For the future, Chandak has her eyes set firmly on a film career once she finishes her studies
During the conflict years, Miss Nepal pageants were constantly threatened by underground Maoist guerrillas, and there used to be arson attacks outside the venue. Maoist leaders issued statements saying that they were against the ‘commercialisation and commodification of the feminine body’ by international multinationals sponsoring the events.
Eleven years after the war ended, this year’s Miss Nepal pageant was held while the Supreme Commander of those guerrillas was prime minister, and the venue of the former Miss Nepal contests is now the Parliament building.
Criticism of the Miss Nepal event is now muted, and restricted to a few outraged op-eds by gender activists. One such piece in Setopati last week by Sabitri Gautam dissected the premise of ‘beauty’ contests, of stereotyping and patriarchy.
‘The glamour industry is marketing the female body, parading women in swimsuits on a stage and calling it empowerment,' Gautam wrote. 'Beauty pageants are the starkest examples of the commodification of a woman’s body. It shows how little families, society and the contestants themselves know about personality development, and their mistaken belief that such pageants empower them.'
However, the selection of Nikita Chandak as Miss Nepal last week was unexpected because of what many deemed to be her unconventional looks, the fact that she was not ‘fair’, and that this was the first time a person from the Marwari community and a Tarai resident was selected. The trolling on social networking sites proved that it is perhaps society’s notions about stereotyping and beauty that need to change rather than beauty pageants themselves.
Chandak, for her part, seemed unfazed by the uproar, refused to be drawn into the debate, and kept an upbeat, positive outlook on her win. She told us: “I believe positivity leads to happiness and when people are happy and have self-esteem they are naturally beautiful. I believe in tolerance, respecting everyone, being compassionate towards all.”
Chandak became a contender for the Miss Nepal contest by chance. The 20-year-old from Morang, who is pursuing a BBA degree in New Delhi, had come to Nepal to take part in a fashion show in January. She was approached by the organisers, who were impressed with her self-assured personality, to enter the Miss Nepal contest.
Chandak started developing an interest in modelling while she was still in high school, but because she came from a conservative Marwari family in which no one had ventured into the profession before, it wasn’t easy for her to talk to her parents about it. But when she did, she found them to be very supportive, and she has since appeared on many cat walks in Pune and Kerala Fashion Week in India.
“My win was mostly possible due to the support of my family,” says Chandak, who impressed the judges and audiences with her poise and confidence. The warm response she got during the Marwari celebration of Mahesh Nawami the day after being crowned was confirmation for her that attitudes within her community towards the entertainment industry are changing.
“There is a minimum participation of our community in showbiz. In that sense, my win is in itself a big deal,” she says.
The Miss Nepal crown has also given Chandak an opportunity to represent youth here and abroad and she wants to use social media to reach Nepalis all over the world. As part of her preparation for the forthcoming Miss World pageant, she plans to learn from the experiences of previous Nepali participants.
For the future, Chandak has her eyes set firmly on a film career once she finishes her studies. And for the Nepali public, notwithstanding criticism, Chandak has proven through her win that Miss Nepal itself has become more inclusive.
Miss (Green) Nepal, Elvin L Shrestha