Hong Kong-based beauty queen Mukta Chopra breezes confidently into the coffee shop in an exotic off-the-shoulder dress, attracting plenty of attention. If she notices the appreciative glances, it doesn’t show. Besides, the pageant winner gets all the satisfaction she needs from her career, husband and two children. She’s no inexperienced twenty-something.
The flight attendant and model, an Indian national who has lived in Hong Kong for 20 years, was earlier this summer crowned Mrs South Central Asia. This week she is in Guangzhou, where she is competing for the title of Mrs Universe – the married woman’s equivalent of Miss Universe.
For all her confident air, Chopra hesitates when asked her age, laughing and stroking her hair before revealing that she’s 43. Still, she says, she is proud to be taking part in a tournament that promotes strong, mature women.
“In the past, there were no contests for married women. They devoted most of their time to taking care of their children and their husbands,” she says. “But married women nowadays have careers and are health-conscious. They are doing really well and taking care of themselves.”
Chopra took part against 19 other women in the Mrs South Central Asia contest, held in India, after qualifying by fielding questions about her education, goals and how she could contribute to society. There was another criterion: “All of the contestants had to have won some kind of contest before,” says Chopra, who was named Mrs Beautiful Eyes in the 2014 Mrs India pageant.
Since earning that title, she has been hired for many fashion shoots and catwalk shows, including last year’s Fashion Week Dubai. She has donated the money earned from her fashion work to charities in India helping orphans and cancer survivors. Although she has had no modelling job offers in Hong Kong – “It’s difficult to get exposure in Hong Kong,” she says – Chopra hopes her Mrs South Central Asia title – and maybe a Mrs Universe crown – could change that.
Despite her modelling work, a 20-year career as a flight attendant, and children aged seven and 11 to care for, Chopra says she still finds time to look after herself.
“I love yoga and I work out a lot,” she says. “I always begin my day with honeyed lemon water. I am a woman, and women are inherently blessed with the natural ability to multi-task. I’m fascinated by my overlapping roles as a mother, career woman, and now a beauty pageant winner. They all come naturally to me.”
Chopra says she probably spends more time with her children than women with a standard nine-to-five job. “I have the option to do short flights, so I choose that. It gives me enough time to be with my family.”
Her daughter constantly encourages her to follow her dreams, she says, and her husband is equally supportive, reminding her: “You’ll regret if you don’t pursue your passions.”
Chopra is competing against 59 other contestants for the title of Mrs Universe, organised by Bulgaria-based Mrs Universe Ltd. The competition was established in 2007 with the aim of promoting equality and the rights of women and girls. It is open to married career women aged 25 to 45 from all countries and regions, who must also be committed to worthy causes. The current titleholder is Mrs Canada, Ashley Burnham.
The theme of this year’s pageant, the winner of which will be crowned on September 5, is domestic violence. Competitors are spending the week in Guangzhou and , rather than parading in skimpy swimsuits to catch the eyes of judges, they will be engaging in social work, including visits to homes for the elderly, and preparing a presentation on domestic violence.
Asked about her chances of winning, Chopra laughs and says: “All the contestants are so beautiful. So it’s going to be tough, but I’m going to give it my best.”