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Famed equally for her Miss Universe title and her recklessness, Sushmita Sen says she's calmed down since adopting infant daughter Renee.
Sushmita jumped from modeling to acting in a time-honored tradition: by winning the Miss India title. Unlike other actresses, however, she had big name competition: Aishwarya Rai, Miss World 1994. Typically, Sushmita refused to be cowed. "All of us were put up on that stage after a lot of effort, but the difference was that, other than Ash, the rest of us were very insecure, I don't know about Ash. We were going up against a person who was very big in the modelling world, and, obviously, it affects you negatively. Twenty-five women did not enter that year. They took their applications back when they found out Ash was entering. But that's where you have to take certain chances." (Rediff, Sep. 1997)
Her subsequent win at the Miss Universe contest earned her the adoration of the media and a year abroad, traveling to over thirty countries, hobnobbing with world leaders, and speaking on global issues to diverse organizations including the U.N.. Her ultimate goal was, and remains, to become a clothes deisgner, but at home, she was being flooded with film offers. Finally, she decided to return from the U.S, her temporary home. "People don't realise that people can't become famous or celebrities or whatever you call it unless and until people recognise you to be one. India recognised me to be one. I knew that if I had to work I wouldn't have to struggle in India again, whereas I would have to do so abroad." (Rediff, Jan. 1997)
Her first role was in Mahesh Bhatt's Dastak, which, amidst criticism of its similarity to recent blockbuster Darr, flopped at the box office. At a press conference to promote the film, she had what appeared to be a nervous breakdown. The media speculated that she was drunk at the time, perhaps an alcoholic. She scoffed at the idea in a June 1997 interview with Rediff:
don't touch alcohol. I only drink a Coca Cola or a Thums Up, even
if I take a drop of wine I'll drop down. Most people who form
this judgement that I drink have never even met me. So it's wrong
to form an judgement like that. As far as being a smoker is concerned,
yes, I do smoke. As far as being a party pooper is concerned,
my only party is when I come on the sets and go back home. Because
I have partied a lot when I was 17-18 at that stage, I look forward
to lots of things, bigger and better things than partying, and
I have much bigger responsibilities today than to just go out
and have a blast.
However, the damage was done. The media who had hailed her as the next big Bollywood sensation were now out for blood, and there were several people willing to aid their search. In a January 1997 issue of Cineblitz, Mahesh Bhatt, the director of Dastak, voiced concerns that would lose Sushmita many a potential job. Not only did she take "hours to change her make-up", but she "had night psyche and would go to the casinos every night. I can sleep for two hours and wake up in the morning and still be active but for an actress, it is very important to get a good sleep!"
Also troubling producers was the backlash potential inherent in her rumored affair with Vikram Bhatt, a married man and the nephew of Mahesh. Nor did Mahesh not aid her case with his disingenuous commentary: "She seems to be very intensely involved with my boy, Vikram Bhatt. I do not interfere with people's lives and I have no objection to their relationship. I would protect them if they needed my help. I have asked them to hide behind my skirt if the need arises." (Cineblitz, Jan. 1997) When Vikram asked his wife to return to her parents' home, the tabloids had a heyday, mocking his allegations that his wife was schizophrenic and that her removal was for her own welfare.
Recently Sushmita astounded the press again by adopting an infant girl. She explained, "As Femina Miss India, I saw so many poor children and from so close, that I wanted to adopt a girl child. It took me years to get one." (Tatanova,July 3, 2001) Her status as single mother has provoked much curiosity, which she seems to enjoy satisfying, as it gives her a chance to talk about her baby. Excerpted from a July 3, 2001 interview with Tatanova.com:
Was the experience of adoption difficult ?
But I heard you insisted on seeing the children yourself before
making up your mind?
Your daughter is called Renee…
How has single motherhood been like?
Sushmita's current flame, Sanjay Narang, is rumored to get along with Renee just fine, which makes us very happy for the intelligent and ambitious woman who Shahrukh once called the best dancer in Bollywood. Here's hoping she continues to receive opportunities to prove him right.