From Miss World To Bollywood, Manushi Chhillar's Inspiring Journey


From Miss World To Bollywood, Manushi Chhillar's Inspiring Journey

There’s more than what meets the eye when one talks about Manushi Chhillar. Taking her role as Miss World 2017 with utmost sincerity, the actor-model has traversed to every part of the globe to spread awareness about female welfare and initiate conversations on menstrual hygiene. Travel+Leisure India & South Asia takes a closer look at her inspiring tales during the latest digital cover shoot.

Editor-in-chief: Aindrila Mitra
Produced by: Chirag Mohanty Samal
Co-produced by: Ishika Laul
Assisted by: Muskaan Pruthi
Styling Assistant: Astha Kothari and Jhanvi Khatwani
Styling Partner: VERO MODA India
Eyewear Partner: John Jacobs Eyewear

Manushi Chhillar epitomises beauty with brains. During her growing years, the medical student found herself drawn towards the glitz and glamour signature of pageantry. Having clinched the title of Miss World in 2017, the Haryana-born Chhillar took on this new role with serious conviction. A true queen, Manushi Chhillar has since travelled across the globe, spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene and anaemia, advocating for education for all, and even working towards curbing gender-based violence. Be it collaborating with UNICEF’s campaign to raise awareness on the Coronavirus pandemic or leading the charge on Project Shakti, a campaign centering around spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene, she does it all!

But in true cinematic style, Manushi Chhillar’s story doesn’t end there. By bagging a three-movie deal with Yash Raj Films, the former Miss World forayed into the Hindi film industry with Samrat Prithviraj alongside actor Akshay Kumar, followed by The Great Indian Family, a comedy film opposite actor Vicky Kaushal. Along the way, countless partnerships crossed her paths, including jewellery brands, American multinational cosmetics companies, luxury cars, and more. A year later, her journey took her to the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and earned her the tag of India’s Hottest Vegetarian in 2019 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). 

Despite this fame, all Manushi Chhillar truly seeks today is the quietude and comfort of her family — a mission she accomplishes during her vacations. In an exclusive conversation with Travel+Leisure India & South Asia, the latest digital cover star reveals how travel impacts her, all while giving a peek into her journey– past, present, and beyond. 

Excerpts from the interview with Manushi Chhillar:

Coming from a medical background, what inspired you to get into pageantry and eventually acting?

Pageantry always fascinated me. Back in 2013, I happened to watch a Miss World show on television and it’s only then that I realised there’s so much more to [pageantry] than we see and think. I realised it’s a great steppingstone for women and I wanted to experience that. I felt it would add value to my life – and I did!     While growing up, I was told that I was tall and that I should compete [in a pageantry]. Having said that, I didn’t plan on doing it so soon. I imagined I would go after completing my education. But I was at a college fest where they had organised an event called College Princess. I gave the auditions and fortunately for me, it worked out. Post that, things happened one after the other.     Acting came in much later. It was more circumstantial because after [winning] Miss World, life had changed drastically. I was getting more opportunities in Mumbai because of my pageantry commitments. I would travel more, my base had changed to Mumbai, and – more than anything else – I could no longer return to college because I had lost the privacy and anonymity a student needs.  

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Pageantry comes with its own stereotypes. How challenging was it for you to break free from these notions?

Much like everything else in life, this also came with its preconceived notions. But to be honest, I always wanted to try [pageantry]. It’s been one of the most exciting parts of my life and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I haven’t given these notions much thought and I don’t think it matters either.

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With Project Shakti, you’ve worked extensively to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene. What motivated to centre your project around menstrual wellness?

It all started at a young age. During my teenage years, the domestic help at my place could not conceive due to a fibrous tissue. That made me realise how a simple infection at a young age can have such a big impact. Later in medical college, we would discuss menstrual history while visiting government hospitals. Apart from the lack of awareness, I noticed the lack of accessibility. There were a lot of taboos, too. These factors [motivated me]. It started with awareness and then [Project Shakti] went on to make [feminine hygiene] more affordable. We’re also trying to promote environmentally friendly products. Once basic health and hygiene for females is taken care of, a lot of other diseases can also be avoided in life. Often, when females are healthy, she can help keep her family healthy, too.

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You marked one year into the film industry this year. How have you evolved as a person?

I’ve learned a lot! I come from a medical background, so I’ve generally grown up with structure and a certain map of what the next few years of life are supposed to look like. Life is unpredictable, but in the film industry, it’s even more! [I’ve learned] being comfortable with that energy and going with the flow. Your commitment to each day mut be the same, but you have to have a different energy each day. My work is such that every day comes with a different challenge, and each challenge requires a different version of me. I’ve had to learn to be comfortable with that.

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2023 also marked your debut at the Cannes Film Festival. Tell us more about the experience, and how did you curate the looks for it?  

