Her hair now brushes her waist. The cheekbones aren’t as prominent, yes, but her twinkling eyes and infectious smile that lights up her face, and the trademark bubbly spring in her stride – it seems all are here to stay forever.
Nepal’s boldest and “hottest” Miss Nepal, Jharana Bajracharya, has come a long way since she stole the Miss Nepal crown at the age of 16. But in a pair of blue jeans and white kurta, she could still be mistaken for a high-school student.
With an air of nonchalance surrounding her, she seems to have conveniently forgotten that she’s a “celebrity” as she sits down for an exclusive tête-à-tête with The Week.
“My life’s been an open book. I haven’t tried to hide anything, so there’s not much to tell,” says Jharana. It’s this honesty that draws people’s attention to her. Outspoken, and unapologetic about it, that’s Jharana in a nutshell.
When her mom asked her if she wanted to participate in the Miss Nepal contest when she was 16 and freshly out of school, she said yes on pure impulse.
For someone who scoured around her neighbor’s gardens to steal vegetables before returning home caked with dirt and mud throughout her childhood days, Miss Nepal was never even a distant dream.
“I heard the contestants got to travel around Nepal. It seemed like a better option than sitting at home brooding over silly issues,” says Jharana who went on to clinch the crown in 1997, becoming the first Miss Nepal the country stood up and noticed.
Winning the crown brought her in the limelight and it didn’t stop with the media. Even in school, the principal used to stop by her class to check on her.
“That used to be embarrassing,” she says with an imperceptible shake of her head.
But that did put pressure on her academically and she did surprisingly well during the two years of high school.
“I was never an attentive child and was elated when I found out I had passed SLC in second division. But when the teachers start focusing on you like they did after I became Miss Nepal, I was forced to pay attention in class and fared pretty well in my exams.”
Film offers started pouring in while she was enrolled in +2 at Siddhartha Vanasthali in Balaju, Kathmandu. She was initially skeptical about the whole idea of “acting in a film” and didn’t think she could pull it off.
A typical 16-year-old that she was, she asked the producer how much she would be paid for it. The amount he quoted – Rs 60,000 – came as a surprise. Also, being someone who always set high standards for herself, she just couldn’t say no to the challenge.
“The money was obviously tempting but the challenge was even more alluring,” says Jharana, adding that she’s always been a stubborn person with a can-do attitude that works to her benefits most of the times.
That probably explains why she decided to move to Mumbai, India, after a cameo role in “Love in Nepal” which caused a huge controversy because of a single item-song she was featured in.
The rumor mills have never been kind to her. From the media badgering her for her role in Love in Nepal to speculations about her marriage with a fictitious businessman, she’s always been hounded by gossipmongers.
But it’s during these testing times, her uncompromisingly strong character kicks into action, as it does, and she handles it all with dignity and grace.
“I don’t really care what people say. If it’s not true, I can only deny it. But if people still refuse to believe it, then there’s nothing much I can do,” says Jharana, mentioning that when there were gossips doing the rounds about her having a child, she kidded her way around it, saying she actually had two.
Moving to Mumbai was perhaps the worst and the best decision of her life. Ambition led her to pack her bags and make the move to the “dream city” where she auditioned for many roles.
She did land up in quite a few commercials. Her claim to fame, to a certain extent, was a Hajmola commercial. Other than that, she was one of the many faces in a variety of other ads for soap brands, tea products and deodorants.
“It was a means of survival. If I did two ads in a month, I could support myself and I was content with that,” she says, adding that insurmountable fame wasn’t something she craved for.
But try she did to make it in Bollywood. Despite multiple tries, she failed. Looking back at it now, it was perhaps her refusal to network and socialize that’s to be blamed.
“I just had a photo shoot and passed pictures around to agents and thought they would do the rest,” says Jharana, rolling her eyes at her own naivety.
Four years and countless auditions later, she decided that she had had enough of struggling. Not having worked at all for the last year of those four years, she had used up all her savings and was completely broke. A refund of the deposit she had made when she had rented an apartment in Juhu, however, came in handy and she had enough money to return home.
But fate had other plans, and she ended up traveling in India instead of heading home. She met a British national and got engaged to him, too.
“I was on a spiritual journey, visiting all these dharamshalas and met someone I connected with, and we decided to get engaged. Differences cropped up a year later and we parted ways,” says Jharana, adding that they are still friends.
The whole experience has not, however, made her cynical about the concept of marriage, and she hopes to get married and have kids of her own someday. “I just don’t know when. But I know it’ll happen.”
There’s also another side to her that not many know of. Jharana is deeply spiritual and aspires to be a motivational speaker. Her love for books and writing, her turbulent career, her disappearance from the film scene are things written about over and over again but hardly anyone has noticed that there’s a quiet reserved side to this beauty queen who opted to go for Vipassana at 16.
“I’ve always had spiritual inclinations. Maybe because my grandparents were deeply spiritual,” she says, confessing that she mediates for at least an hour daily, if not more.
It was perhaps these very spiritual tendencies that got her through the harsh times in life and at the same time grounded her when she came face to face with success.
“My spiritual journey’s been gratifying and I want to share my experiences. A few likeminded friends and I are thinking of doing something in the field. Maybe hold talk sessions,” shares Jharana.
Her face lights up as she divulges this information and one can see that she has finally found something she’s really, really passionate about.
A person who’s always worn her stardom lightly, Jharana mentions that she’ll still take up roles if they strike a chord with her. Did the role of a corrupt Nepali police personnel that she portrays in her upcoming movie “Safelanding” justify her creative needs then?
Jharana answers with a laugh, “I had never done anything like that before. Cursing and shouting, as the role demanded, I discovered a whole new dimension to my personality. I didn’t think I could pull it off, but I did.”
Pursuing a distance learning course in sociology after which she has plans to undertake a course in psychology, Jharana is at a phase of life where she has no regrets – absolutely none!
It’s hard to fathom but she subscribes to the belief that her experiences, both good and bad, have shaped her into what she’s today. She’s seen a fair share of ups and downs, but this wholly captivating beauty has had what it takes to rise above the odds and carve a niche for herself.