Beauty experts claim that it was one of the biggest pageant rivalry of all time and the story could have been a script direct from Bollywood. Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai were both perfect candidates when they joined the Femina Miss India contest. It was a headache for the judges. Aishwarya – seen as a frontrunner – tied with Sushmita, who was viewed as an underdog, with both of them earning a score of 9.33. To break the tie, another round of question and answer was carried out and eventually Sushmita took the plum title.

Sushmita proceeded to win her country’s first ever Miss Universe title. Aishwarya meanwhile reigned supreme at Miss World 1994 pageant. While it is not that rare for a country to win both crowns in the same pageant year, the victory of Sushmita and Aishwarya cemented the status of India as an emerging beauty superpower. During the 90s, Femina Miss India was focused on three international pageants: Miss World, Miss Universe and Miss Asia Pacific. Strategies were drawn to ensure that the right winner was sent to the appropriate pageant. A beauty bootcamp was even set up to guarantee that the selected winners were all battle ready.

The investment of India paid off once again in 2000. During that year, India won not only the Miss Universe and Miss World titles but also the Miss Asia Pacific crown. Lara Dutta secured her country’s second Miss Universe crown in a pageant held in Cyprus. Priyanka Chopra triumphed in London earning her country’s fifth Miss World title. Meanwhile, Diya Mirza became Miss Asia Pacific 2000 becoming the third Indian woman to win in the regional pageant.

Harnaaz Sandhu and Manasa Varanasi after winning their national titles

Can India do it again? For the pageant year 2021, India already took the Miss Universe crown thanks to the spectacular performance of Harnaaz Sandhu. That victory propelled India to the 6th place of the Big 5 Ranking [CLICK HERE for the complete ranking] overtaking Australia. Prospects at the Miss World pageant is quite bright since Manasa Varanasi has already secured her place at the Top 40 since she is one of the winners of the Beauty with a Purpose challenge. But Miss World is notoriously unpredictable and beauty experts agree that there is no clear frontrunner as of the moment.

Manasi Varanasi however could benefit from India’s victory at Miss Universe 2021. Momentum is quite real in the world of pageantry and it is one of the factors that played in 1994 and 2000. India also had a good run at Miss World since 2014 and even took the title in 2017 courtesy of Manushi Chhillar. This indicates that India’s sash weight at the pageant has barely faded. Sure, things are quite different now in the pageantry world when compared to what it was 20 years ago. But India is making a comeback and winning again both the Miss Universe and Miss World titles is not that improbable.