Mumbai: Good height and an attractive face are just not enough to get a place in Sushmita Sen`s Wadhawan Lifestyle I Am She contest. The former beauty queen and actress says the most important criterion for selection is a person with "good character".
"When I say character, I mean that a lot of women who come are very beautiful but some of them can do anything to achieve what they want. Such girls don`t belong to I Am She," Sushmita told reporters in an interview.
The Wadhawan Lifestyle I Am She contest has been choosing India`s official entry for the Miss Universe contest since last year. For 2010, Ushoshi Sengupta was the chosen one but couldn`t win the title. Earlier, Femina Miss India title holders participated in the pageant.
This year, 20 candidates have been shortlisted. Before the names are finalised, Sushmita said, "We speak to them, we do background checking".
Sushmita, who became the first Indian woman to win the Miss Universe crown in 1994, added: "We don`t send a girl to Miss Universe (competition) if we haven`t done a proper background check because we don`t want the girl to get disqualified on any grounds.
"The cases of women being married and not showing they are married or any other problem are on the rise. Being an international winner is about having character. You can be very beautiful, very tall, fit the bill in every aspect, but if you don`t have a character, then there is a lesser chance of you getting selected."
Sushmita, 35, said candidates were learning and getting better.
"The whole idea of the franchise is to pick out from the global audience what it is that India needs to spruce up to win. If we continue to have support of our sponsors, the awareness will grow faster because it is not a free job - creating awareness is an expensive proposition, which we started last year," she said.
Next year, Sushmita plans to give extra global exposure to the finalists by taking them abroad for grooming sessions.
"Next year onwards a new chapter begins - the host countries will change. Only the main show will be held in India. The girls will be groomed in other countries. This way they will get basic international exposure even before going to the Miss Universe platform... it will help them not to get off balance when they reach the main pageant."
In 2000, Lara Dutta became the second Indian to win the prestigious title, but there has been no winner after that.
Asked why, Sushmita, who has acted in films like "Biwi No.1", "Main Hoon Na" and "Filhaal", said simply: "Awareness."
"Properties of cricket as a sport worked because they are sponsor-driven. The awareness is huge. My five-year plan is not only to win the Miss Universe for India again but also to create the kind of awareness where state-wise people cheer for their girl and once she becomes I AM She`s Miss India, people cheer for the country. We need to start taking these girls seriously," she said.