Nishi Munshi

“Pageants are strong promotions of well-rounded women and endorse positive change in our communities” – Nishi Munshi

Nishi Munshi was crowned Miss India California back in 2006. However, the model, actress, dancer, singer—is there anything she can’t do– still believes she has much to do before she can even consider herself as established. And if you’re wondering if where you’ve seen her before, she was one of the few South Asians on the popular dance program, “The Superstars of Dance.” But apart from indulging in the entertainment business, she also has a keen belief in supporting and inspiring the South Asian youth in America. Using her knowledge and hindsight of walking the ramp and studying Pre-Law, the young, sincere, and rather spiritual pageant winner speaks to Roshni Magazine about walking from ramp to ramp, her future endeavors and what it takes to be an recognized South Asian personality.

Have you always wanted to be a model?

Modeling just fell into my lap. I come from a family that is extremely enhanced in the arts of music and dance; composing, writing poetry and so on. I was asked several times to do modeling for various events, but I pride myself the most on my acting and singing skills.

What made you pick up a form and decide to be part of a pageant? What were you previously doing?

I was crowned Miss India California 2006.  From my previous supporters, I was encouraged to take the next step and represent our rich and cultural South Asian Community in the Miss California USA 2010 pageant on NBC. Prior to this, I was doing a lot of work in Hollywood while simultaneously getting my degree in Pre Law-Political Science with an emphasis in International Relations.

What was the experience of walking down the ramp and finally winning the 2006 Miss India Crown in 2006?

I was truly in awe! I was always the sporty, awkward girl growing up (laughs). It was those causes that I wished to push forward that led me to this pageant. And to be seen as an all around beauty inside and out, was not only a great responsibility, but an honor. I’ve always wanted to be in a positive and proactive role model for young children and especially the South Asian youth. It was amazing being crowned and being given the ability to do so.

What is the most challenging part of being in such a cutthroat competition?

The most challenging part of being in such a cutthroat competition is definitely staying on top of your game consistently. It means working out, staying healthy, continuing to pursue the platforms you support, keeping up with school work and community service. It also meant using my business networks for marketing and promoting myself as a symbol for positive influence to our youth. One of the most challenging parts of this competition is controlling your sense of self and self image. A lot of women struggle with self-confidence when it comes to pageants and competitions. However, it is important to remember to respect yourself, do the best that you can do, and be strong in your convictions.

What is your favorite memory from the 2006 pageant?

My favorite memory was being around so many intelligent and wonderful young women. I absolutely adored my suitemate. We are great friend now.  Every young woman there was so fruitful in their own talents and abilities, that it was a constant learning opportunity for me.

How do you convince skeptics and feminists that such competitions do not degrade women?

On the contrary, competitions like these take a great deal of discipline similar much like that of any other sport; a lot of eating right, constant reading, being up-to-date on current events, keeping positive relationships with sponsors and supporters. They do not degrade women, but rather create a healthy platform for women to present their best.  It takes many honors, achievements and constant hard work to even be considered for a prestigious pageant like this.  Being one of the only South Asian women being accepted to compete in the upcoming NBC broadcasted Miss California 2010 Pageant is a complete honor.  Pageants like these are really strong promotions of well-rounded women who stand as role models and examples to strengthen and endorse positive change in our communities.

What stereotype associated with woman pageant do you feel is most wrong? And how have you tried to correct it?

The biggest misconception with women in pageants is that they are poorly educated.  When I won the Miss India California 2006 crown, my competitors were college graduates from Berkeley, some pursuing their masters degrees and I myself, a pre-law graduate from the University of California system – the most highly recognized public school system.  I have tried to steer audiences away from this thought by taking part in similar pageants and also making it a point to show my support in other educational, community service and education-inspiring events.  When people see my face at events and organizations that they are also supporting, they start to change their mindset and move away from the stereotype they once held typically about women in pageants.

Your dream is to make it to the nationals – Miss California USA or Miss California Teen USA. What sets you apart from the other contestants who are vying for the same title?

What honestly sets me apart from other contestants is my versatility.  I do not believe in just sticking my door in one place and not paying attention to other things.  I am an entrepreneur – promoting and running my parents’ creation “The nation’s premier Indian Music and Dance Academy”.  I am constantly in the studio recording songs to my upcoming album.  I teach music and dance daily to my wonderful and inspiring students.  I completed my bachelor’s degree a year early, in order to pursue a career in entertainment.  I am constantly driving for more; my hunger never runs out. Typically, when other people would give up, I come out with a fired up tank of energy to pursue the next goal to benefit myself so that I can help my community, and anyone who’s watching!

