When Kiran Jassal was crowned Miss Universe Malaysia 2016, it was not only a dream came true for her but also for her mother Ranjit Kaur and sister Ranmeet Jassal.
Kiran’s glorious win was the crowning title for this trio of beauty queens.
Ranmeet, 25, is the newly-crowned Miss Grand International Malaysia 2016 and Miss Malaysia World 2016 first runner-up, while their mother Ranjit is the Classic Mrs Malaysia 2015.
Participating and winning beauty pageants are testament to this family’s pride in their beauty and grace. The Jassal sisters grew up admiring and idolising beauty queens Miss World 1994 Aishwarya Rai and Miss Universe 1994 Sushmita Sen.
Watching beauty pageants and Bollywood movies were something of a family affair, and they all strove to embrace and emulate the beautiful women portrayed.
But the emphasis on grooming and looking their best went back even further, ingrained by the sisters’ 75-year-old grandmother.
Kiran and Ranmeet’s grandmother was dolling up their mother Ranjit in fancy hairstyles and entering her into fashion shows way back in the 1970s.
“Good genes runs in the family. My brother and I won in the male and female category, at a Deepavali fashion show back then,” recalls Ranjit who adds that her mother still looks good at 75.
Although they were not well off in the past, Ranjit’s mother always ensured they looked after their skin and hair using coconut milk. She also carried on that beauty ritual with her daughters until they were 13. She is convinced that’s why Kiran and Ranmeet are blessed with thick, luscious hair.
“We believe that a woman can look beautiful at any age. It is about walking with confidence and maintaining your beauty; It is not just about beauty. Even at her age, my mother will dance the bhangra, and everyone else on the dance floor would be tired but she would still be full of energy,” says Ranjit.
Her daughters Kiran and Ranmeet were motivated to replicate Aishwarya Rai and Sushmita Sen’s successes when the Indian beauty queens took home the coveted crowns at the Miss World and Miss Universe pageants respectively in 1994.
“When I was growing up, I used to watch their movies. I was impressed by how they’d developed and done good for society beyond the pageant. Their stories resonated strongly with me because they did something else with their lives other than just being a beauty queen, especially with Sushmita Sen as she did a lot of charity work outside of Miss Universe,” says Kiran, 20.
It was Ranjit who decided that she’d take a leap of faith and pursue her dreams of becoming a beauty queen, at 50. She participated in the Classic Mrs Malaysia 2015 pageant.
“My friend asked me to join the beauty pageant and I thought she was crazy. But then I figured age was just a number and without thinking much of it, I joined and won!” she says.
Ranjit adds that people didn’t believe she was 50 due to her youthful looks and toned physique. “They thought I was competing in the lower categories as the category I joined was for the age 47 and above category. They were surprised when they called the Classic participants and I entered,” she says.
Ranjit’s boldness inspired her daughters to follow her lead.
“I told myself, if I did not join the pageants, I’d probably regret it at one point of time in my life. I do not want to live in ifs, so I decided to put my job on hold,” recounts Ranmeet whose wins affirm her family’s celebrations of their beauty.
The family is also changing the perception that beauty pageants only emphasise beauty.
Kiran, who is studying dentistry at the International Medical University (IMU), believes that beauty pageants are good platforms for younger women to voice their opinions.
“Beauty pageants could be used to gain fame and publicity. But I think if it is used right, you can get the public recognition to raise awareness and bring light to certain causes as you have a huge target audience, ” she says.
Ranmeet, a medical graduate of Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences in India, says the perception of beauty pageants has changed over the years.
“More women who are equally good in education are taking the initiative because it is a good platform to educate and inspire young women. Believe it or not, young women look up to beauty queens!” says Ranmeet who had just returned from representing Malaysia in the Miss Grand International pageant in Las Vegas where she won the top ten placing in the National Costume category. She has given up her runner-up Miss Malaysia World title to focus on her duties as Miss Grand International Malaysia.
Ranjit, a lawyer who does pro bono work on family law cases, says there is a charitable purpose behind every beauty pageant.
“These women carry with them something additional, they have the perfect body and face but without a purpose to give to the community, they cannot be in the Top 20, 10 or 5. They need something else that will set them apart,” she says.
Kiran, who is motivated to use her fame to help others, is keen to raise awareness on the importance of oral health to the underprivileged.
She recently used the RM50,000 worth of dental services which she won for Miss Winning Smile in the Miss Universe pageant to fund an awareness campaign on dental healthcare and personal hygiene at an orphanage in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
“Dental care is not just for aesthetic reasons. A good set of teeth enables a person to have self-confidence,” she says, adding that she was saddened by public indifference towards dental healthcare.
Ranmeet recently volunteered to provide medical care for Syrian refugees in Turkey under MedVint, a humanitarian non-governmental organisation.
When the Istanbul Ataturk Airport in Turkey was attacked on June 28 by terrorists, her father and Kiran were against the idea of her travelling to assist the Syrian refugees.
She teared up when she recalled how her mother was the only one who supported her decision to help. “My mother gave me her credit card and I spent about RM2,000 to buy medicines such as antibiotics, painkillers and cough syrup (for the refugees),” she says.
Ranmeet said it pained her to see the poor standard of living of the refugees.
“Most women were unable to breastfeed their children as they could not produce enough milk. The children were also malnourished as there was not enough food and the situation was compounded by a lack of clean water supply,” she recalls.
Each day Ranmeet travelled two to three hours in between camps to treat patients ranging from babies to middle aged women and men.
“I saw a variety of diseases during my time there, from throat infections to sicknesses caused by contaminated food and diarrhoea,” she says.
Ranmeet also said the challenging environment made her feel powerless as there was a constant shortage of medical supplies.
“We did go back to the local pharmacies to stock up on medical supplies but that was all we could do,” she says, all the more determined to make a difference.