Actress Dia Mirza shot to fame with the Miss India pageant back in 2000, but says she never believed in competition.
“It feels almost surreal to look back 20 years. I was so young when it all happened,” she reminisced on an experience that made the young Hyderabad girl a household name.
“The year 2000 marked a new millennium, bringing with it a sense of hope, promise and excitement”, she added.
Interestingly, Dia was never one who dreamt of winning a beauty pageant.
“I happened to be spotted by a modelling agent who offered me a part-time job at 16. Everything happened very quickly after that — advertising campaigns, fashion shows, editorial shoots. One thing led to another and I was selected from Hyderabad for the Miss India pageant,” she recalled.
“I remember my mother being really surprised that I wanted to take part!”
Dia, who had never left Hyderabad before in her life, vividly remembers adapting to life in Mumbai.
“It was a journey that brought love and encouragement, but was still very daunting to be go through alone. As an individual, I have never believed in competition, so for me it was about putting my best foot forward, enjoying myself and learning as much as I could,” she said.
Dia was the second runner-up at Miss India 2000 and later won Miss Asia Pacific.
She still remembers the feeling and chaos of that winning moment.
“We were announced the winners, crowned, wore our sashes, took that final walk, and had thousands of lights and cameras flashing in front of us – through all of that, I remember thinking ‘where are my parents? I want to meet them’! In that moment I truly realised how happiness can be truly cherished when you have your family to share it with.”
But as a winner just crowned, she found herself whisked away for the Femina cover photo-shoot with actor Shah Rukh Khan. “That was a whole experience in itself, as the camera caught me looking at him in complete awe and love!” she added.
Another iconic moment Dia remembers fondly was when she got a chance to share the stage for a big group picture with all the previous international title winners from India — Aishwarya Rai, Sushmita Sen, Diana Hayden and Yukta Mookhey — along with the year’s two other winners, Lara Dutta and Priyanka Chopra.
On the one thing that has stayed with her through since then, she shared: “Be yourself. Staying authentic and speaking my truth was what set me apart then and continues to define me even now.”