Hyderabad's Reha Sukheja, the first runner up at ‘I Am She' Miss India Universe contest, is living it up

The first thing that strikes you about 19-year-old Reha Sukheja is her towering personality. At 6ft 1inch, she stands tall among her friends. “My friends never let me wear heels. They would never even let me walk along with them on the road. They would walk on the footpath and insist I walk on the road! After having worn flats all my life, I dreaded wearing heels for the I Am She pageant,” laughs Reha.

The city girl, now studying economics at Fergusson College, Pune, emerged first runner up at I Am She, missing her chance to represent India at the Miss Universe pageant by a whisker.

Participating in a beauty pageant was never in Reha's scheme of things. “I came home to spend my summer vacation in Hyderabad and my mom Renu egged me on to participate in I Am She. I was least interested and said I'd do this just for her and never again. When I learnt that Sushmita Sen is behind the pageant I agreed. She's been my idol. If nothing else, I thought I'd at least get groomed. But it turned out to be the best experience of my life,” gushes Reha.

Preparing for the pageant meant sessions in fitness, diet, dining etiquette, communication, grooming and public speaking with emphasis on self-discovery. She brightens up narrating her experiences in Mumbai and Goa while training for the pageant.

“While in Mumbai, we had access to the hotel's gym but in Goa, we were made to do a lot of free-hand exercises. Sushmita's fitness instructor was also involved. We used cones spread across the lawn, like what you saw in Chak De, to do exercises. It's unbelievable how those exercises helped us get toned. And we were happy we didn't starve; instead, we were asked to eat a small, balanced meal every two hours,” says Reha. Her child-like enthusiasm is infectious as she reels off nuggets from the sessions.

More than physical grooming, Reha came back amazed at the I Am sessions that took participants on a journey of self discovery. “We also had sessions with Sushmita. She used to observe us as we went through our training and knew the strengths and weaknesses of all the contestants.”

While there, Reha walked the ramp for Priya Chatwal's fashion event and also learnt contemporary and classical dance styles.

The finale, she says, was the icing on the cake as Shah Rukh Khan announced her name among the top five. She is lost for words recalling sharing the stage with King Khan, whom she adored since her school days. “Walking down the stairs on to the stage, as he held my hand, was a dream. I wanted to shriek in delight but had to be poised and graceful on stage. And he was so short compared to me wearing heels,” she laughs.

As the first runner up, her journey has just begun. “Each one of us has to work for a cause for the next one year.” The MBA aspirant prefers to let life spring its surprises for her. “I don't know what I am going to do next month, so I have no idea if I will enter the glamour industry in future,” she shrugs.

First brush with fashion

Reha has never been a model and she recalls the only fashion photo shoot that she did for city-based designer Sashikant Naidu, which was published in the May 27, 2009 edition of MetroPlus (see inset photo). “I did the shoot for fun but never with an intention of taking to modelling as a profession. That was my first lesson of how to pose and emote for the camera,” she says.

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