A minute with: Sushmita Sen

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MUMBAI -- Fifteen years ago, Sushmita Sen charmed an entire nation with her intelligence and poise after she brought home India’s first Miss Universe crown.

The statuesque model-turned-actress is now all set to help groom young girls for the international pageant as host of its India preliminaries -- "I am She."

Sen, who has earned a reputation for herself in the Indian media for being unconventional, spoke to Reuters about "I am She," her adopted daughters Renee and Alisah and why she would like to adopt many more times.

Q: Why do you think India is not doing well at international pageants? What do you think is lacking in our beauty contest aspirants?

A: The reason you have had so many winners from South American countries, like Venezuela, Chile or even Brazil, is that they take this contest with the same seriousness that we take the Olympics.

It’s a competition for them, on a global platform. The whole country backs it. Even "Miss Universe" must feel the pressure, because at a venue in the Bahamas, you can only hear Spanish because the whole of Venezuela has flown down for the event.

A lot of the nations that come for the event, big or small, who don’t take this so seriously, suffer because their girls never get a natural push that the other countries get, just for sheer involvement in the event.

But we are going to change that, because we know inherently that nobody can make as much noise as we can. We are the loudest. This should be the kind of victory that your country calls to congratulate you for.

Q: Your pageant is also associated with social causes. How important is celebrity status in the glamour industry?

A: When I was a kid in school if you showed me a social message on TV, it would bore me. But if it was integrated into a Santa Barbara, or a beauty pageant, I would be hooked. So for me glamour, sports are very important to be able to express the support for all the causes that one feels strongly for. And there are so many of them. So we have tied up with five NGO’s for five causes that we strongly believe in for the 2010 edition of the "I am She" pageant.

Q: One of the NGO’s that you have chosen is "Baalasha." Tell us the reason behind the decision.

A: That is an obvious one. "Baalasha" made my first experience of becoming a mother so painless, and at a time when I was only 24. At that time India didn’t allow single parents, especially actresses who were single, to adopt. "Baalasha" could have made my life really difficult, but instead they went out of their way and made it really easy for me. There are so many kids out there who just need to go home; they seriously need to go home.

I feel that I will adopt many more times, because I feel that whatever is my capacity, I must do.

Q: You have just adopted another baby girl, Alisah. Tell us about her.

A: She is adorable! She is so beautiful and Renee is almost like a mother to her. I was just waiting for the courts to make it legal for you to be able to adopt two girls, and the minute that happened, I jumped at the chance. She is three months old and I just want to ask everyone to pray for her.”

Q: What does it take to be a good businesswoman?

A: To be a good businesswoman, most importantly is that you have to be aware. You can do no good unless you are aware. Awareness is of many levels. Once you choose a process, you have to trust it; you have to trust the team you have chosen, because they are your biggest strength. I would say invest in your people. Oh, and always watch your costs!
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