New Delhi: As the newly crowned Miss Universe 2021, Punjab’s Harnaaz Sandhu says she wants to nurture an environment where fellow women feel comfortable about expressing their concerns regarding health and hygiene.
The 21-year-old, who has already starred in a few Punjabi films, including “Yaara Diyan Poo Baran” and “Bai Ji Kuttange” both 2021 releases, is also looking forward to creating a niche for herself not just in Hindi cinema but also Hollywood.
On Monday, Sandhu became the third Indian to be crowned Miss Universe — actors Sushmita Sen and Lara Dutta won the title in 1994 and 2000, respectively.
It’s a huge celebration for the whole country because an Indian has got a chance to wear this crown after 21 years, Harnaaz Sandhu said.
“I feel so grateful and my heart is filled with so much respect for all those who have shown their faith in me and showered me with all their love. I want to use this platform to talk about the issues which we should all be concerned about,” the pageant winner told PTI in a telephonic interview from Eilat, Israel, where the 70th edition of the event was held.
Next stop for Sandhu is the New York City, her home for now from where she will discharge her duties as a spokesperson for various causes alongside the Miss Universe Organisation.
Her mother and gynaecologist Ravinder Kaur Sandhu has been an inspiration for Sandhu, who wants to lead the way for women empowerment with special focus on menstrual hygiene and breast cancer awareness.
“My advocacy is all about women empowerment with menstrual hygiene, my mom being a gynaecologist. Women should talk about their health. In my community, women still feel uncomfortable talking about their body and anything that’s to do with their health.
“This is what I’ve been majorly working on along with different organisations regarding breast cancer surgery and the fact that it’s curable when detected well in time. I’ll also talk about all those issues that the Miss Universe organisation is related to. I’d like to talk about the causes with the help of my mother,” she added.
Sandhu, who is pursuing her master’s degree in public administration and started modelling when she was 17, also talked about how beauty pageants are trying to keep up with the times.
She started her ramp journey early, winning the Times Fresh Face in 2017, representing Chandigarh at the age of 17. She later won the LIVA Miss Diva Universe 2021 title.
Events like Miss Universe are undergoing change, she said, adding that they are helping people embrace “the real meaning of beauty”.
“After my win, in my community people realise that it’s not only about looking beautiful, it’s about having that persona, aura, and having the depth in your voice to speak out for what you believe in… you are the leader of your own life.. I think I’ve already broken stereotypes of what women are and can be and now I want to take this forward at large.”
Sandhu emerged victorious edging out contestants from 79 countries to bring the title back to India after over two decades. She was crowned by her predecessor Andrea Meza of Mexico, who won the pageant in 2020.
Her Paraguay counterpart Nadia Ferreira, 22, finished second, South Africa’s Lalela Mswane, 24, came third.
For Sandhu, all her co-contestants are winners as they represented the people of their countries on the global stage with “enough confidence about your opinion”.
“… to have that throw in your voice that this is the difference you want to bring in your life… that’s more than enough to conquer anything in this world. You get to share your culture, country, background with every contestant. That’s a huge achievement in itself. I’m going to take a lot of things from my co-contestants because I believe we all are winners. Every girl is a Miss Universe,” she added.
While Sandhu can’t wait to come back to India and celebrate this victory together with the people, her travel plans are being worked out.
She wants to eat her favourite ‘makki di roti, sarson da saag’ first thing, she shared.
But her win will remain somewhat incomplete till she gives her mother “the tightest hug” as she would now return home realising this dream they had dreamt together.
“Months ago, we were watching the Miss Universe 2020 edition and I was telling my mom, ‘Look the way the girls are walking’. Who knew that I would be on that stage one day representing my country!” Sandhu recalled.
Her win will also generate new interest in her films.
“They are very excited to have me as part of their movies and I’m looking forward to showing my talent on the big screen,” she said.
Like former beauty queen, Miss World 2000 Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Sandhu too aims to further bridge the distance between Indian and international cinema.
“I’d love to be a part of not just Bollywood but Hollywood too, through that I’d love to break the stereotypes. I think 21st century people get inspired by movies and web series, so I’d like to inspire people and try to talk about the issues that should be eradicated from society.”
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