Sushmita Sen was born on November 19, 1975, in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India. Sushmita’s parents, an Indian Air Force officer and a fashion designer, provided her with a stable middle-class upbringing and, along with her two siblings, Sushmita enjoyed a childhood that’s best described as carefree. Though it seems unfathomable now, Sushmita was actually something of a tomboy during her adolescence — often choosing prototypically rough-and-tumble activities over anything even resembling ladylike endeavors.
And although her tomboyish ways eventually landed her a short-lived stint with a full-fledged gang, Sushmita soon discovered that she had the potential to earn a living as a model. Her big break came in 1994 at the age of 18, when she decided to enter the Miss India pageant. Though she faced some stiff competition — including future Bollywood Princess Aishwarya Rai — Sushmita won over the judges with her poise and striking features, and walked away with the title of Miss India. Later that same year, Sushmita stunned the world when she won the Miss Universe pageant, becoming the first contestant from India to ever win the top prize.
Sushmita’s exponentially increased profile meant that she was suddenly hot property among film producers, and the model soon found herself inundated with offers for her cinematic debut. She eventually decided to take a role in the new film by veteran Bollywood director Mahesh Bhatt, and the end result was 1996’s Dastak. Though the role didn’t require a whole lot out of her — she was essentially playing a variation on her own personality — Sushmita proved that she had a certain amount of natural talent, and it wasn’t long before she was being praised as the next big thing within the Bollywood film scene.
Sushmita spent the next few years appearing in a host of forgettable efforts, and it wasn’t until 1999’s Biwi No. 1 that she finally began to live up to her promise. The film, a traditional romantic comedy, wound up taking the box office by storm, and brought Sushmita a truckload of awards and kudos. She won the Indian equivalent of an Oscar for best supporting actress the following year for her performance.
It was also around that time that Sushmita decided to adopt a child, a choice that stemmed from her time as Miss India. “I saw so many poor children… I wanted to adopt a girl child. It took me years to get one.” Sushmita decided to name the baby Renee after her mother’s store in Dubai, and though the adoption raised some eyebrows in India, the actress has since admitted that she holds no regrets about her decision.
More controversy followed when Sushmita began dating a married man, Bollywood filmmaker Vikram Bhatt, although that relationship didn’t last terribly long. For now, Sushmita seems to be focused solely on her daughter and her career — with the latter hotter than ever (Sushmita appeared in almost two dozen films between 2000 and 2006). A foray into the North American market is inevitable, and it seems likely that she’ll soon be as well-known as her former Miss India competitor Aishwarya Rai.