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Indian beauty pageant coming to Tampa

Two members of the city’s Indian community hope to build on the success of the Bollywood awards in Tampa by bringing an international Indian beauty pageant here.

Rahul Prakash and Kuhleen Shah are the director and assistant director, respectively, of the Miss India Florida & Entertainment Show, to be held Nov. 14 at Busch Gardens — seven months after the International Indian Film Academy Weekend and Awards came to Tampa in April.

The local show will be part of the Miss India Worldwide pageant.

“We wanted to make sure that Tampa was not forgotten about in India and that the Indian culture was not forgotten in Tampa,” said Prakash, CEO of High-Fi Information Systems, a digital and LED signage advertising company. “Bringing the pageant here takes care of both.”

This is the first time the pageant will be held in Tampa since 2005.

Twenty women of Indian descent from throughout the state will compete for the title of Miss India Florida. The winner will travel to New York City in December to vie for Miss India USA against women from 40 other states.

The national winner will compete in a pageant in Goa, India, in 2015 to become Miss India Worldwide 2015, a title presented annually since 1990.

Those interested in entering can download the application at miss indiaflorida.us.

Contestants must be 17 to 27 years old, of Indian ancestry and Florida residents for at least six months.

The competition follows traditional pageant rules with an Indian twist. Evening gowns and the talent portion, for instance, must be derived from the South Asian nation.

Prakash and Shah thought of bringing the show to Tampa while selling corporate sponsorships for the India film awards.

“We wanted to be a part of what IIFA wanted to do for Tampa,” said Shah. “And now we want to be a part of doing more for our culture and community.”

The Indian film awards had a $26.4 million economic effect in the Tampa Bay area and generated considerable international media exposure across television, radio, print and online outlets, organizers said.

The status Tampa earned with the Bollywood awards helped it beat out three other Florida cities for the Miss India Florida Show, Prakash said.

“Events like the pageant are the type we hoped would transpire here after hosting IIFA to keep that momentum going,” said Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of tourism promoter Visit Tampa Bay.

Visit Tampa Bay recently sent a representative to India on a three-city tour to continue to promote the area. Progress has been made, Corrada said.

“This time last year when we were in India we were busy giving geography lessons about Tampa — explaining we were a city on the west coast of Florida in the United States,” he said. “This year, we were the popular kid in town. People in India know Tampa now, and they want to come here after seeing so many photos of their big Bollywood stars having a good time in Tampa.”

Like the Indian film awards, Miss India International is a traveling show that picks a new destination each year.

Tampa hosted Miss India Worldwide in 2000 and Miss India USA in 2005, the last year the state took part.

“When we learned that Florida wasn’t a part of it we asked why and learned it was as simple as no one wanted to be in charge,” said state director Prakash. “So Kuhleen and I decided to volunteer.”

The 2005 Miss India USA pageant drew 4,000 spectators in Tampa.

Prakash expects this year’s state competition will draw more.

“More people are aware of the entertainment value of the Indian culture,” he said. “So it will be bigger.”

Mayor Bob Buckhorn, NFL Hall of Famer and sports executive Derrick Brooks, and former Buc Mike Alstott are among guests scheduled to attend the pageant. April Lufriu, a Tampa native and 2011 Mrs. World, will be one of the judges.

Past notable contestants include Pooja Kumar, who was crowned Miss India USA in 1995; Miss India Worldwide 2000 winner Aarti Chabria; and Australia’s 2004 Miss India Vimala Raman. Each has enjoyed success in India’s acting and modeling industries.

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