• Saturday, February 04, 2023

HEADLINE STORY

‘As Asian girls, we often are encouraged to stick to safer options’: Anita Saha, reigning Miss England Manchester and Miss World England finalist

By: Kimberly Rodrigues

Anita Saha, who is the reigning Miss England Manchester 2022/23 and Miss World England finalist, recently finished her bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Sciences at The University of Manchester and has now begun a master’s of research degree this year to pursue her career aspirations in Medical Research and Development.

In an exclusive interview with Eastern Eye, the 21-year-old speaks about her immense pride in her cultural background, her talent in traditional dance forms, Kathak and Bharatanatyam, modeling in the UK, and much more.

Please tell us about your interest in Bharatanatyam and Kathak. Did practicing these dance forms help you prepare for the beauty pageant?

From the age of 4 or 5, my passion for the art form of Indian classical dance and other dance forms was reignited every year when I performed on stage during Durga puja for over a decade. Although I have not been formally trained, during the two months of rehearsals every day before the final performance I had the privilege of observing and informally learning the dance from other fine dancers and choreographers over the past 10 years.

Being a dancer naturally and honing the skills for years helped in the Miss England talent round where I had the fortune of being shortlisted as one of the talent shortlists in the finals. My dance for the finals was a Bharatnatyam dance piece which paid tribute to women empowerment and equality.

It showcased through the different forms of Goddess Durga, that women embody strength, compassion, wisdom, knowledge, and several other qualities. It was very close to my heart as I grew up seeing Durga puja as a festival where everyone in the community come together in celebration, regardless of caste, creed, religion, or ethnicity.

For the semi-finals talent round I performed a semi-classical kathak and contemporary dance piece on the masterpiece of a song- ‘Ore Piya.’ This song by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan is very soul touching and it was very special to be able to perform on this beautiful masterpiece.

Although I was not shortlisted for the semi-final’s talent round, my dance performance has gained much popularity on YouTube where it crossed 20,000 views.

The talent round was very special, and one of the rounds I looked forward to the most as I am a very passionate dancer and this was the perfect opportunity to showcase who I am, an amalgamation of my culture and my nationality as a proud British Indian woman.

You do freelance modeling. What are your tips for aspiring models?

Only recently, after becoming Miss Manchester have, I been getting a lot more opportunities and exposure, hence I am still getting a hold of the career myself.

However, my only tip would be to put yourself, out there, reach out to people, gain exposure, meet more people from the industry. In UK, agencies are a good way to get started. Hone and practice your skills to expand your chances of being scouted.

Who is your role model?

I draw inspiration from every person that I come across in my life. However, my biggest role model has been my father. He has set an example of the importance of hard work and perseverance. He studied extremely hard and brought himself out of poverty by going to medical school, becoming a doctor, and then migrating and practicing in the UK.

He has also been a PhD holder and had four degrees including a bachelor’s in medicine. I have been very close to my father and he has always been my best friend, hence he always inspired me. He has also taught me the importance of education and that the pen is mightier than the sword. That education is the pathway to true empowerment and therefore I have received offers for medicine and now I am doing a Masters in Research Biosciences. Striving to become a research scientist, I hope my work can impact humanity and push the boundaries of science and healthcare.

Tell us about your diet and exercise routine.

I have grown up watching my father, who was a doctor, leading a very healthy lifestyle where he ensured having healthy food, practicing meditation and exercise daily.
These habits for a healthy lifestyle have been ingrained in me from a very young age.

Regarding diet, my bioscience educational background gives me a significant edge. Therefore, I try to opt for whole foods over processed food as much as possible, I also try to stay within acceptable limits of fats and sugar.

I switch to healthier options of fats rather than butter or animal fats, incorporating a healthy amount of vegetables and fresh fruits into my diet, alongside nuts.

I enjoy Pilates and yoga on a daily basis, alongside cardio every once in a while.

Do you have any special message to the young Asian girls who aspire to pursue the same dream of winning Miss England?

I come from a simple academic oriented family where no one has taken a career path other than the conventional ones of a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. As Asian girls, we often are encouraged to do the same – to stick to safer options. However, I suggest that if you are passionate about something, take risks. Have that faith in yourself, believe in yourself, your abilities, and eventually everyone else will also believe in you. Don’t be afraid to do something that sets your heart on fire. You will probably only regret not ever trying!

Did you at any point during the beauty pageant face any kind of racism? How difficult is it for a woman of colour to succeed in this field?

Absolutely not, Miss England has been the most inclusive pageant. We have had women of different sizes, heights, skin colour and ethnicities compete, where everyone had an equal and fair chance to win the title. In fact, for the first time in a decade, I have felt accepted and appreciated for who I was, my skin colour and my ethnicity. I grew up in India where colourism is still rampant. Being a darker skinned South Asian, it was very hard for me to venture into the beauty and modelling industry in India where the beauty standards still prefer fair skinned or western beauty. I never made the cut even if I was probably equally talented than my peers who were lighter skinned and fit into the western beauty standards.

It was only when I came to the UK, that I witnessed and experienced a melting pot of cultures, especially in my city of Manchester. For the first time, I felt accepted, I felt beautiful, I felt comfortable being myself and took pride in my skin colour.

Therefore, I am aiming to use my title as Miss Manchester 2022/23 to empower the youth. As a part of my social work, having overcome bullying in middle school because of my skin colour, I shall be speaking to school going young girls (and boys) in their teens in Manchester about mental health.

I believe it has been proven time and again that it is possible for women of colour to succeed with flying colours in this field. Our previous two Miss Englands have been women of colour, one being of South Asian heritage. We have had several winners of South Asian ethnicity making a mark on the global platform who have been former Miss Worlds and Universes such as Priyanka Chopra, Aishwarya Rai, Lara Dutta, Sushmita Sen and most recently, our very own Miss Universe 2021, Harnaaz Sandhu.

South Asian women are beautiful, but most importantly we carry a charm, grace and intelligence which can take us far in any field, all we need is faith and the platform to do so.

A very powerful old rich man or a struggling young man, whom would you date?

My family has always taught me to first be financially independent, therefore I never feel the need to depend on my partner for financial security. I would be with a man for the person he is, whether he is a man of principles, and whether we are truly compatible. Money, age, and status are superficial and futile; eventually it boils down to whether that individual can be your companion in the journey of a lifetime.

You have shot a documentary film. Are you interested to feature in movies?

I have enjoyed acting from the little exposure that I have had for school plays, local dramas and from watching my father perform in theatres, and be a part of the film industry as an actor himself. However, I have never had the chance to explore the field of acting further, but I do believe that I have been passed down the natural acting skills and it comes to me much easier than modelling. Therefore, if opportunities come my way, I would definitely like to explore it.

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