Adline Castelino, the Indian representative at the Miss Universe held recently, believes that her education in the Middle East helped her reach the finals of the competition 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 her country into the top-five finalist series and broke the 20-year drought on that front. The last time India secured these coveted places was in the years 2000 and 2001 when Lara Dutta won the Miss Universe and former actress Celina Jaitley in Dubai the first runner-up a year later. ‘Because I was born and raised in Kuwait, especially in an Indian environment, I made myself close to my roots and authenticity. The roots we share as Indians and our love for our indigenous community were all instilled in me, ‘Castelino said in a Zoom interview with Gulf News. Castelino, born among parents from Manglorean, also believes it was fate that helped her get as far as she did. Excerpts from our exclusive interview as we talk about the competition, survive COVID-19 and whether she will turn her eyes to Bollywood …
How does it feel to be a beauty pageant during a global pandemic?
This is the fate I would have had to represent India if it had experienced such a difficult moment in history. Every day I just got up and got ready for the ten day long competition. But at the same time, I see so many people suffering in India and what we are going through as a country. It was an emotional time. It was more than just a competition for me. I felt it was my responsibility to give my fellow Indians something to smile about. Not only did I take part in a beauty pageant, but my presence was more to showcase my country and its strength. I wanted to show that we are working shoulder to shoulder with other countries.
Immediately after your victory, Celina Jaitley, the former runner-up of the Miss.
First of all, I am grateful to her for taking the time and sharing the wonderful message. She’s someone I’ve always looked up to, and this’s a wonderful moment for me. But winning Indian or placing it back in the top five places was not on my mind. I was just set on showing my country to others. I was at the moment. I went through so much emotionally just before I left. There was a lock up and it was a miracle that I even had to travel to America. There were no flights. I was supposed to travel on May 5th, but there was a nationwide exclusion. So I had to travel a day before that. To top it all off, I tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks before I left. I was in isolation and experienced what isolation can do to a person. I have also seen people suffer and lose their loved ones. For me, it was not just a competition where beauty queens compete against each other. It was a difficult time for my country.
What were your life lessons with contracting COVID-19?
I have seen the triumph of mankind. I saw a lot of power in people when they get together to find oxygen cylinders for each other or when they use their social media accounts to reach out and help strangers. I have seen how young people help the elderly to meet 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 literally lived that drama.
Have you experienced the guilt of the survivors and how relevant is a dazzling beauty pageant if your country is tumultuous under a severe second COVID-19 wave?
I had a really realistic approach. Yes, when I think about it, I understand its importance. When you’re in a competition, everyone talks about your appearance and the way you present yourself. But my victory and my journey to there had a much deeper meaning. Internationally, everyone knew what India was going through, and there was so much more meaning to my presence there. I didn’t just go over the face, the hair or the gown. I carried a lot more on my shoulders. This experience changed me as a person. I am so glad I had to experience it at such a young age. My future will be based on these points of reference of our collective reality. This beauty pageant was an empowering experience for me. For the first time, women from different parts of the world were in one room, yet I knew their journey even before I met them. I’ve seen my competitors work on their social media about inclusivity and how they talk about women’s issues. For anyone who assumes that competitions are just about glamor and beauty, I would tell them to take a look again. Beauty pageants are important even during a pandemic. This will help us highlight women’s works, issues and their contribution to society. This competition taught me that I can stand for a long time no matter what happens around me.
So it made you stronger and from stricter things …
I have been preparing for this game this way for a year. Almost everything was done, I had to learn along the way. My victory reminded me that no matter what happened, we had to keep going … There were so many things that still had to be done before I boarded my flight to take part in the competition. My gown for my last rounds was just hours before I flew to America. It was an adventurous time and the best part was that there was a lot of uncertainty. This victory showed me that determination and motivation can help you become more resilient. If everything around you fails, you need to have a chance to move forward. I do not know how I did it, but it was the love of my work and my country that drove me forward. If I had to do it again, I would just burst. While everyone was looking at me and saying that she would not make it to the competition because of the COVID-19, I said, ‘no, not on my watch’. My presence showed that I was going to show up and make sure everyone knew that Indian was shining on that stage that night.
What is your opinion that beauty pageants are reductive?
This is a debatable topic. We just watched these matches through the lens of a man. This is a perspective that is dominated by men, and you would think that such matches only look on the outside. But in my game, all the judges were women. There was not a single male judge. We are not judged on the basis of the most beautiful girl in the room or the most beautiful gown. It comes down to the work we did and how we behaved 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 do not have to wear a crown or a scarf to be a winner. All we showed was that women can collectively share a platform like the Miss Universe stage and help people in need.
Is there a career in Bollywood on your radar, as all Indian winners regularly take that path?
I have many goals and I am an ambitious person … We are multifaceted as women. Remember that there are many beauty queens who are not only actresses but also successful entrepreneurs and also excel in politics. I wish people would not just concentrate on Bollywood… At the moment I just know that my country is going through a difficult time in history and that I want to get involved in helping my society. I want to win and use this platform in any way to help connect people. I just want to make my presence felt.