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In Conversation With Lara Dutta

Ranjani Saigal

Lara Dutta (born April 16 1978) was born in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh to father Wing Commander L.K. Dutta (retired) and mother Jennifer Dutta. Her family moved to Bangalore in 1981 where she completed high school.

Miss Dutta won the annual Gladsrags modelling competition in India. Because of this achievement she won the rights to be the first representative of India at the 1997 Miss Intercontinental Pageant, in which she took first place. This was a tremendous start to a very successful and prosperous career later; she was crowned Femina Miss India Universe and Miss Universe in 2000.

At Miss Universe 2000 in Cyprus, Miss Dutta was the was in the midst of a very tough competition with contestants from Venezuela, Philippines, Colombia and even another former Miss Intercontinental titleholder, Miss Germany. The finalist interview that she gave was a turning point which separated her from all other contestants. In her final question Miss Dutta delivered and moving and passionate defence of the Miss Universe Contest along with other beauty pageants. She was given highest individual score in any category in the history of the Miss Universe Contest.

Lara Dutta is distinctive as one of a few Miss Universes in the last decade to win by the unanimous vote of the jury. After this there was no turning back. She went on to do modelling for many prestigious brands and soon made her debut in Bollywood in 2003 with Bollywood heartthrob Akshay Kumar, and alongside fellow beauty queen, Miss World 2000 Priyanka Chopra. She won many critical acclaims for this movie whilst bagging the Filmfare Best Debut Female Award.

After winning the Miss Universe title she was appointed as the UNFPA goodwill ambassador. For UNFPA, Ms. Dutta has helped raise global awareness of women’s lack of rights and access to reproductive health services. She is very concerned with promoting gender equality.

A very articulate young woman with a magnetic stage presence, Lara spoke to Lokvani at the  recent PANIIT 2006 meeting in Mumbai where she was invited to speak about the "Missing Girl Child" .

What motivated you to join films and become and actress?

My path was via modeling. I won the Gladrags modeling competition and that brought me the opportunity to represent India at the Miss Universe contest. Winning the title brought many opportunities my way. My film film Andaaz got me many awards including Filmfare’s best debut female award. I guess my acting career was thus launched!

You are from an airforce background and not from a film background. Is that a disadvantage?

It is a slight disadvantage in the sense that I have had to fend my own way through Bollywood. Having advice and knowledge of the industry in your family is very useful.
I do think my background was wonderful for life skills. An Airforce home gives you a lot of discipline and the ability to work hard. I was one of three daughters and being part of female dominated home I grew up with a lot of self esteem and self worth. Being a woman was highly valued in my home and we were taught that as women  we could accomplish anything we wanted to.  My sister trained as a pilot made a career in it for nearly ten years before going into fashion design.

Your dance to Kaisa Jaddo catapulted you to fame. Are you a classical trained dancer? Is it different to dance for films?

I have learned Kathak. Bollywood dancing has its unique opportunities.

How would you describe your career in Bollywood?

I have enjoyed being an actress. I am still learning to make the right choices for films. I have made some mistakes and I am learning as I go along. I have really enjoyed working for many directors. My recent film Bhagam Bhag was a lot of fun .?

What about your personal life? Are you planning to get married anytime soon?

No plans right now.. My boyfriend Kelly Dorji and I enjoy a great relationship. Our careers do keep us busy.

What motivated you to become a good-will ambassador for UNFPA?

I have always felt it is important to find opportunities to help make a difference. When I won the Miss Universe title I was approached by UNFPA to become their good will ambassador. I felt I could really make a difference through this role and decided to accept. 

What specific things do you hope to achieve in this role?

Education and information give women the power to make life-saving decisions. Since education is essential, I believe the most important initiative of all is to educate our youth. These youth then become advocates, talking to their friends and peers, spreading messages ever further. It has been my experience that the youth are the most effective speakers and organizers, and can quickly mobilize their friends and communities. In my role as Goodwill Ambassador I have been able to reach out to young women in different parts of India via different NGOs who partner with UNFPA and provide information to them on women’s rights and reproductive health.

Could you tell us a little about the Missing Girl Child and what UNFPA is doing to promote gender equality?

Sex-Selection abortion has resulted in a large number of female feticide. The British medical journal estimates that there may have been close to 10 million female fetuses aborted in India over the past 20 years. This is extrapolated partly on the basis of reduction of female-to-male sex ratio from 945 per 1000 in 1991 to 927 per 1000 in 2001.

UNFPA believes that promoting gender equality is key to their mission which is to promote the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity.

UNFPA partners with different NGOs to work with young women providing education and information about reproductive health and promoting self-worth in women. We also present the case at large forums  to create awareness and hope that the message of gender equality gets across.

Is sex-selection more prevalent amongst the poor?

Unfortunately the wealthier sections of society are the worst offenders since they have the money to perform the sex-identification test. Even though Indian government has strict laws against such abortions the implementation has been weak or non-existent.

What message do you have for our audience in New England?

Please help spread the message to your friends and family in India to help prevent sex-selection abortions. Anything you can do to help NGOs that are working with this cause will be well worth the effort. I also appreciate all the attention that people in US have given to my work in the films.

Thank you




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