On Friday night, the view of the majestic Atlantis The Palm from Raza Beig's lawns seemed to be crying for attention. Decked in white and red — right down to the red velvet cushions with "Lara" written on them — and the soft sound of waves from the beach below, the lawns themselves were a sight to see. However, they were going to be disappointed because the crowd only had eyes for one of the most beautiful women in the universe.
Beig, the CEO of Splash apparel stores, along with 13 friends from Mumbai, was hosting a bachelorette party for his dear friend, former Miss Universe and Bollywood actress Lara Dutta, who is expected to marry tennis ace Mahesh Bhupathi on February 19. Dressed in a chic chikankari salwar-kurta, Beig played the perfect host to his clad-in-white guests. "I've known Lara for years now.
"We met through a close mutual friend, Clara Belle, soon after Lara won the Miss Universe title, and have never looked back."
Beig said the night was something of a surprise for Dutta. "Lara is presuming it's a simple dinner with just us fourteen close friends. She's not expecting a crowd of 150."
All fourteen friends, including one-time Bollywood designer Xerxes and nutrition and fitness expert Dianne Pandey, wife of actor Chunkey Pandey's younger brother, echoed that not only was Dutta "dynamic" and the "life of the group", but an extremely intelligent woman firmly rooted to the ground.
Marianne De Souza, an erstwhile Miss India-Asia, one of Dutta's close clique, added, "We are all extremely excited about Lara's wedding. We've seen her go through her relationships and this time we've seen her really glowing from within and we can actually see the joy in her. I've known Bhupathi from before Lara has and he's a wonderful guy and if it needs to be described in one word, this is a ‘refreshing' relationship."
Pandey, who has worked with Dutta on a professional level too, Veena, explained how she was a "very simple and down to earth girl".
"She's a hundred women in one," said Pandey. "She's extremely intelligent, she's a great actress, she's sexy, she's a tomboy. She's a very strong personality yet a loving woman."
Alison, a landscapist by profession, who lives near Dutta, is always ready to meet with the star when she wants to "just chill and relax and have fun". "She's a source of so much enjoyment."
The link that keeps the group together — and main organiser of the event — Clara Belle, arrived with Dutta a little later. "I'm not just Lara's hair stylist, I'm her best friend," she said. "I've known her since she became Miss Universe. I travel with her all over the world.
"Raza is a childhood friend. And since she's getting married, I planned this thing with Raza because she's so special to us. I love everything about her. She's beautiful from inside. She's a true friend, very real — unlike people in the film industry, because she's not just an actress. She's a star but when she's home, she's just family."
But why did she choose Dubai as the place for Dutta's bachelorette party? "Well, Lara has a huge social and work circle in Mumbai, but knowing her, she would have preferred to be with just her closest friends. So, I planned to go out, yet not too far from home, and Dubai was perfect".
Dressed in a simple yet chic salmon-pink Herve Leger bandage dress — one of her signature looks — Dutta looked radiant as she mingled with guests who were enjoying wasabi shrimp, pepper chicken and mushrooms from Thai restaurant Royal Orchid around gas heaters. She posed for photographs with friends and guests.
With Housefull a super hit last year and a bagful of big films such as Don 2 and Chalo Dilli — her home production — to be released this year, plus planning the wedding, Dutta seems to have her hands full. When asked how she felt about getting married, she simply said "It's good. I'm ready."
That's not all. She has recently launched her fitness DVD and has turned businesswoman with her production house and a new line of shoes coming out soon. On top of all this she has plans to write. "Yes, I do write and would eventually like to do script writing. That was actually the reason for launching a production house. I feel, for women there's a serious dearth of good roles. I think I'm moving into a whole new phase of life and looking to do something slightly different on screen. So I am writing. I don't know whether I would like to direct, but will definitely produce one of my stories."
Dutta has been to Dubai umpteen times and concluded saying she "loved" Dubai. "When we were planning for a bachelorette destination, Dubai was the first name to come to mind. And it's ironic, because I'm here right before my wedding and will be here literally the next day after the wedding, as Mahesh is playing the Dubai Open.
"Unfortunately, Dubai cannot be my wedding destination as all our family and friends are back home in Bangalore."