Miss India Anukreethy Vas Image Credit: Supplied

Miss India 2018 winner Anukreethy Vas from Tamil Nadu is living the dream. The 19-year-old, who is pursuing a French degree from a college in Chennai, beat 29 contestants and emerged the winner at a star-studded event in Mumbai last month.

Her winning answer? “I would say failure is a better teacher… When you face failure, the soul fights within and you will continue to work harder until you reach the goal.”

Vas, who was raised by a single mother in Trichy, faced a battle of sorts of her own soon after her crowning moment. Her win triggered a debate on social media about her dark skin colour and how her achievement was symbolic of India’s eroding obsession with fair skin.

“He [filmmaker Karan Johar] came up to me and congratulated me. That is the greatest memory from the contest.” — Vas on her moment with Karan Johar, who hosted the Femina Miss India 2018 pageant in Mumbai last month.

When Gulf News tabloid! asked if she was ever discriminated on the basis of her dark skin, she didn’t skirt around the issue.

“Yes, a lot of times and you can see it everywhere. But that’s my attribute and I don’t want to change or do anything about it,” said Vas in an exclusive interview over the phone.

An obsession with fair skin is almost a cultural phenomenon in India which has a robust multibillion-dollar lightening cream market. Even actors such as Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone have endorsed fairness creams, much to their discredit.

However, Vas categorically stated that she wouldn’t be caught endorsing a fairness products.

“I truly believe that beauty is not skin-deep and there’s going to be hardships and criticisms with anything. But that’s what keeps you going and I look at it in a positive way,” said Vas.

Here are the excerpts from our interview as she talks about her life after her momentous win, Bollywood and more…

Congratulations on your win…

I am feeling out of this world and truth be told, I was in utter shock when my name was announced. In my heart, I kept telling myself: ‘may the best person win the title’. But when they announced my name, I stood in utter shock. All the memories went on a rewind mode in my head and I just walked towards [Miss World] Manushi [Chillar] who placed the crown on me. That was the best moment ever in my life.

What did you do right after your win?

Nobody from my family came to the show. All I wanted to do was to go backstage, grab somebody’s phone and call my mom. But I managed to get a phone only at 2am, but my mom was still awake. As soon as she heard my voice, she began crying and said that she knew I would do it. She just sounded so happy.

You both are the portrait of an India where you were raised by a single mother… Do you feel a sense of accomplishment?

Yes, we are. Now, nobody can talk anything about us or who I am or what I am. They will just be proud of the work that I have done. I am glad that I have inspired people who are like me and I have always wanted to be an influencer. I am proud about it.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is your role model, I am told…

I have never seen anyone as pretty as her and every time I see her on TV, I am in awe. Even when Manushi Chillar was crowned Miss India, I was struck by the same feeling.

Did you always want to enter the Miss India contest?

It wasn’t always in the cards. My friend wanted to participate in the contest and I gave it a try along with her. And after my selection in Tamil Nadu, I began working hard and that paid off.

How difficult was the preparation process, especially since the competition is so tough?

I wouldn’t say difficult, but I found it extremely fascinating because I want to live each moment of that journey to the fullest. All the other 29 contestants were genuine, despite being competitive. Therefore, I was able to push to the best I can and that’s one of the main reasons I won. Everyone was very supportive. I was 19 and I was childish. I was like a learner who was experience her firsts. It was a fascinating journey and I loved everything about it.

So there were no catfights and backstabbing — the stereotype shown in films? Was there rivalry that turned nasty?

Not at all. Everybody was very supportive of each other and were lovable. We lived like one big happy family. I have earned friends for life through this contest and I have to thank Miss India for this.

On Twitter and social media, your win triggered a debate on skin colour and how a dark-skinned woman from South India has won her first crown… What are your thoughts on this?

I truly believe that beauty is not skin-deep and there’s going to be hardships and criticisms with anything. But that’s what keeps you going and I look at it in a positive way.

Have you ever been discriminated because of your skin colour?

Yes, a lot of times and you can see it everywhere. But that is my attribute and I don’t want to change or do anything to it.

So, that means you are not going to endorse a fairness cream…

Not at all. I accept myself for who I am. So, I really don’t want to change anything about it. I won for who I am. And if I am going to change it [her skin colour], then it’s not going to be me.

Do you intend to pursue Bollywood after serving your term?

I have no idea about that. Now that I have won the crown and I have a great responsibility to represent India on a bigger platform. It’s a proud moment for me in my life to be called ‘Miss India’. So I am just focusing on it and I want to make India proud. We don’t know, but let’s see where life takes us.

How easy is it to lead a restricted life since you are in the beauty business? Does the fact that you need to watch what you eat and follow a strict fitness regime make it difficult?

It’s not difficult because I like being disciplined. Anything new has always been fascinating and everything about Miss India was exciting to me. I was looking forward to something new every day. I watch what I eat and I work out, too. But I am not following any strict diet that will eventually harm me. You can always take protein and work out to maintain yourself.

Your winning answer was very real.

I totally believe that being myself was one of the main reasons that I won. That is the best thing that you can do for yourself.

What’s your advice to other beauty queen hopefuls and their families who may not support their choice?

It’s never too late to dream and you can come up with a new dream every day. Start accepting yourself as who you are and hard work pays off ultimately. In the beginning, you may feel as if hard work isn’t getting you anywhere, but eventually it will bear fruit. I want every woman out there to keep believing in themselves. And to all those who have families resisting, there’s a good chance that they will come back to you and say that they believe you and your choices. That could be your proudest moment and trust me, it will be all worth it.