When Karisa Bislal entered the Miss Bollywood International pageant in Martinique on November 3 the odds were stacked against her. She had only three weeks to prepare for the pageant and didn’t speak a word of French. But the 18-year-old of Diamond Village, San Fernando beat the odds and walked away with the title, an all-expenses paid trip to France and the opportunity to be the franchise holder for the local leg of the pageant.
“The competition is still in the developmental stage. There were only seven participating countries, including Trinidad and Tobago. It was the first time Trinidad and Tobago had entered the pageant and I was shocked that I won. I was also very confused when the results were called because I don’t speak French. That was the most challenging part of the competition for me, not being able to understand what people were saying,” Bislal told WMN. The other participating countries were French Guiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St Lucia and Brazil.
Bislal said on the days leading up to the competition no translator was available, so she just had to wing it with the interpretations. “Every day there was an activity. For that entire week we were either horseback riding, yachting, always doing something. For me it was a bit challenging at first because I didn’t have a translator and everyone else spoke French. For the most part I ended up guessing what they were trying to say.”
The competition consisted of three categories – a group dance, an individual dance and a question. “We were judged based on the individual dance and the question. They gave us a chance to pick a question two days before the competition night and it came with a sample answer. However, we couldn’t answer the question in the same way. We had to do research on the question.” Fortunately for her, the question she got was based on Indian clothing.
“To my advantage we were required to wear anything Indian on the night. I wore a sari that night and showed off parts of the sari, so it was visual.” But although she had access to a translator then, she was still concerned. “I was nervous because I thought they would have judged me harder because I didn’t speak French. I was a bit worried about that and the fact that sometimes what you are really trying to say can get lost in translation.”
Each participant was required to do a Bollywood dance. “I mostly do classical dancing, so I started with a classical devotional song, followed by the Bollywood song Meredholna, and I ended with another Bollywood song, Maardaala.”
So just how did she end up in the competition? “Through my hairdresser Jewan Bissoondial,” who knew someone who knew the franchise holder of Miss Bollywood International. “I had less than a month to prepare and my dad had to pay for everything because I didn’t have sufficient time to get a sponsor. My hairdresser helped get me ready and another friend, Imran Khan helped with teaching me how to speak and walk.” Bislal’s entire family accompanied her to Martinique to cheer her on. “We arrived on October 27 and returned home on Divali day. It was a bit of a hustle to prepare for Divali, but it was worth it.”
Although there is not a large population of East Indians in Martinique, Bislal said the objective of the pageant is to showcase the existing Indian culture. “This was the sixth year of the pageant and they are trying to promote the Indian culture there. This was the first time they extended it to Trinidad and Tobago and I was amazed by their welcoming culture.”
And what is she required to do as the reigning Miss Bollywood International? “I’m supposed to be giving back to the community, but I haven’t started a project yet.” Meanwhile, she keeps busy with her Cape studies in Chemistry, Biology and Environmental Science.
“I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do, but my main goal is to become a lecturer.” And she is also working out the logistics for hosting the local leg of the pageant next year.
Additionally, since her trip to France is valid for one year, she might probably learn some basic French in preparation for that, and for when she has to return to Martinique in 2019 to crown the new Miss Bollywood International.