Bevy of beauties at 'Billu' premiere in South Africa

Durban, Feb 11 (IANS) Priyadarshan's comedy "Billu", which features a large number of top-notch Bollywood actresses, saw bevy of Indian origin beauties from 25 countries at its premiere here.

The 25 young women have assembled here to vie for the Miss India Worldwide 2009 title at the Suncoast Entertainment resort here on Saturday night. And they were excited to take a break from rehearsals Tuesday evening to join local celebrities at the premiere of "Billu", hosted by young South African Indian cinema magnate Abie Moosa.

While Lara Dutta is cast opposite Irrfan, who plays the title role, Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone feature with Shah Rukh Khan in three different item numbers in the comedy.

"It will be delightful to have a complement of such lovely Indian ladies from across the globe to complement the Indian beauties on the screen," Moosa told IANS.

In keeping with the traditions of the Miss India Worldwide Pageant, started by Dharmatma Saran of the US nearly two decades ago, the contestants have been engaged in a series of visits to local communities and welfare projects for several days now.

On Monday, they were shown the massive Hare Krishna Temple in the huge Indian township of Chatsworth, which has become a popular tourist attraction.

Many of them expressed surprise that there were so many Indians in South Africa, and even that they had been here for nearly 150 years. "It is also wonderful to see the huge cultural diversity in South Africa," said Miss India Australia, Kanchan Verma, a health professional.

Miss India Oman, geneticist Shruti Dilip, said she had watched an impressive Indian dance by "a pint-sized" Indian dancer when they visited historic Gandhian sites in Pietermaritzburg, where the young lawyer Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi started his path to becoming the Mahatma after being kicked off a train by a white conductor.

Miss India Singapore, Asmaa Pandit, a business development consultant, and Miss India India Deepthi Varughese said that Durban with its large Indian population felt "just like being in India".

This is the second consecutive year that South Africa is hosting the Miss India Worldwide Pageant after Shagun Sarabhai of India was crowned the winner in Lenasia, the huge Indian township south of Johannesburg, at a gala event last year. Sarabhai will hand over the crown to her successor on Valentine's Day as another former winner from India, Fareisa Joemmanbaks of Suriname, looks on.

Saran said that he definitely had a soft spot for South Africa: "I have been coming here since 1991, when South Africa was just beginning to regain its international stature ahead of the first democratic elections, and the local franchisee for the Miss India Worldwide Pageant, Farook Khan, started it off here."

Saran said from just 12 countries participating in the initial event, this has now more than doubled, and the high standard of entries was most gratifying as young women in the Diaspora gained the international recognition denied to so many of their forebears.

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