From an actor to a producer to an environmental changemaker – Dia Mirza juggles her myriad roles with ease. But for a then 18-year-old Dia, the Hindi film industry was a world far removed from hers. The journey actually began with the Miss India pageant. “It feels almost surreal to look back 20 years. I was so young when it all happened!” she reminisces, on an experience that made the innocent, young Hyderabad girl a household name, popular for her endearing smile and positivity. “The year 2000 marked a new millennium, bringing with it a sense of hope, promise and excitement”, she adds.
Interestingly, Dia was never one who dreamt of winning a beauty pageant, but instead came from a very different world. “I happened to be spotted by a modelling agent who offered me a part-time job at 16. Everything happened very quickly after that — advertising campaigns, fashion shows, editorial shoots. One thing led to another and I was selected from Hyderabad for the Miss India pageant. I remember my mother being really surprised that I wanted to take part!”, the actress recalls. Dia, who had never left Hyderabad before in her life, vividly remembers adapting to life in Mumbai. “It was a journey that brought love and encouragement, but was still very daunting to be go through alone. As an individual, I have never believed in competition, so for me it was about putting my best foot forward, enjoying myself and learning as much as I could,” she said. Dia went on to be crowned Miss India – Asia Pacific later that year, an important step in her dynamic journey of becoming an actor-producer and now an important voice of environmental and wildlife conservation.
Dia still remembers the feeling and chaos of that winning moment. “We were announced the winners, crowned, wore our sashes, took that final walk, and had thousands of lights and cameras flashing in front of us — through all of that, I remember thinking ‘where are my parents? I want to meet them’! In that moment I truly realised how happiness can be truly cherished when you have your family to share it with.” But as a winner just crowned, she found herself whisked away for the iconic Femina cover photo-shoot with actor Shah Rukh Khan. “That was a whole experience in itself, as the camera caught me looking at him in complete awe and love!” she candidly added.
Another iconic moment which Dia remembers fondly was when she got a chance to share the stage for a big group picture with all the previous international title winners from India – Aishwarya Rai, Sushmita Sen, Diana Hayden and Yukta Mookhey along with her and that year’s other two winners – Lara and Priyanka. The three of them went on to win their respective international titles as well.
From being a regular girl from Hyderabad to living the dream in Mumbai, Dia cruised along the year 2000 gracefully as she only aimed to stay true to herself. Over the years hundreds of young women from across the country compete to become a beauty queen and forge for themselves a name in Bollywood. “I recognised how lucky I was to be offered such an opportunity and I couldn’t take it for granted,” she says, ever grateful for her experience. Ask Dia what is the one thing that has stayed with her through since then, and she says without batting an eyelid, “Be yourself. Staying authentic and speaking my truth was what set me apart then and continues to define me even now.”