Cannes Film Festival has been on my bucketlist for a long time, and I’m happy [I ticked it off] this year. It was exactly how I imagined it -- or even better! I was shooting abroad for two-three months, and there was a chance I would have to skip the event due to cut-to-cut dates. But at the last minute, my team and I decided to go for it. I landed in Mumbai in the morning, quickly packed, and left for Cannes in the evening after briefing my stylist. We barely had any time for fittings.     I wanted the outfit to be a representation of who I am as a person. Luckily, my stylist was on the same page as me. We decided what I would wear on the same day! We landed in Cannes, did fittings, and finalised the look just five minutes before getting into hair and makeup. I tried the outfit and it fit like a glove. I give my team all the credit for the look.  

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You’ll be making your debut in the Telugu film industry with Operation Valentine. Tell us a little bit about the movie and how you prepared for it.

Operation Valentine is an Air Force film. I loved my character the moment I read it. We’ve all seen films on the armed forces, but this is a good story with a different take. I’m playing a radar controller. I had to learn the simple things about how things happen in the Air Force, give commands, and also strike a balance in terms of showing emotion. As actors, we want to give a balance about what we are feeling but also depict how [characters] are portrayed professionally. I had to learn how officers maintain their calm while making substantial decisions, the protocol, and body language. Since it is a bilingual film – we shot in Hindi and Telugu, both – it was a new experience for me. Telugu is a musical language and I enjoyed it. I love how acting teaches you so much and that you pick up new skills with every film and project.  

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You travelled extensively during your reign as Miss World. What were some of your most heartwarming travel experiences from this time?

Travelling has become an integral part of my life, especially since Miss World. The two of my sweetest memories during the time are from my visit to the British Virgin Islands where we went right after the twin hurricanes had hit. One of the schools’ structures was completely destroyed unfortunately. It wasn’t easy to build it back, especially with limited resources and manpower. Having said that, the islands are probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. The people are so kind, warm, and welcoming. The community is so tightly knit. We were there for a good cause, so that was even more fulfilling.   The other trip was Brazil when I visited to increase awareness on Hansen’s disease (which was earlier called Leprosy). We went to a school for children with genetic disorders. The people there were doing a wonderful job of educating, upskilling, and providing employment. We got a great response from the government and were able to raise funds to build more floors in the schools. The governor of Brasilla helped us acquire the necessary permissions and bridge the gap at the end of the fundraiser.   Travelling as Miss World was always special. Whatever we did was such an integral part of society, and not just as a tourist. We interacted with a lot of people and received so much love. But these two experiences are very close to my heart.

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What kind of traveller are you?

I’m a moody traveller. Because my work life is so chaotic, I like to take it easy when I travel. I love visiting places to explore, but it depends upon my mood. There have been times when I love exploring the city, and seeing its art, culture, architecture, and food. Most of the times, I enjoy quiet retreats where there aren’t many people. I like going on treks, being in nature, eating good food, spending time with family, and reading a good book.  

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Describe your ideal vacation. Where would you go and who would you travel with?

I don’t like travelling alone. I need to have my family or friends with me because I get bored alone. I love sitting, talking, and doing activities with them. My ideal vacation would be with my family at a secluded property. It would be four to five days, maximum. I can’t do something so quiet beyond that! Maybe a beach would be great; some water sports would be great. Maybe even some workouts to remain healthy! An ideal vacation would also be one where I can follow a good, healthy routine along with eight hours of sleep. Self-care is important. I’d love to do a lot of physical activities, too.  

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Your top five travel must-haves when travelling?

Passport, for obvious reasons. A good book. My smart watch because I don’t like looking at my phone much, unless it I urgent. Comfortable shoes because I enjoy exploring and walking. And sunscreen since I love being outdoors.  

What does a party organised by Manushi Chhillar look like?

It would be at home with good food. I love curating menus for parties and I give myslf credit for being a good host. There would be lots of conversations. There would be music, but not too loud. It’ll be an intimate gathering because I feel like you should be able to talk to everyone at a party.  

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Your go-to party look?

My go-to party look depends upon what I’m feeling that day. Most of time, I end up wearing black bodycon dresses. If it’s something at home, I might not dress up as much. Then, I’d be wearing casual clothes with flats. Other times, I’d wear dressier bodycons with a pair of heels.

Your bucket list destination and why?

Iceland and Bali are on the top of my bucketlist right now. I planned to visit Reykjavik two-three years ago, but couldn’t go because some work came up. But I want to visit it because how different it is from the landscape we have here in India. There’s volcanoes and beaches; and if I’m lucky, I’d love to see the Northern Lights, too.     And Bali because everyone who has visited has told me such great things about the place. I love the quiet island life, and I’d love to visit it for two weeks or even a month. I’d love to live like an island girl away from the city’s bustle.     I also want to go to Masai Mara and try the safari there since I love animals.  

Tell us a little bit about your upcoming projects.

Operation Valentine is coming out in December. Then there is Tehran which is releasing next year. It’s an action film with John Abraham. It’s going to be very exciting.   Related: Quick Style On Dancing Around The World

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Written By

Bayar Jain

Bayar Jain

Senior Content Manager

Equipped with a degree in Sociology (Honours) from the University of Delhi and a postgraduate diploma in English Journalism and Mass Communication from Xavier Institute of Communications, Mumbai, Bayar enjoys sharing stories of people, places, and different cultures. When not typing her travel tales, you can catch the hobbyist photographer capturing ..Read More

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