Daddy's girl crowned beauty queen

IRSHATH MOHAMED

This Deepavali will be special for Miss Mohanaprabha. She usually celebrates the festival of lights with her loved ones. But this Sunday she will be spending time with them after being crowned Miss Universe Singapore 2019.

The 24-year-old believes she could not have achieved that success without the support of her family.

"Every year during Deepavali, we pray at home and receive the blessings of elders," she said.

"Then we go to my paternal and maternal grandmothers' homes where we meet all other family members.

"This year, my extended family members are all gathering and planning a big Deepavali celebration. I'll be meeting my relatives for the first time after the Miss Universe Singapore finals. I am so excited to meet all of them, especially my grandmothers."

For Miss Mohanaprabha, spending time with her family and friends is very important. She believes that is the way to forge strong ties.

"I believe those memories do last forever and we should invest in them," she said.

"Deepavali is a good time for all of us to take time off our busy schedules and meet and greet each other. It is a celebration of relationships."

Miss Mohanaprabha beat nine other contestants to win the Miss Universe Singapore title in the finals held at Zouk on Oct 17.

She will be competing with 80 others for the Miss Universe 2019 title in the United States on Dec 8.

The biomedical science graduate had finished among the top 5 at the Miss Universe Singapore event last year.

She was determined to do much better this year and worked hard on her weaknesses.

"My strength is my catwalking and stage presence," she said.

"I had to improve in the question and answer segment. So I updated myself on current affairs.

"I read the newspapers daily and took time to comprehend the happenings around the world. Over time, I started to form my own opinions about world affairs and started to engage in meaningful conversations with others."

Miss Mohanaprabha's triumph is a boost for minority representation, racial equality and cultural diversity. But she felt no one was privileged during the competition.

"At no point in the competition did I feel that I could not win just because I am an Indian," she said.

"Neither did anyone feel she has an upper hand just because she is not from a minority race. It is a very safe space for us to exhibit what we want to stand for and work towards it."

But she feels much more should be done to embrace diversity.

She herself encountered racist comments at her previous workplace, where she was a temporary staff.

"Some things cannot be brushed off as casual racism," she said.

"I cannot accept casual remarks from a person I barely know. We live in a multicultural society and we should embrace diversity. We should look beyond race and treat people equally."

The only girl among three siblings, Miss Mohanaprabha, the middle child, grew up in a conservative household.

Her father, Viraya Thamrai Selvam, 60, a project officer at SP PowerGrid, was the family's sole breadwinner, until her elder brother Rajprabu, 32, started working as a programmer at TDS Technology nine months ago.

Her mother, Tamil Selvi, is a homemaker. Her younger brother Kirtan, 23, a personal trainer, helped her tone her body for the competition.

"Initially my brother did not take me seriously. He thought I would not be committed," she said. "But after the first few sessions, he saw that I was determined to get what I wanted.

"He was very happy when he saw me being crowned the winner."

Her father's reaction, however, left a deep impression on her.

"My brother said that when my name was announced on stage, my father slapped his back hard and screamed in joy. He then broke down in tears," she said.

"That is something extremely unusual as we had only seen a non-emotive and strong father who always pushed us to do more."

She describes her father as her "strongest tower of strength" during the two months of competition.

"It is good to know that I brought joy to my father because after all these years of me trying to spread my wings and fly, he finally saw me in the sky," she said.

Her mother did not attend the finals as she gets tired easily. She was at home and learnt about Miss Mohanaprabha's win from her relatives.

Miss Mohanaprabha actually wanted to take up modelling at the age of 16.

But her father told her to focus on her studies and to obtain a degree.

She began by pursuing a diploma in chemical and pharmaceutical technology at Nanyang Polytechnic.

But, after a year, she switched to a diploma course in biomedical science at Republic Polytechnic.

After the completion of her diploma in 2017, she embarked on a degree programme at the PSB Academy.

Soon after, aged 22, she joined a modelling agency. Her father did not stop her this time.

"He was letting me grow out of his shadow and do what I liked," she said.

"I am thankful that my conservative father stopped me from pursuing modelling when I was young, as I would not have made an informed decision."

Miss Mohanaprabha is relieved that just weeks before winning the pageant, she obtained her bachelor's degree.

"I took the longer path," she said.

"Just like how my pageant was a second try, I was also trying to clear my modules in which I had previously failed. So it was an extremely stressful period. I had to focus on my last exam and at the same time prepare for my pageant."

She has now realised that failure is not the end of anything.

"We should never give up. We must try as many times as we can to achieve our dreams," she said.

"Modelling and medical technology are my passions. I followed them and succeeded in both."

She wants to pursue a career in the fashion industry.

"But if that does not work out, I want to become a medical technologist," she said.

 irshathm@sph.com.sg

"He was letting me grow out of his shadow and do what I liked. I am thankful that my conservative father stopped me from pursuing modelling when I was young, as I would not have made an informed decision."

- Miss Mohanaprabha