Sunday, May 14, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Lara Dutta is Miss Universe

NICOSIA (Cyprus), May 13 (AP, Reuters & AFP) — A 21-year-old Indian model Lara Dutta, who said beauty pageants give women a platform to “voice our choices and opinions”, was named Miss Universe 2000 today.

Dutta succeeded Mpule Kwelagobe of Botswana to become the 49th winner of the pageant. She said it was a birthday present to her father, a retired Indian Air Force Pilot, who turned 60 today.

Claudia Moreno, 22, of Venezuela was second, and Helen Lindes, 18, of Spain was third.

“It is going to take a while to sink in. It is a wonderful and incredible, exhilarating feeling,” Dutta told reporters after the pre-dawn extravaganza. She said the first thing she wanted to do now was to eat some breakfast and get some sleep.

Dutta, who holds a master’s degree in communications, from St Xaviers College in Mumbai topped 78 other contestants who had competed during the past three weeks in Cyprus. According to Greek mythology, the goddess of beauty, Aphrodite, was born here.

Dutta won the crown after impressing the judges with an answer to the final question that she, Moreno and Lindes were asked: what would you say to those who condemn the contest as an affront to women?

“Pageants like Miss Universe give us young women a platform to foray in the fields that we want to and forge ahead, be it entrepreneurship, be it the armed forces, be it politics,” Dutta responded. “It gives us a platform to voice our choices and opinions and it makes us strong and independent that we are today.”

The judges said Dutta was a near-unanimous choice.

“As soon as she opened her mouth she had such presence, such grace. And her answer was the grand slam. She represents the women of 2000s so clearly,” said Tony Robbins, an American motivational speaker.

Dutta consistently impressed the judges with her beauty and poise. She won the swimsuit contest with 9.44 points out of a maximum 10, while Moreno was second with 9.37. Dutta came fourth in the evening gown competition with 9.40 points behind Moreno (9.55) and Columbia’s Catalina Acosta, 22, (9.52) and Lindes of Spain (9.51).

While the pageant was being held in a sports stadium, about 100 persons, mostly women in their 50s and 60s, held an all-night protest vigil at a nearby hilltop church. The Cypriot Church has condemned the pageant as unchristian and an insult to women.

About 50 demonstrators also gathered outside the pageant venue yesterday during a dress rehearsal. They chanted slogans against the pageant.

Dutta said when she saw the protesters while driving to the venue, she had a feeling that the final question was going to be about it.

Meanwhile, AFP quoted father of Lara Dutta, Lalit Dutta, as saying, “we are very excited. It’s tremendous. We were confident of her chances”.

One of Lara’s sister was said to be India’s first female pilot.

Tipped as a favourite early by the local media, Dutta got a standing ovation from Indian students living in Cyprus.

Dutta said she would work with medical charities with particular emphasis on AIDS education among women.

“The majority of women in my country are illiterate and uneducated so we have to start there to educate them. That is what I will do with India and progress to the rest of the world.”

However, ticket sales for today’s event and the Friday dress rehearsal were sluggish at best, with the Cyprus Government forced to introduce half-price tickets when the original prices — up to 50 Cyprus pounds, or nearly $ 85 — didn’t budge.

Front-row seats for final were sold out weeks ago at 100 Cyprus pounds each, a price out of ordinary Cypriots’ reach.

“It was madness by the promotional firm to believe that Cypriots would pay 50 pounds to sit in the back row far from the stage,” TV pundit Costas Ioannides told AFP. 


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