It was Harriet Tubman, the black American slavery abolitionist and political activist who said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world."
These words were the inspiration for 20-year-old CA student, Suman Rao, to reach for the stars….. and grab them. She faithfully followed her dreams and clinched the prestigious title of FBB Femina Miss India 2019. With her beauty and maturity – both intellectual and emotional, this young lady is surely going places and it will be a pleasure to follow her journey.
Suman hails from Rajasthan; barely anyone from her family ever dreamt that one day, their princess would be a queen, a beauty queen! Before entering into the Pageant, she willingly put her nose to the grindstone in her quest for the crown.
In a star-studded ceremony at Mumbai’s Sardar Vallabbhai Patel Indoor Stadium, Suman Rao was crowned Femina Miss India by the incumbent, Miss India 2018 Anukreethy Vas. 20-year-old, software engineer, Shivani Jadhav from Chattisgarh, was crowned Femina Miss India Grand 2019, and Bihar’s Shreya Shankar was declared as Miss India United Continents 2019.
Several Bollywood actors, Katrina Kaif, Mouni Roy, Nora Fatehi, Vicky Kaushal, among others, set the stage on fire with glittering stage performances even as Karan Johar, Manish Paul, and Miss World 2017 Manushi Chillar hosted the show. The highly credentialed panel of judges included Miss World 2018 Vanessa Poncedeleon, Bollywood choreographer Remo D’Souza, actors Huma Qureshi, Chitrangada Singh and Aayush Sharma, Indian footballer Sunil Chhetri, and fashion designer Falguni Shane Peacock.
Suman Rao, was one of six finalists. Indeed, it was her answer to a question, which perhaps turned the tide in her favour. The question put to her was: What does feminism mean to you? Her answer: “Feminism is all about having equal rights and opportunities in society; be it a man or woman, both should have equal rights to express their thoughts and have equal respect, be able to make decisions regarding their own bodies, and should get paid equally for whatever job they do.”
In a candid conversation with Cindrella Daryani, Suman Rao answered a few more questions with the equanimity and intelligence she showed on the big stage!
The Miss India title is a turning point for the top finalists and especially the winner. It will change your life, and you have the power to change other’s lives. What do you think?
Yes, that’s perfectly true. It’s a turning point for a winner. Life actually changes when you’re felicitated with that valuable crown and from there you start feeling the sense of responsibility, which comes with that crown. Everyone follows you on social media. Earlier I looked up to other role models. Now I am one myself. I am conscious of that. This year in the month of December, I have to represent India at an international level and that’s a new ocean altogether; I have to prepare and groom myself for that. It’s a huge responsibility to make everyone proud and do justice to that title.
You are currently a CA Student, and like the Miss World exam, is tough as tough can be to pass. How do you plan to handle both these vastly different examinations, if I may call them that, concurrently?
After I was crowned Miss India, my priorities changed automatically. I have to and will focus on the upcoming Miss World pageant. So, my first priority is Miss World, where I have a faith that I can win it for the nation. I will do my best to win it. It’s in December so I have sufficient time to prepare. Thereafter, I will pursue my CA and attempt to clear it next November, failing which at the next opportunity. Both are on my agenda, and I will pursue them with equal vigour and dedication.
In many parts of Rajasthan, the conservative mindset that prevails often puts restrictions on girls being educated, on the clothes they wear, their movements in public places after sundown, etc. You hail from Rajasthan and going against the grain, you have won the Femina Miss India title. I must ask you, what is your view of this paradoxical situation?
Yes, I come from that kind of background. I come from a small village. There we face a lot of problems, but I was privileged to stay in Mumbai and having an open-minded family I never faced those kinds of problems in my life. But yes, we absolutely need a change in mindsets. A city can give you that. Living in a city like Mumbai, your perspectives alter very quickly. Even, my father has changed a lot and now he says that yes, we must evolve with the times and carry with us the values of equality and integrity in everything we do.
As the Femina Miss India, you will meet people that matter. You will get a chance to meet your state’s chief minister. What do you think you should focus on during your conversation?
Yes, I will be meeting the CM of Rajasthan, during my homecoming. I will certainly talk about my pet project in Rajasthan which is all about Women’s empowerment, a subject close to my heart. I started it about 4 months ago and certainly, I will need his support to take it forward. I am looking to make a difference in the way people perceive and stereotype gender roles and their impact on gender inequality.
Let’s get back to the Femina Miss India crown. How difficult was it for you in the run-up to the finale? Did you at any point think about giving up because of the pressure?
As you know I am pursuing my CA, but I simultaneously worked on grooming myself. I watched videos of previous pageants and worked on my body language and grooming. It was tough going, pursuing two vastly different paths to success simultaneously, but the thought of giving either never entered my head.
Before the finale, Femina provided us with a 39 days intense training workshop for the pageant. It was a huge learning opportunity and that is where I completed my preparations for the final. The experience was unique and new and hence exciting because I did not have any previous experience of participating in beauty pageants at this level. I lived and loved each moment throughout my journey.
Your parents. What did they think of you pursuing the Miss India crown? Was it difficult to convince them? What did your family think about you having to go through the swimsuit/bikini round?
Initially, as can be expected, my parents were reluctant and tried to dissuade me from participating. I convinced them. How? I told them it is my dream and it is my passion. I said, “Let me give it a try. We will see what happens”. All well that ends well. In the end, when I proved myself, they encouraged me. My father taught me to be focussed and to be grounded; my two brothers told me to live my life at the fullest. YOLO they said – you only live once. My entire family is proud and happy with my win. As regards your question about the swimsuit round: this has been dropped from both the Miss India and Miss World Pageants so no worries there..
Many young girls will look up to you as their role model, especially those who are aspiring to don the crown in the future. Your words of wisdom for them?
I would say to aspirants: Don’t you think that the Miss India Pageant begins with beauty and ends with glamour. Once you enroll for the pageant you are committed to a difficult journey. You have to work really very hard. You have to be focussed and dedicated to your goal in order to fulfill your dream. The training before the finale comes with a hectic schedule. You have to be strong emotionally, physically and mentally. If you are all of these, you can reach for the stars… and grab them!
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