Beauty queen’s gambit

Her name means “dawn” in Arabic, the time of day that gives light slowly to darkness.

Beginnings. There are so many firsts (and seconds) for this Canadian beauty queen. She placed first-runner up in the Miss Universe Canada pageant four years ago, and then last year competed with the first transgendered woman allowed to take part in the beauty pageant’s history—and won the Miss Universe Canada title.

Sahar Biniaz, 26, born in India, raised in Iran, and now a Canadian citizen was crowned Miss Universe Canada 2012.

She graduated with honors in Performing Arts from the Stella Adler Academy in Los Angeles. And following her father’s advice that “Beauty needs brains,” Sahar also completed studies in Business Entrepreneurship from the British Columbia Institute of Technology and Sauder School of Business from University of British Columbia.

Currently she’s working as an actress in film and television. Her recent credits include the lead role
in the Iranian film “Ambrosia” and recurring guest star roles in two hit TV series, “Sanctuary” and “Smallville,” which aired in many countries around the world.

Her screen roles portraying a goddess (Kali in “Sanctuary”) and a superhero (Hawkgirl in “Smallville”)
are somehow in a striking parallel universe to her real-life character. Whether it’s volunteering in Thailand orphanages or traveling to jaw-dropping locations around the world while promoting organ donor awareness, Sahar strives to achieve any goal regardless of its scale or fear factor.

Recently, she completed a full scholarship at the New York Film Academy, as well as received an
honorary award for her humanitarian work with Operation Smile.

But it is in India, her birthplace, where Sahar always saw herself. She says, “I’ve watched Bollywood films
all my life and always felt that part of my soul belonged here.”

In Cebu at a calendar photo shoot for a top brand in India, Play! had a chance to sit down with Miss Universe Canada 2012, who talked about her protracted Miss Universe dream, Filipino friends and supporters, and her foray into Bollywood.

Why were you not able to take part in Miss Universe 2012?
I am an avid hiker. One time, coming down the mountain, I sprained my calcaneus (heel bone). It was really unfortunate. But it’s also great proof that things didn’t stop there. You can really do whatever you want to do. Sometimes in life we set limits for ourselves… we shouldn’t. I got a full scholarship with the New York Academy, the same one that (Miss Universe 2012) Olivia Culpo got.

Did you have any regrets missing the opportunity to join Miss Universe?
Not at all! Even though Donald Trump tweeted “Miss Canada is so beautiful, she could do well in the pageant,” I wanted to prove to everyone, myself included, that I don’t need the title to do the things that comes with it. I think many girls don’t understand how valuable the recognition is, what one is capable of doing with it. I am so grateful to my mentor Fabrisio loza Alvarado, who really helped me.

But four years before that, you placed first-runner up in the Miss Universe Canada pageant, right? What made you give it another try?
In life you should never give up. It’s as simple as asking for an ice cream—if you don’t get it the first time, try again… do it again, until you get what you want. Even in relationships, when pursuing someone, don’t stop until you get the girl or man of your dreams. In 2008 I didn’t feel I was prepared enough, my acting background wasn’t as complete as it is now. I’m actually writing a book about it, coming out soon.

Did you feel extra special somehow because you were not stripped of the title even if you didn’t represent Canada in the Miss Universe pageant?
I think it was a mutual decision, mine and the organizers’ for me not to go. I wanted to send the first runner-up because she was the first black woman to represent Miss Canada globally in 70 years. Two of us can share the same dream.

You also competed with the controversial transgender woman Jenna Talackova.
Yes. I didn’t know the difference back then. I had to Google it. I think Jenna is a beautiful girl, and I respect every one that’s different. I hope she becomes productive. With all the publicity that she’s receiving and because there’s a lot of awareness, she could bring so much more to the table. And I hope she stays away from reality shows.

What advice can you give full-blooded Filipina Riza Santos, the Miss Universe Canada 2013?
I’m sure she’s going to shine on that stage. I’m so intrigued by how a Filipina beauty can captivate the world.

What are the advocacies closest to your heart?
Anti-bullying. I’m a huge supporter because so many young girls give up their lives in the hands of bullies. Another is Operation Smile, a huge charity that is dear to me. Most of the volunteer-doctors are from Sweden, and I get to be its ambassador. There’s nothing more priceless, seeing a child smile.

Let’s talk about your recent career shift. What made you decide to be based in India?
It was after the Miss Universe Canada. I thought about what I would have done if I won the title. I would have gone to Bollywood with it. I’m very fortunate to be born in India. I was invited to be one of the presenters for best director for the Times of India awards. They invited me to come, and I fell in love with the Bollywood scene. I’ll be shooting my first film in 10 days.

Most former Miss Indias foray into Bollywood. Does one’s beauty queen status have a major impact in landing a role there?
In most of the roles I got, it wasn’t about my nationality. It’s more of my character. I have a tough and edgy personality, you know, a tough chick speeding off to jet ski. I grew up with my brother; that’s why I know how to play rough. But I love to be womanly, too. I play Goddess of Destruction in “Sanctuary” and Hawkgirl in “Smallville.” Even in this new movie, I play a very liberal woman against Saddam Hussein.

This is going to be your first Bollywood film.
It is still in English. But it will be directed and produced by top Indian filmmakers. Hopefully, the next one will be in Hindi. Right now, I am learning Bollywood dancing.

What are your top two Bollywood films of all time?
One is “Devdas.” It’s the most expensive Indian film ever made because of the many tiny details, and it stars Aishwarya Rai.. by the way, she’s wonderful! The other one would have to be “Barfil,” which is about a girl with a mental disability, her journey and all. And who’s playing her? Priyanka Chopra, Miss World 2000. That film is amazing, and she got many awards for it.

Is this just a phase—going back to your roots? Are you really giving up Hollywood for Bollywood?
Well, I’m open to it. The new James Bond is casting, and they’re looking for a Middle-Eastern beauty, so we’ll see. The fact is, I grew up watching these Bollywood films. It’s such a big deal, the people save their money just to watch these movies, and to them, you are a hero already. In Hollywood, they care more about the gossip. In Bollywood, they are in love with the roles you portray. They hardly care about your personal life.

Did you ever feel any discrimination in India?
They love me in India! I have been working non-stop. I am the showstopper for major fashion designers. It would have been nicer if Canada was more embracing of its beauty queens, too.

What type of guys do beauty queens attract?
Politicians. Our secretary of defense is married to a Miss World first runner-up from Canada.

What about Hollywood guys?
They have so much drama in their lives, so the last thing they need is a beauty queen.

What guy qualities are you drawn to?
Humor. One that makes you laugh makes you lose weight when you are continuously laughing.

We learned that you wanted to see the Seven Wonders of the World. We’ve got three in the Philippines.
I know! That’s amazing. I have Filipino friends and I always tell them “Salamat.” Actually, one of my biggest supporters is a Filipino. I shall definitely come back here because I really want to know why you guys smile a lot.

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