Adline Castelino, the Indian representative at the recently held Miss Universe, believes that her Middle Eastern upbringing helped her get to the finals of the pageant and shaped her formative years.
On May 16, Kuwait-born Castelino represented India at the event in the United States and was the third runner up. With that, she brought back her country into the top five finalists’ bracket, breaking the 20-year drought on that front. The last time that India secured those coveted spots was in the year 2000 and 2001 when Lara Dutta won Miss Universe and former Dubai-based actress Celina Jaitley was the first runner-up a year later.
“Being born and raised in Kuwait, especially in an Indian environment, made me close to my roots and authenticity. The roots that we share as Indians and our love for our native community was all instilled in me,” Castelino said in a Zoom interview with Gulf News.
Born to Manglorean parents, Castelino also believes that it was destiny that helped her get as far as she did. Excerpts from our exclusive interview as we talk about the pageant, surviving COVID-19 and whether she will set her eyes on Bollywood …
How does it feel to be a beauty pageant contestant during a global pandemic?
It’s destiny that I got to represent India when it was going through such a difficult moment in history. Every day, I just got up and got ready for the 10-day pageant. But at the same time, I was seeing so many people suffering in India and what we were going through as a country. It was an emotional time. This was more than just a competition for me. I felt it was my responsibility to give my fellow Indians something to smile about. I wasn’t just participating in a beauty contest, but my presence there was more about showcasing my country and its strength. I wanted to show that we are walking shoulder to shoulder with other countries.
Immediately after your win, former Miss Universe first runner-up 2001 Celina Jaitley took to her Facebook to congratulate you for bringing India back into the Miss Universe top five finalists spots for the first time since 2001 … Your thoughts?
First of all, I am grateful to her for taking the time off and sharing that wonderful post. She is someone I always looked up to and so it’s a great and a grand moment for me. But winning or putting Indian back in the top five spots was not in my thoughts. I was just focused on showcasing my country to others. I was in the moment. I had gone through so much emotionally just before I had left.
There was a lockdown and it was a miracle that I even got to travel to America. There were no flights. I was supposed to travel on May 5, but there was a country-wide lockdown. So I had to travel a day just before that. To top it all, I tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks before I travelled. I was in isolation and I experienced what isolation could do to a human being. I also saw people suffering and losing their loved ones. To me, this wasn’t just a pageant where beauty queens are competing against each other. It has been a difficult time for my country.
What were your life lessons from contracting COVID-19?
I have seen the triumph of humanity. I have witnessed a lot of strength in people as they come together to find oxygen cylinders for one another or when they use their social media accounts to reach out and help strangers. I have seen youngsters going around helping the elderly to get them their essential requirements. It was an enriching journey for me. It makes me incredibly happy to know that I have showcased India on a global platform. My Miss Universe title will help my country survive this stage. I was literally living that drama.
Did you experience survivor’s guilt and how relevant is a glitzy beauty contest when your own country is reeling under a severe second COVID-19 wave?
I had a real realistic approach. Yes, when I thought about it I understood the importance of it. When you are in a pageant, everyone speaks about your looks and the way you present yourself. But my win and my journey until there had a much more deeper meaning. Internationally, everybody knew what India had been through, so there was so much more meaning to my presence there. I wasn’t just about the face, the hair or the gown. I was carrying much more on my shoulders. This experience has transformed me as a person. I am so glad that I got to experience all of it at such a young age. My future will based on these reference points of our collective reality.
This beauty pageant was truly an empowering experience for me. For the first time, women from different parts of the world were in one room but yet I knew their journey even before I met them. I had seen my fellow contestants work on their social media about inclusiveness and how they spoke about women’s issues. For anyone who assumes pageants are only about glamour and beauty, I would tell them to look again. Beauty pageants are important even during a pandemic. It will help us highlight women’s works, issues and their contribution to society. This pageant has taught me that I can stand tall regardless of what is happening around me.
So it made you stronger and of sterner stuff …
I had been preparing for a year in whatever way I could for this contest. Everything was done virtually, I had to learn on the go. My win reminded me that irrespective of what happens, we should keep going … There were so many things that were left to be done before I boarded my flight to take part in the pageant. My gown for my final rounds was in my hands only hours before I flew to America. It was an adventurous time and the best part was that there was a lot of uncertainty.
This win showed me that determination and motivation can help you become more resilient. When everything around you fails, you just need to have the guts to move forward. I don’t know how I did it, but it was the love for my work and my country that propelled me forward. If I had to do it again I would just burst. While everybody looked at me and said that she may not make it to the pageant due to COVID-19, I said: ‘no, not on my watch’. My presence showed that I am going to show up and make sure that everyone knew that Indian was shining on that stage that night.
What’s your take on beauty pageants being reductive?
It’s a debatable topic. We have only been looking at these contests through the lens of a man.
It’s a male-dominated perspective where you think such contests are only about outer appearances. But in my contest, all judges were women. There was not a single male judge. We weren’t judged based on being the most beautiful girl in the room or the one sporting the most beautiful gown. It all came down to the work we have done and how we carried ourselves on stage.
Every woman out there was a winner that night. Society has taught us that there can only be one winner, but standing on that stage made every woman and contestant feel empowered. You don’t have to wear a crown or a sash to be a winner. All we showed were that women can collectively share a platform like the Miss Universe stage and help people in need.
Is a career in Bollywood in your radar as all pageant winners from Indian often take that path?
I have many goals and I am an ambitious person … We are multifaceted as women. Remember that there are a lot of beauty queens who are not just actresses, but they are also accomplished entrepreneurs and excel in politics too. I wish people would not just focus on Bollywood … Right now, all I know is that my country is going through a difficult time in history and I want to involve myself into helping my society. I want to use my win and this platform in any way I can to help connect people. I just want to make my presence felt.