Gopal Sunder Lal Kakshapati is the chairman of Nepal’s oldest beauty pageant Miss Nepal which this year will celebrate its 25th anniversary. Kakshapati spoke to Onlinekhabar about how he started the competition, the troubles he faced during the initial years and how he created a platform for women in the country.
Miss Nepal is entering its 25th year. How did this venture begin and how tough were the early days?
When I was made the chairman of Kathmandu Jaycees in 1986, I realised that the representation of women at our training programmes was very limited. They didn’t participate because they felt we organised political training program.
While thinking about what to do about it, it dawned on me that women loved the glamour business and that if I could create a platform to provide personality development training to women.
After that, I made plans to start a beauty pageant. Some of my friends laughed it off and told me it was a stupid idea as Nepal hadn’t hosted a beauty pageant yet. To change the mentality of my friends at Kathmandu Jaycees was quite tough, but in the end, it did happen and we decided to name our pageant ‘Miss Nepal.’
I then talked to the editor of Femina magazine, which hosted Miss India. A friend and I met her and talked about our plan to host Miss Nepal and asked her if she would help us. She agreed to help and also said she would send some members of her team who were involved in the Miss India pageant. We also watched Miss India and observed how they organised such an event. It gave a general insight into what went on behind the scenes.
We then came back and started making plans for Miss Nepal because I wanted to us do something like that on our own. I collected cassettes of beauty pageants from around the world and also asked friends to watch it. That gave us a lot of confidence.
We wanted to do it on our own. But for that, we needed fashion designers, choreographers and make-up artists. While I was looking for them, I stumbled upon Rachana Gurung, who had recently arrived from Hong Kong and asked her if she wanted to become a choreographer. Then I needed designers. I approached Srijna Rana and Pramila Acharya from Image Boutique and that is how we assembled the team. We also talked to Miss Pacific organisers to get affiliation and they gave us the green light.
Everything was ready, but we didn’t have sponsors. However, that didn’t discourage us. I was ready to invest money myself. But fortunately San Miguel beer was willing to sponsor the event and that is how we started the first Miss Nepal. But we did have to face a lot of criticism from political parties and women activists. Hisila Yami and Baburam Bhattarai stood outside the hall and staged a protest while the pageant was going on.
How did the public look at Miss Nepal back then?
What we were doing involved a lot of risks. Both the society and the political parties had a wrong impression of beauty pageants. No one wanted to send their daughters to participate. There were a few who were happy about what we were doing, but we faced a lot of criticism. Thankfully most mediapersons were supportive towards us.
What problems did you face when dealing with political parties and social groups?
We faced a lot of problems which is why in 2008, I called all the protestors for a meeting. Around 34 organisations working for woman rights came forward. We discussed the 35 point-demand they had presented. The discussion lasted for two days. However, we didn’t come to terms on 4-5 points. One of the sticking points was that they asked us to change our name. We couldn’t do.
They also asked us to end our ties with Dabur, which was not possible. The organisations asked us not to host an extravagant event. But we refused because if the event wasn’t glamorous, it would not be a success. They also asked us not to host the event as the Maoist had just entered the government. But we couldn’t stop hosting the event as we had to send girls to participate in international events.
One day in 2008, we got a letter from the District Administrative Office telling us not to host our event citing security problems. We couldn’t host the event until 2010. The other years we didn’t host the event were 2001–due to the Royal Massacre and 2006 (when Nepal finally became a republic).
If you look at past events, most winners have come from the Newar community. Is this a coincidence or are Newar girls prettier than others in Nepal?
This is a mere coincidence. When Newar girls won the event for a few years and that too brought us a lot of criticism. But if you look at it deeply, of the 20-24 we have crowned, only six or seven are from the Newar community. And as organisers, we don’t have a say in who wins. It’s the judges who decide. Because we want transparency we always invite people who have never been on the jury before.
There are a lot of beauty pageants happening in the country. News of the titles being bought has also been floating around. That this affected Miss Nepal in any way or form?
Ever since we started, there have been around 500 pageants hosted in Nepal. I cannot say how many of these pageants are trustworthy, transparent and good. I can say that people misuse pageants.
Are that many beauty pageants necessary?
Why shouldn’t there be? I don’t see a reason to stop them, do you? These pageants give our daughters a platform to express themselves. But I do believe that pageants that are not transparent and trustworthy should be closed.
What do the ladies learn when they take part in Miss Nepal?
The training we offer is quite useful for all the ladies. They get a chance to learn about life and also get to decide what they want to do in the future. We have had applicants over the past few years who have told us that they just want to participate so that it helps them later on in their life. The training that the winner gets is also given to all the ladies who take part in the pageant.
The winner almost every year becomes a brand ambassador of different brands and are involved in promotions. Shouldn’t they be role models?
We want our winners to be known by the entire country. We need advertisements to sustain ourselves and that is why you see our winners become the face of brands. You can also look at it differently, before the brands used to call in international models but now we see a lot of Nepali faces in advertisements.
Have you received any help from the government?
It’s quite unfortunate that we have had no support from the government so far. We have tried a lot but it hasn’t been easy. Our ladies take part in international competitions representing Nepal, but I don’t think the government understands that. We tried to work with the tourism ministry, but they show no interest.