RANA SIDDIQUI ZAMAN
Sushmita Sen on her new venture, films and life beyond.
The way I wanted to make `Laxmibai' would have needed a huge budget. The recession period scuttled its growth.
Attitude is her second name,grace her closest companion.Smile never leaves herand verbosity is her habit.Meet Sushmita Sen, former MissUniverse and actor. This time inNew Delhi for declaring that she"didn't like waiting for roles ofher choice" and hence, started aventure that would keep her engagedin "better things of life."
Dressed in all black interruptedby a metal girdle, Sen walks in TheMaurya's conference room withan attitude, shakes hands with allthe journos stating the obvious,"Hi, I am Sushmita Sen and I amhere to seek your help".
This time, she is in a mood to gopersonal, quite strategicallythough. Weaving her personalstory of how she became MissUniverse, to how, now, she wouldlike to prepare "more Miss Universein the first year of her newventure "I am she". This brandwill serve as a platform to selectthe next Miss Universe India whowill represent India at the globalMiss Universe competition to beheld in August this year.
Ruffling her loose hair with elan, Sushmita says, "My productionHouse Tantra EntertainmentPrivate Limited (TEPL) wasawarded the India franchise inNovember 2009 by the Miss UniverseOrganization, which conductsthe pageant across 95countries of the world every yearthrough its global franchisees."
A smart decision, Sushmitaagrees it came with a feeling thatan individual can make a greatdifference to the country. She recallswith dreamy eyes, "After Iwas chosen Miss Universe, I wentto 233 countries and each timethe Indian flag was hoisted withme. I was just 18. I was overwhelmedto see how much differencean individual can make tohis/her country!"
Though such achievements,she admits don't come withoutsome emotional disturbances.She recalls, "Being brought up inan Air Force family, we were veryclose to the people in the forces.Every elderly person used to beaddressed as `uncle' or aunty'. Icarried this habit when I wentabroad as Miss Universe. Butwhen I used to address people as`uncle' and `aunty' they wouldgive me strange looks indicatingtheir annoyance and a question,`why are you trying to create a`bond' with us?' It used to be verytraumatic. Soon, I learnt thatthey prefer to be addressed withMr. and Mrs.I didn't quite likeit. It used to take away thewarmth Indians are associatedwith."
And that's the warmth Sushmitaassures would be a part ofchosen participants (aged between18 and 27). "The girl wechoose should be liked for herwarmth by Indians also," she assertsadding being vociferous willcount as a positive too. For instance,she explains, "if a questionlike `Are you a patriot' beingput to her and she says `No', andsupports it with a substantial answer,she will win. We won't discouragespeaking from theheart."
But she is quick to admit, "Beingvocal has often landed me introuble. I had some bitter experiencesbut now I believe if I startlooking at others' faults, thosefaults become a part of me. But ifI look at their good points, theyaffect me positively."
No nonsense approach
Sushmita has always comeacross as a mature person withno nonsense approach to things.She says it has a lot to do with herpenchant for academics. Thoughshe couldn't formally attend college,she has been regular inreading "the right stuff and beingamong genuine people." And interestingly,an academic inclinationtoo will be one of the criteriato select the participants. "Wewould invite a think tank for aseminar where the participantwould be exposed to lateralthinking. Also, each finalistwould be offered scholarships onthe basis of merit to, for instance,go to New York's film academy topursue her studies further. Andeach one of the five finalistswould endorse a cause, from environmentto HIV/AIDS, cancer,mental disability and adoption."We will force a good habit tobecome their part," assertsSushmita.
For now, she is not concentratingmuch on films. "I am onlyshooting for Anees Bazmi's `NoProblem' and have put everythingon hold till I am throughwith the pageant," she says.
Sushmita was making "Laxmibai",the plans for which havebeen scuttled. She admits, "Theway I wanted to make `Laxmibai'would have needed a huge budget.The recession period scuttledits growth as I couldn't managesufficient finances for the film.But I would work on it once thepageant is over," she sayshopefully.
Recently she also made newsfor being selected to play BenazirBhutto for Pakistani producersZaid Aziz and Henna Rai of KarachiProduction in "Benazir'.There has been no progress since."The producers are still waitingto get a go ahead from Pakistan'sPeople's Party. Once the issuesare solved, I hope I would startshooting," says Sushmita.
Talk of her second, threemonth-old adopted daughterwhom she has named Alisah andher eyes twinkle. "I am reallysurprised to discover that bothmy daughters are Virgos. Rene,the elder one, now seven-yearoldis like mom to Alisah, shechanges her diapers and tries tomake sure I tell her that she doesit best. There is no sibling rivalryamong them."
Unlike many in the film industrySushmita didn't wait for marriageto happen for kids."Marriage and kids are two differentthings. I didn't adopt childrenfor charity reasons. Even at18 I wanted to adopt a child. Kidskeep me grounded and give memy sanctity and identity. Marriagemay happen, may not happen.Why wait," she concludes,leaving an infectious smile.