How do you prepare for such an event?

I do a lot of spiritual preparation. I meditate and do yoga on a regular basis. It is just as important to have a sound mind as it is to have a sound body.  I rehearse questions with my close friends in order to be prepared to answer any questions, continue to make my appearance in the community and keep up with all of my community service activities – which keep me grounded, including Sahara Organization.  I eat very healthy and work out regularly with a trainer, or practice my Tae Kwon Do and Karate.  Most importantly, I have fun!  Whenever I can’t work out, I just put on my ghoongroos and rehearse Kathak, which I learnt for nine years or Bharatnatyam which I learnt for four years, or even get together with some old dance partners and have a blast!

Why did you choose participating in a U.S. based pageant rather than Miss Femina in India where you could have potentially been more successful?

I feel that the Miss Femina pageant in India is a fantastic platform for Indian women.  However, I feel that it is overdue for South Asians to make their mark in America.  I was born in India and raised in America.  I always call myself a “halfy”.  I do all of my vrat (fasting), go to temples; know the languages and the deep, rich and traditional culture. But I am just as much American. I was a scholar athlete in high school, in a prestigious sorority in college and attended all of my school dances, events and excelled in my school clubs.  I was the president of the Asian Indian Student Association in college, but also the pledge class president of my all American sorority throughout college.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have the best of both worlds, and I want to encourage America to continue embracing the Indian culture. This is the sole purpose of my pursuit for excellence in my arts.  I play the tabla and harmonium, but I still love playing the drum set and singing R&B.  I’m like sitar meets guitar!

What do you hope to gain from being a model and pageant winner?

The highest fruit of this hard work would be to continue the act of America embracing this beautiful Indian culture and vice versa.  I wish to be a positive role model for South Asian youth and all other young people.  I want them to point up to the television screen and see someone that looks like them, doing something that one day they may choose to do.  I wish to have our community be more aware of issues in our society that need immediate attention such as youth violence and encourage youth violence intervention through the arts. Most importantly, I wish to stand as that girl next door – which I am, who grew up in America having a dream just like everyone else, and was able to achieve it.

Would you like to join films eventually? Bollywood or Hollywood?

I would love to join films eventually. I really enjoy acting, and I feel that some roles that I’ve played and wish to play touch the hearts of so many.  Bollywood and Hollywood would both be exciting opportunities to embrace. I’m already working in Hollywood, and recently being honored to represent ESPN as one of their lead models in a grand event that they hold, it would be interesting to experience how the entertainment industry works in Bollywood as well.

What inspires you on a daily basis?

I am inspired on a daily basis by my family.  I am inspired by very little things around me.  I try to learn from everyone and everything— as simple as it sounds.  When I wake up, I see an army of ants working hard, that inspires me.  We have a three-legged cat in our neighborhood who visits me every day, which inspires me.  My parents and their struggle inspire me.  The goodness in others around me, inspire me.

What is your fitness regime?
I work out three to four times a week for a couple of hours. I eat very healthy, mostly organic.  I stay away from meat and usual candies. But most importantly, I make working out fun.  I teach dance, I rehearse Bollywood, classical Indian, or salsa dancing.  I practice Tae Kwon Do at the gym with my trainer or fellow martial arts instructors.  I love yoga and riding my bike. It’s always important to switch it around, trick your body and enjoy yourself. Being active in fun and interesting ways is my fitness regime.

What would you tell a young girl who aspires to be like yourself?

Don’t give up on a goal, or dream. If something is meant for you, your hard work will pay off.  It’s okay to be unsure, but always recognize and respect your well-wishers and realize that to be excellent in your field of interest, you must learn to say no to things you want to do, in order for you to say yes to things you need to do. Self-discipline is key and self-reflection is healthy.

What is coming up next for you?

I’m working on a music album.  I hope in the future to continue studying law, but for now I am happy working in the entertainment industry and I’m excited to see what’s in store for me next!

And what will you definitely do if you win the national crown?
I will definitely make it a point to promote the issues that need immediate attention in our society.  I will use it as a tool to promote healthy self-awareness in young women, and I would love to support as many organizations that support the needs, and wants of our youth.  I want our youth to know about culture, and the beauty of self-worth aside from what they see just on Television. The media does have its positive roles, but the negative suggestions of self-doubt overpower at times, and I would work my hardest to stray away from these negative suggestions.

~ Roshni
(August 2009)

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