Being Mr. India 🇮🇳 (Part 4 of the Series): Homely Comforts

(Indian-Region specific content)

A memoir of my journey through a beauty pageant, on chasing the bright lights of Bollywood, managing expectations and growing up through life’s lessons and choices.

“Be yourself”

(Me with my mom and uncle Rajeev on the right)

Those were the last words Uncle Rajeev said to me before I left for Mumbai in February of 2004.

Of course, the underlying message was very clear.

 Pretend that you really don’t care about winning the pageant.

I arrived at the Madh Island in Malad, Mumbai with that attitude. This was the hotel we would be staying in for the next 3 weeks for our grooming and finishing before the final event.

The arrival in the hotel lobby was a nerve-wracking experience. Some of the fellow contestants had already arrived and were getting to know each other.

They glanced over at me and sized me up. I maintained my cool, smiled and proceeded to the check-in desk.

Round 1 for me.

Later that evening, the hotel was still buzzing. One contestant, Piyush Vig was very curious about me.

He was handsome, articulate and intelligent.  He probed me with a few questions. I wasn’t in the mood to reveal more than what was necessary.

I was being cautious but tried to mask my nervousness with a nonchalant attitude of somebody who didn’t give an F about the competition.

He quit probing by saying, “Ohh…. So you are one of those types”

I knew I was going to be boxed into one type or another. It was just a matter of picking my poison. Unknowingly I had just picked mine.

Party was over.

It wasn’t just me. This applied to pretty much all the other 30 odd contestants.

One by one, we were put in the line of fire. The objective of the promoters of the pageant was simple.

Break them down of their false sense of grandiosity and inauthenticity.

The mornings would start with a 5 am wake up with Mickey Mehta, a well-known fitness expert.

The fitness component as tough as you could imagine was nothing compared to the grilling we would receive from the live questions and answer sessions daily.

The idea was to ensure that we don’t make a complete fool of ourselves in front of live TV and an audience on the day of the event.

The Grasim Mr.India show would be broadcasted on Zee TV with millions watching. Thousands including many celebrities would attend the live event. In other words, the stakes were high for the promoters. The brand equity couldn’t be at the mercy of slip-ups on a national stage.

The questions weren’t easy and straightforward for anyone who knows the format of pageant Q&A’s.

“What is your idea of the perfect date?”

“Which person has most inspired you in your life?”

“If you had to choose between keeping your parents happy and pursuing your dreams what would you choose?”

The answers had to be crafty and well presented. The content mattered only insofar as the confidence and stage presence of the speaker.

Of course, the person whose harsh judgment everyone feared was Mr. Swami. And Mr. Swami to his credit never hesitated from embarrassing anyone in front of everyone.

He instinctively knew when a contestant spoke from his heart and when he didn’t.

His wife, Mrs. Sonia Swami was usually the one soothing our fragile egos afterward. She was kind and nurturing.

“This year’s Grasim Contest (10th overall) is the toughest so far. I feel sorry for all of you. Too bad, there can only be one winner”, she would say.

Deep inside, I kept clinging to words that Mr. Swami had said to me at the regional qualifiers in Delhi.

“Harsh you are the best.  Write it down. There are 4 boys who are in contention and you are the best among them”

Of course, even the great Harsh Madhok wasn’t spared.

“Mr. Madhok, you are a nice person but you don’t have any training in public speaking” Mr. Swami uttered to the amusement of everyone.

And with that, he busted any remaining notions of superiority I may have had over the competition.

Simon Cowell of American Idol comes to my mind as I write this 🙂 


Gaining his approval was a herculean task. Prashant Chawla was one candidate who managed just that.

“If you won Kaun Banega Crorepati, what would you do with the proceeds”, Mr. Swami asked.

(*Kaun Banega Crorepati is the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire)

To which, he smartly started his reply by saying, “#0% goes as Tax and the about the rest …………….”


In the sea of intellectual platitudes and philosophical ideals, Prashant Chawla just delivered a real-world truth.

Prashant wasn’t physically imposing as some of the other contestants. He also happened to be a Chartered Accountant and perhaps the only one amongst us who already had a day job.

Mr. Swami was impressed for once.

Around lunchtime, he invited Prashant and me over to his table. Casually he asked me, “So, Mr. Madhok. What is your view on section 377 of the Indian Constitution?  Should it be abolished?

“Of course, I mean we are a progressive society right? We should live and let live”, I muttered.

Mr. Swami and Prashant looked at each other and smiled.

It took me many – many years to understand the other side of the story.

By |June 1st, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments
Read More Posts