The common adjectives for beauty pageants are the term beautiful and glamorous. Often these are complimented with outfits, termed sexy, to showcase a perfect body. The stakes are high and expectations too. If there is one beauty pageant that deviated from this norm, it was the ‘Mr Punjab, Mr Singh & Ms Kaur’ contest that Melbourne was recently witness to.
The idea conceptualised by two young Punjabi Melburnians – Simran Sethi and Gaggan Kaur- and executed with huge success was aimed at giving ordinary Punjabis of Australia the opportunity to walk the ramp in their traditional clothes without the usual fuss and pomp of a typical beauty pageant, at the same time bringing out their latent talents and confidence.
“We thought there are many out there who are not comfortable wearing western dresses and not confident or comfortable enough of getting up on the stage and speaking in English. So we had this concept where contestants can be well within their comfort zone, wear nothing revealing and perform and speak in Punjabi,” says Sethi.
Adds Kaur, “We had people saying we want don’t want to wear glamorous clothes and expose but we still want to do the catwalk. That’s how we got the whole idea of doing this show. We also wanted to provide a launching pad for many of these aspirants.”
Indeed this is quite a unique concept, tapping into local talents and men and women from ordinary walk of life with a 9 to 5 job, but people who wanted to experience something different. “Professionals models or whoever is trained won’t come to this kind of pageant,” says Kaur.
For the selection, an application form with the basic criteria of height and weight and knowledge of Punjabi language and culture were applied, says Sethi. Only the first 25 applicants (from interstate as well) were accepted as there was no more room for more given the logistics. It was a first come, first serve basis which really proved fair, he adds. They had to be in the age group of 18 – 35 though.
To put up the grand show, the contestants were trained over three months, putting in about 4-5 hours every weekend which included photo and video shoots. “They were just blank in the beginning, they didn’t have a clue about anything but they were full of enthusiasm and just want to do it and learn everything. So it was a bit of hard work every weekend but paid off,” says Kaur.
Finally on April 9, at the Thornbury Theatre to a packed audience of 400 plus, 27 contestants transformed themselves into confident professionals as they sashayed the ramp in several rounds to a lot of fanfare and adulation. The first round – the formal round – had all the contestants dressed in suits (for men) and Indian suits (for women) by Melbourne-based designer Ashleen Dhaneja. After the round, they introduced themselves in Punjabi.
In the second which was the talent round, the contestants put their best foot forward to showcase their talent. While some sang, others danced, and still others performed skits and drama. After that there was the question-answer round where they picked their questions written on papers from a bowl. The last round was the Indian ethnic wear in which all the boys wore sherwani and the girls donned lehengas. The sherwanis were creations from designer Dulhan Exclusives of Dandenong and the sherwanis by Saba Yasmin from My Wardrobe.
At the end of a sizzling and sensational round, the winners were:
Haryy Dhaliwal – Mr Punjab Australia; runner up was Aman Chahal
Jasvy Singh- Mr Singh Australia
Angel Brar – Miss Kaur Australia
Jaskiran Kaur –Mrs Kaur Australia
Kulpreet Kaur – Miss Punjab Australia
The show was joined by an impressive judging panel which included Rannvijay Singh, Indian television host, film actor and presenter and best known for hosting the adventure reality TV show, MTV Roadies. “He is a youth icon and represents a true Punjabi that is why he invited him on board which he happily accepted,” says Sethi.
The winners received gift hampers and cash prizes. With ticket prices ranging from 69$ to 99$, the audience were provided with a four-course meal and drinks too. “If someone has paid that much money he/she must have dinner especially if he is sitting for five hours,” says Sethi.
For the young team of Sethi and Kaur, putting up a show of this magnitude took months of planning. But with both having been in the business of beauty, it was a project they executed with elan. Sethi who came to Australia as a young student in 2007 says he worked hard like all migrant students, but when he finally found the luxury of time and space he enrolled in a gym and eventually in a professional modelling college that earned him a degree and a certificate to work as a professional model anywhere. He went on to win the Mr India Melbourne title in 2014.
“Three years ago, I started my career as a professional model and after winning Mr India Melbourne 2014 I wanted to take myself further but to get into full time modelling and acting was not very easy. I saw winners of past shows branching out so I thought why not create another platform for my community where people can come out of their comfort zone and show their talent,” says Sethi.
But in 2015 when he realised that the pageant scene had quietened in Melbourne, he founded his company LimeLite Nights, under which he held the MMG (Miss Melbourne Glamours) contest last October and most recently the Mr/Mrs Punjabi and Mrs Kaur pageants. The winner of Mrs India Glamorous last October was Gaggan Kaur, who later teamed up with Sethi. “Our association began then and we decided to do something different, something more challenging in the beauty business and that which involves the community,” says Kaur.
Together the recent pageant was their first venture, with marked success. “We worked hard for four months. These kind of shows require cheoreographers, designers, etc. Lot of people are involved in this. Then we needed sponsors because without them these shows are not possible. We had three main sponsors but because I had done my last show which went well I had built a reputation and they were happy to be a part of it,” says Sethi.
Kaur, a professional make-up artist practising for the past seven years, moved to Melbourne from Sydney to work with Sethi. “This pageant was aimed at providing ordinary Punjabis an Australia to get their much desired start in their career and achieve limelight. In today’s competitive world we have created a platform for the aspiring models and try to give them an opportunity to explore their talent at national level. It is not only a model hunt but it also open an opportunity to our young talent to make their career in their respective field such as in print shoot, electronic shoot, music videos, albums and in TV serials and films,” she says.
LimeLite Nights has done two shows in six months. Their next project is MMG 2016, a full on glamorous show to be held in November. For the contestants of the just concluded show, there is much excitement buzzing as a Punjabi movie involving them is in the pipeline. Ultimately, the two say that local talents can fill the gap instead of getting celebrities from overseas.
With such a huge interest shown, they are confident about the future. “People were so curious to come and watch the show as it was happening for the first time in Melbourne. We were sold out and couldn’t accommodate more. The fact that we had contestants from all over Australia speaks a lot. In fact there were 15 interstate contestants. Australia has given us a lot of love,” says Kaur. Incidentally the women winners were from Sydney and the Gold Cost and none from Melbourne.
For the participants, this was a great learning place and one filled with bonhomie. New friendships were formed and an everlasting relationship sealed with the organisers who are now promoting them in a new film. “Of course everyone cannot be a winner but if you know you have the potential you can do anything,” says Kaur, adding “We had close marking. Someone lost with .5 marks but obviously the judges are the best judge.”
Buoyed by her first project, Kaur says she wanted to prove that a woman can achieve much more even after getting married. Sethi on the other hand has added another feather to his cap with two successful projects in a row. With their youth, vitality and energy, hopefully this new partnership will make greater strides and bring more glitter and sheen to those waiting to shine.
By Indira Laisram