The Jewish Beauty Queens of India

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Picture: The first Miss India, picked in 1947, Esther Victoria Abraham (1916-2006). Photo Credit: Tazpit News

Given the fact that Jewish beauty has been celebrated in history it does not come as a surprise that in spite of the numerical insignificance of Jews in India’s huge population (5 thousand in the total Indian population of 1.3 billion), their women went on to represent the country internationally at a number of pageants. In fact they were the first to do so, for the very first Miss India was Jewish. The first Miss India pageant in 1947 was organized not by Femina, a Times of India publication, but by an association of journalists, and the beauty who was crowned as Miss India was a Baghdadi Jew, Esther Victoria Abraham (1916-2006), who later became popular as a successful film actress with the pseudonym Pramila. Two decades later on March 12, 1967, her daughter Naqi Jahan, who was chosen Miss India in the pageant organized by the popular magazine Eve’s Weekly that year, became the first to represent India at the Queen of the Pacific Quest beauty pageant held in Melbourne, Australia. According to the Jewish oral law Halacha, Naqi Jahan would be considered Jewish, because of her being the child of a Jewish mother, though she was raised as a Muslim, as her mother Esther had married the popular film Muslim actor of those times, Kumar ne Syed Hasan Ali. Today their son, Haider Ali is a successful character artist in Bollywood.

Historically, Femina Miss India pageant used to send its winner only to compete in the Miss Universe pageant and not to the Miss World pageant, which was the domain of the winner of the Miss India pageant organized by Eve’s Weekly, a rival women’s magazine, and it continued to be so until Femina acquired the rights to send a representative to Miss World as well in the late 1980s, and started to send the winner to Miss Universe and the runner-up to the Miss World contest.

The honour of being the first Indian to participate in the Miss World pageant goes to Fleur Ezekiel, a member of the Bene Israel community, numerically the largest of the three Jewish communities in India. She represented India in the Miss World pageant of 1959.

The mother of the Roy Kapur brothers (Siddharth, Kunal and Aditya) who are making waves in Bollywood today, was Miss India 1972 (organized by Eve’s Weekly), Salome Aaron. Salome Aaron, a ballroom dancer, later went on to make a career for herself as a film choreographer in Bollywood. Of her three sons, fathered by her Hindu husband, the eldest, Siddharth, has found great success as the Managing Director of a film company, which is the joint venture of Disney and UTV in India, while the younger two, Kunal and Aditya have become successful as actors. It would be interesting to know that her youngest son Aditya Roy Kapur is the second male lead in the only second Indian film to be released simultaneously in India and Israel, Yeh Jawaani hai Deewani, while his film Aashiqui 2, in which he plays the main lead, has done great business.

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