The Life and Times of the Jewish Beauty Queens of India
Given the fact that Jewish beauty has been celebrated in history, it does not come as a surprise that in spite of the numerical insignificance of Jews in India’s huge population (five thousand of the total Indian population of 1.3 billion) their women went on to represent the country internationally at a number of beauty pageants. In fact, they were the first to do so, as the very first Miss India was Jewish. The first Miss India pageant in 1947 was organized by Femina, a Times of India publication, and the beauty who was crowned as Miss India was a Baghdadi Jew, Esther Victoria Abraham (1916-2006), who later became popular as a successful film actress with the pseudonym Pramila.
Two decades later on March 12, 1967, her daughter Naqi Jahan, who was chosen Miss India in the pageant organized by the popular magazine Eve’s Weekly that year, became the first to represent India at the Queen of the Pacific Quest beauty pageant held in Melbourne, Australia. Although Naqi Jahan is considered Jewish because of her Jewish mother, she was raised as a Muslim, as her mother Esther married the popular film actor Kumar ne Syed Hasan Ali, a Muslim. Today, their son Haider Ali is a successful character artist in Bollywood.
The honor of being the first Indian to participate in the Miss World pageant went to Fleur Ezekiel, a member of the Bene Israel community, numerically the largest of the three Jewish communities in India. She represented India in the Miss World pageant of 1959.
The mother of the Roy Kapur brothers, Siddharth, Kunal and Aditya, who are making waves in Bollywood today, was Miss India 1972, Salome Aaron. Salome Aaron, a ballroom dancer, later went on to make a career for herself as a film choreographer in Bollywood. Of her three sons she had with her Hindu husband, the eldest, Siddharth, has found great success as the Managing Director of a film company, which is the joint venture of Disney and UTV in India, while the younger two, Kunal and Aditya have become successful actors. It is interesting to note that her youngest son Aditya Roy Kapur is the second male lead in the only Indian film to be released simultaneously in India and Israel, Yeh Jawaani hai Deewani.
The author is a scholar of Indo-Judaic Studies, an Assistant Professor of History at Gautam Buddha University, India.