Manushi Chhillar, winner of the coveted Miss World 2017 title, has no celebrity airs — she comes across as grounded and composed, with no hint of pretence or self-importance. Calling herself a "reserved kid," the 21 year old has gone from being a bespectacled, studious girl (she was the all-India CBSE topper in English in the 12th grade) to being a confident young woman bringing about a change in other women's lives with her Beauty With A Purpose project. In an exclusive interview with ELLE, Manushi opens up about how her life has changed after being crowned, her approach to beauty, fashion and fitness and her thoughts on working in Bollywood.
ELLE: Let’s start with the basics — you are a student of medicine. How did your journey in pageantry begin?
Manushi Chhillar (MC): I was at a college fest in AIMS (All India Institutes of Medical Sciences) in Delhi where they scout for girls in campuses through a platform called Campus Princess. That's where I got scouted. But it was not something that was unplanned — I always knew that I wanted to be Miss India and Miss World, but the way it happened was something that was unplanned.
ELLE: Tell us a bit about your childhood.
MC: I’ve always been a reserved kid, though very curious. The only time I was expressive was when I was on stage. My parents encouraged me to participate in everything unimaginable. My father used to take me horse riding, he’d make me do mountain climbing and he actually enrolled me in a kayaking course. My mom would take me to dance classes and swimming classes. My upbringing has been akin to a very typical Indian family. I’m very close to my parents and my two siblings.
ELLE: How has life changed ever since you won Miss World 2017?
MC: From wearing spectacles and reading books in my room, I’ve come into a world of wearing the best designer clothes, make-up on and being in front of the camera. I’m frequently traveling to different countries, meeting different kinds of people — from underprivileged children to strong leaders — and being a part of so many new projects. I've grown completely; my views on life have broadened. So, life has changed, but whenever I get a week off every month, I go back home and I’m still the same person. And now, as I give away the Miss India crown and go back to college, I’ll still be following the same schedule, but I know I would do it differently.
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ELLE: Do you think the title comes with a lot of responsibility?
MC: At every stage in life, you get a lot of responsibilities, and with Miss World, it’s magnified by 10 times. But I enjoy what I’m doing, so I don’t feel the weight of the responsibilities. It's shaped me as a person.
ELLE: For your Beauty With A Purpose campaign, you worked on Project Shakti, which aims to increase the awareness of menstrual hygiene.
MC: I started this project when I was 18. Its growth wasn’t as exponential as it is now, and at every stage, there has been something different. When I went to medical college, I had access to all the patients in the gynaecology ward, so that helped build my project. But I never anticipated the project's success post winning Miss World. The government of Haryana has been so supportive — they’re providing sanitary pads to girls going to school in Haryana — as has the government of Sikkim. We’re now taking this project to Kenya and South Africa, and South Africa's Mandela Foundation is very excited about it.
Not only are we growing in terms of geography, but we've also came up with a new idea. Initally, we were talking about sanitary napkins and other sanitary products that girls have access to, but now we’ve come up with compostable and biodegradable sanitary pads which are also good for the environment.
ELLE: Coming to beauty — what’s your beauty regimen?
MC: Right now, my skin has to go through a lot — and when I go back home, I make sure I remove my make-up and wash my face. Sometimes, I use a face scrub. My daily regimen is to wash, tone, and moisturise. And of course, using sunscreen is crucial.
ELLE: Your go-to beauty look?
MC: I love the no make-up make-up look.
ELLE: Your best fashion moment so far?
MC: I’ve had a lot of them, but Filmfare Awards 2018 was the best. It was a red dress by Sonaakshi Raaj with a very long train, and I wasn’t sure how to carry it. But everyone appreciated it. Even when I went on the stage, I twirled around — it was all improvised — and the fabric flew around me perfectly.
ELLE: Your fitness regimen?
MC: I’m travelling right now, so I don’t have a particular workout routine, but when I’m home, I make sure I hit the gym. And even when I’m outside, I try to make the right choices in terms of food.
ELLE: Your approach to healthy eating?
MC: You don’t have to starve yourself, because if we do that, then we tend to eat more and make unhealthy choices. We need to eat every 2-3 hours, and give our body the proper nutrients it requires. It’s okay to indulge, but don't overindulge. My motto is: don’t live to eat, eat to live.
ELLE: Will we see you in Bollywood soon?
MC: I’m taking things as they come. Right now, I have my Miss World duties, and when the time comes to take a decision, I’m sure I’ll do whatever my heart says.