a proud moment, to say the least. And if actor-turned-entrepreneur Lara Dutta is to be believed, it’s still fresh in her memories, even nineteen years later as she once again traces her pageantry days.
Only this time, Lara will be slipping into the shoes of the mentor, guiding a promising new bunch of contestants at the 8th edition of Miss Diva – a competition from which the chosen ones would represent India at Miss Universe 2020.
In a tête-à-tête with YS Weekender, Lara Dutta takes us back to her Miss Universe days, her emotional win, and the journey so far as she hustles her way to build a beauty and skincare business.
YS Weekender: From being a contestant yourself to now mentoring young talents for Miss Diva, the journey has come to a full circle. Is it an emotional moment for you?
Lara Dutta: It is certainly an emotional moment for me because I’ve experienced life as a contestant, fortunately as a winner and then as a mentor since the past seven years. I’ve witnessed how things have evolved from 19 years ago and it’s thrilling to be part of this special journey.
Interacting with these lovely, ambitious, spirited young women is an amazing experience and I love supporting them because the process does put them under a lot of pressure and there’s a great amount of training and hard work that goes into creating that glamour you eventually see on screen.
YSW: The year 2000 was indeed a special one – especially since we had you, Priyanka Chopra, and Dia Mirza – represent India on a global scale. What’s the most unforgettable memory that you still carry with you from the time?
LD: There’s not one but two unforgettable memories from the year 2000. One, where all three of us won our respective titles in India and after that on a global platform. These two moments are still fresh in my memory and they will never fade away because the experience is something, I hold very close to my heart. I’m certain I’m going to cherish it throughout my life.
YSW: It’s been a long time since then, do you feel a lot has changed? With technology bringing the world closer, how has the competition evolved from what it used to be?
LD: Of course, a lot has changed in 19 years and it was bound to. In 2000, the only source of learning we had was from the preceding participants and winners. So, we didn’t have much to prepare ourselves, prior to the competition. Today, with social and digital media thriving, all information is available with just a click, so the girls are better prepared and well equipped even before they come in.
However, earlier we had to do just a few photo shoots, but now there is social media which dictates everything, so the participants have to put in that extra effort to get hold of love and acceptance from audiences across platforms.
YSW: Worldwide, the industry dynamics in the fields of beauty and fashion has evolved by leaps and bounds. With beauty and fashion being two essential elements of the Miss Diva Miss Universe contestant, how do you think these changing standards impact the pageant?
LD: The beauty industry is becoming increasingly complex and beauty standards have transformed for the new generations. It’s all about people wanting to express something about themselves or setting a certain perception. So, as people evolve, so does the fashion industry. However, beauty and fashion go beyond just make up and clothes.
It also has a lot to do with one’s beliefs, views, passion, resilience and intelligence.
Miss Diva Miss Universe is not only about superficial beauty but about all these aspects collectively, so while beauty standards are ever-changing, all the participants possess strong spirits, the hunger to learn and grow, the desire to give and do good and the acumen to accomplish their goals. That has remained constant through the years.
YSW: How are you ensuring inclusivity as a mentor for the girls in the pageant?
LD: Mentoring is a vital component when trying to bring out and retain diverse talent. As I said, Miss Diva Miss Universe is not about fair, slim girls and their definition of beauty is not just skin deep.
So, we look for the girls who show signs of having a potentially strong EQ and IQ and hone them to demonstrate these qualities with a free will. It’s unbelievable how some girls are coy and nervous at the start, but after that they showcase immense talent and confidence.
YSW: What are the top qualities that a potential Miss Universe must have? Do you believe that certain skills can be taught?
LD: Most importantly, a potential Miss Universe must have the ability to break stereotypes. For the longest time, we’ve had a typical definition of what a beauty pageant winner must be like but I’m glad that concept has changed drastically. Today, we are looking for a woman who is extremely confident in expressing herself and can show the world we don’t need these stereotypes. Through my journey as a mentor, I’ve learnt that most skills can be groomed in provided there is a strong desire and passion to learn and grow. Then, there is no stopping.
The course of mentoring the girls is always exciting. Understanding their outlook towards life and career, their emotions, strengths and weaknesses, and then guiding them to define themselves, not just as a contestant but also as an individual, it’s all such a beautiful process. In seven years, it has never felt monotonous because there is always something new to learn from these young participants. They’re inspiring and the journey is absolutely enriching.
YSW: Why hasn’t India seen a Miss Universe in the past 19 years? What’s the secret sauce to cracking this contest, if any?
LD: I personally believe that the talent itself is not missing; however, the right kind of guidance and direction at the right time may be a plausible reason for this gap. I have also noticed that girls today lack the aspiration of being a Miss Universe or a Miss World and are keener to participate in contests to seek a career in modelling or as a Bollywood actress. It would seem like an international title no longer holds the spark it used to. This contest is a way to restore that spark and showcase the incredible personal journey every participant goes through, right from grooming to the point where she wins the crown.
YSW: Quick question – diplomacy or brutal honesty? Do you look for these qualities in the Diva who represents us next internationally?
LD: I feel girls today are much more cognizant and well-versed with the latest trends and affairs as technology has progressed in leaps and bounds since the time, I won the pageant.
As for the question, I think the girls should be honest in their diplomacy and strike the right balance while answering the question posed to them. It is very important to be true to yourself when you speak about something that you relate with or that matters to you and that sincerity always reflects in the answer.
I believe that a Diva who would represent us internationally in the near future should possess extraordinary confidence in herself to shatter all stereotypes and represent our country and its culture with pride and dignity.
YSW: Modelling, then acting, and now entrepreneurship, tell us about the inception of Arias? Why this name and what’s the story behind it?
LD: Arias is a complete skincare brand that I have launched with the intent to cater to various skin care needs among women today. The brand is a culmination of my experience as an actress, model, mother and entrepreneur.
Through this brand, I would like all modern-day women to realise that it is important to prioritise skincare and embrace as well as celebrate their inherent beauty. The name Arias holds a very special place in my heart as it is the name of my daughter Saira spelt backwards.
YSW: What’s next on your list – movies, more series?
LD: My first stint as a producer was with the film ‘Chalo Dilli’ and now I’m all excited about my second project which is based on the true story of the Chattisgarh Women’s Basketball team that made waves in 2015.
I have always wanted to tell stories that celebrate the strength of the human spirit. I’m also going to be a part of a new web series which I cannot disclose at the moment, but it is going to be a lot of fun!
As far as acting in movies is concerned, I guess the idea of being in typecast roles no longer excites me as it used to. I would rather have the opportunity to play versatile roles, thanks to the popularity of the OTT platforms these days.