After 21 years, the Miss Universe crown has been brought back to India.
Harnaaz Sandhu bested 79 other candidates to win the prestigious title in Eliat, Israel on Dec. 13. The 21-year-old beauty succeeds Miss Universe 2020 Andrea Meza from Mexico, who was crowned earlier in the year.
Paraguay's Nadia Ferreira was named first runner-up, while South Africa's Lalela Mswane was declared second runner-up. Philippines' Beatrice Gomez and Colombia's Valeria Ayos were also part of the pageant's top 5.
During the first Q&A portion of the night, Sandhu was asked about her position on climate change, which happens to be one of her biggest passions.
"Honestly, my heart breaks to see how nature is going through a lot of problems and it's all due to irresponsible behavior. I totally feel that this is the time to take actions and talk less because our each action could either kill or save nature, prevent and protect is better than repent and repair and this is what I'm trying to convince you guys today," she answered.
Before Sandhu, two Indians have won the Miss Universe title—actresses Sushmita Sen in 1994 and Lara Dutta in 2000.
Let's get to know more the newly crowned queen.
She's the first Miss Universe winner born in the 2000s.
The Chandrigarh-based Sandhu was born on March 3, 2000, making her the first crowned queen born in the Y2K. She began competing in pageants in her teens, winning the Miss Ferozepur 2017 and Miss Max Emerging Star India in 2018.
Earlier in the year, the Punjabi beauty won India's Miss Diva 2021, earning the right to represent her home country at the 70th Miss Universe.
She grew up around women empowerment.
In her Up Close interviews, Sandhu said she looked up to her gynecologist mother, Ruby, who serves as the head of their family. Empowered by this female leader in her life, the 21-year-old supported women the same way by helping out her mom at health camps for women and menstrual hygiene.
During the final Q&A segment, the beauty queen gave an inspirational answer about the pressures that young women face today.
"The biggest pressure the youth of today is facing, is to believe in themselves. To know that you are unique makes you beautiful. Stop comparing yourselves with others and let’s talk about more important things that are happening worldwide. Come out, speak for yourself, because you are the leader of your life. You are the voice of your own. I believed in myself and that is why I am standing here today," she said in her final statement.
She's close to her mother and brother.
Before the coronation night, Sandhu posted an Instagram story of a video call with her brother Harnoor and mother Ruby, calling them "my strength, my lifelines. She talked to them after the pageant to celebrate her win.
"Dhoom dhaam se hum Harnaaz ka swagat karenge. (We will welcome her in grand style). She deserves it. We all are proud of her. When she called us after winning the pageant, we all started crying. It was an emotional moment for all of us. With her win, she has inspired millions of girls out there," Harnoor told ANI.
Sandhu's brother also revealed that "Candy" is his nickname for her.
"I don't know how to express my feelings. She made the whole Sandhu family proud. She is a determined girl. She has been active and confident since childhood. Today, her dream got fulfilled. I could not thank God enough," her mother said.
She's an actress by profession
Aside from her pageant stints, the fresh-faced Miss Universe is an actress who has worked in Punjabi films, including Yaara Diyan Poo Baran and Bai Ji Kuttange.
Sandhu named Priyanka Chopra (aka Miss World 2000) as her favorite actor. She'll be thrilled to know that her idol congratulated her for the win on Twitter.
She loves the planet and everything in it.
The young actress is vocal on Instagram and in pageants about her passion for the earth and animals.
"I have always had a deep connection with animals and I truly believe that, we are here to turn the forest into a home, and make peace with all creatures. Let’s respect every living being on earth and save our environment," she wrote in October, posting a photo of her riding a horse.
In her Miss Universe profile, she said she "mimics animals"—something that was put to the test during the Top 16 announcement. Pageant host Steve Harvey asked Sandhu to give her best cat impression on the grand stage. The delegate was surprised with the request but gracefully indulged it.
She's one smart cookie.
At 21, Sandhu has a Bachelor's degree in Information Technology and is currently pursuing a Master's in Public Administration. According to the Miss Universe website, this queen is launching two Punjabi LMS in 2022 with the hopes that her characters will break stereotypes put on women.
Outside her professional life, the actress/model enjoys yoga, dancing, cooking, playing chess, and swimming.