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First Indian in swimsuit issue

INDIANS making it to the top in academic and business circles is no longer big news in the United States.

But a tall, dusky Indian lass who sashays down runways for big fashion labels has set the Indian community talking.

Ms Sonia Dara has become the first Indian to be featured in Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue, which went on sale last week. The 20-yearold was one of 20 models selected by Sports Illustrated for the issue.

What makes Ms Dara special is that she is not just gifted with a fabulous body, she is blessed with brains too. She is a student of Harvard, known more for producing intellectuals and political activists.

Ms Dara, who joined the university in 2008 to do her undergraduate studies in human evolution biology later opted for economics as her major. With the swimsuit edition pushing her into the limelight, she has now decided to take a year off to devote more time to modelling.

The swimsuit shoot was done in Rajasthan and the Sports Illustrated website has 45 photographs of her in various poses. In a video posted on the site, she said of the shoot in Rajasthan: “Since t h i s i s where my ancestors are, I feel there’s a certain place in my heart for it.”

She got her big break in 2005 when, as a 16-year-old, she was invited by talent development company AMTC to attend its summer convention that year. A family friend had sent her photos to the agency.

In an e-mail to tabla!, AMTC’s chief serving officer Carey Lewis Arban said that Ms Dara was invited and trained to attend the convention where she got noticed and signed by big agents. She was signed by Elite Atlanta and later by Elite New York.

Ms Arban is all praise for the Indian beauty.

When contacted by tabla! after the swimsuit issue was released, she said: “Sonia is wise, beautiful, and elegant. She shines as a role model and will lead the world as no model before has done.”

While Ms Dara attended Harvard University, she still managed to fulfil her modelling commitments. She worked for clients like Oscar De La Renta, Valentino, Versace, Balenciaga, Bill Blass, Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, Saks, Juicy Couture, Cosmo Girl, Seventeen, WWD and Allure.

That did not mean she was a quiet student on campus. She was involved in the Undergraduate Council, the South Asian Association as well as groups like Project East, Eleganza, Cultural Rhythms and Ghungroo. Last year she was elected the secretary of the Hasty Pudding Club (a campus social club).

“My roommates joke that the only time I go back to my room is to sleep. Otherwise, I’m either at Lamont (the university library) or at my extracurriculars,” she told the Harvard Crimson, the campus newspaper, last year.

Ms Dara’s parents migrated to the US in the early 1980s. Her father Prithipal is an engineer- turned-patent-prosecutor. She has an older sister, Jyothsna, who graduated as an industrial engineer from Georgia Tech. Mum Poornima does the chaperoning and, according to her, good grades were a prerequisite for her daughter to model in high school.

“We’re the first set of South Asian parents to encourage their child to do modelling. We encouraged her because she showed us that she can multitask, model and get a 4.0 GPA. If she weren’t able to multitask, we wouldn’t have encouraged her,” she told the Harvard Crimson.

Ms Dara’s mother is said to have Bollywood connections – her father is said to be a lawyer-turned film exhibitor and distributor.

And, since modelling to acting is a path many have taken in India, don’t be surprised if Bollywood sees a real beauty with brains.


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