People enter beauty pageants for many reasons that vary from a chance at fame to the glamour that being a contestant entails. But before third-year UC Davis neurobiology, physiology and behavior major Natasha Malhotra was crowned the winner of the Miss India Star Scholarship Pageant 2012 on Sept. 29, the talent portion of the contest was the only thing on her mind.
Dancing has always been one of Natasha’s major hobbies and the reason why she decided to participate in the pageant after her mother, Kiran Malhotra, brought it to her attention.
“It was for my own happiness,” Natasha said. “I don’t dance to win, but I really like entertaining people.”
The pageant, put on by India Waves Network and sponsored by the Swagat Foundation, was held at the Fremont Hilton Hotel and hosted high school and college contestants. Natasha was awarded $5,000 of the total $10,000 in scholarship money given to winners.
Since Natasha has competed and performed several times for dance, her mother said she thought of the pageant as another opportunity for her daughter to showcase her talent, with the added possibility of winning money to help with her academic costs.
“I didn’t even think of it as a beauty pageant. It was an opportunity for her to show her talent,” said Promila Rastogi, Natasha’s aunt who helped her throughout the pageant.
Kiran, who lives in Switzerland for her job, could not be at the pageant, and therefore relied greatly upon Rastogi and Natasha’s friends during the pageant process.
“I was the pageant aunt,” Rastogi said. “I helped her change backstage and compose herself to make sure she wasn’t nervous.”
After going through an interview and series of contestant cuts since January, Natasha was chosen as one of the top 12 competitors in July for the final show.
The pageant consisted of walks in a western outfit and traditional Indian clothes, a talent portion and a Q&A session. An Indian clothing store in Berkeley sponsored Natasha’s traditional clothing, and many of Malhotra’s family members chipped in money for her to buy a western outfit, described best as a prom dress.
“I liked wearing different clothes that you don’t usually wear,” Malhotra said.
Even though Natasha said the experience was fun, the preparations for the pageant were challenging and there were several times she wanted to drop out.
“[Rastogi] was a great support for her,” Kiran Malhotra said. “I was not nervous, but I definitely felt a little guilty being a mother and not being there.”
Natasha said her favorite part of the entire experience was performing a Bollywood number on stage of her own choreography.
“I was there for fun — that kind of showed when I was on stage,” Natasha said. “I think my strength is my expressions when I dance. Judges can see that difference. It’s like Broadway, where you have to act, too.”
Prior to the competition, Malhotra said she had no expectations for the pageant or for placing.
“Being on stage and dancing was more important than the prize money,” Natasha said. “I wouldn’t say the money was an incentive, but I’m glad I got it. It was like a bonus.”
However, according to third-year biological sciences major Jessica Payumo, a friend who watched the pageant, Natasha’s chance of winning was high.
“I’ve never been to something like this at all, so it was interesting,” Payumo said. “I wouldn’t have believed it if she didn’t even place.”
Rastogi praised Natasha’s stage presence, describing her energy as something very few people have.
“She just lights up when she gets on stage. Whether it was the talking part or when she walked out on stage in her Indian outfit, you just want to root for her,” Rastogi said. “She just switches on. From her normal 150 watts, she becomes 1000 watts.”
Payumo said emotions filled the room when Malhotra was crowned.
“She had a huge smile on her face; I think she was shocked,” Payumo said. “I did tear up a little bit, because there was so much anxiety.”
Kiran was on speakerphone with Rastogi towards the end of the pageant so she could hear what the outcome would be.
“I started to miss [my parents] a lot more,” Natasha said. “I wanted to share this experience with them.”
After all of the time and work Natasha put into the pageant, Rastogi said she deserved first place.
“It was almost like, ‘yeah, who else?’” Rastogi said. “It was a very happy culmination to a long evening.”
All of Natasha’s family and friends attribute her win to her ability to be herself on stage, allowing her true personality to be displayed rather than a superficial front for the judges.
“The main important thing is to be yourself,” Natasha said. “If you have confidence, you can get your point across.”
For the future, Natasha said she is not interested in being a pageant girl, but rather continuing her dancing hobby while pursuing a medical degree. Overall, Natasha said the pageant was a way for her to express herself through dance and she was happy with the outcome.
“She just wanted to go and dance, and that I think also came across. She wasn’t there to show up anybody, but just to have fun. And she really did,” Rastogi said. “Winning was just the icing on the cake.”
RITIKA IYER can be reached at email@example.com.