1. ARUNDHATI ROY
Voted third on Forbes’ list of ‘30 Utterly Inspiring Role Models’, the author of God of Small Things is a voice you ignore at your own risk, one as audacious as it’s eloquent in raising questions.
2. VISHY ANAND
The first Indian world chess champion, formidably fast on the board, inventive with tactics and strategy. He has grown better with age, and there remains no perceptible weakness in his game. A master of player psychology, in the past two world championship matches held recently, he spontaneously adapted his game to the man across the board.
3. AMIT HERI
Audiences at the Berlin, Montreux, London and Paris jazz festivals have been bowled over by this guitarist-composer. He’s jammed with Angelique Kidjo, Robert Miles and Zakir Hussain, but oddly enough this Bangalore artiste’s jazzy riffs remain alien to most Indian ears. For a desi listen, try Jhoola, his album voiced by Kota, Mizo and Uttarakhandi chanters.
4. JITEN THUKRAL AND SUMIR TAGRA
Pop went the easel, video and installations in the hands of this Punjabi duo, affectionately dubbed T&T. Ever since the 2005 debut of these communication designers, they’ve artfully trotted out enough material to turn even Elton John into a T&T collector. The duo, who’ve shown at London, Berlin, Sydney and Shanghai, explore HIV and consumerism with safe-sex chaddis and dinosaurs designed from strawberry-syrup bottles.
5. SACHIN TENDULKAR
Sachin was the cherub of the team when Kapil Dev took up a bet with him: “You must play ten years for India.” He played 20. He is still playing. Earlier, bold strokes were Tendulkar’s unique selling proposition (USP). Now, it is the way he rations his experience, body and skill to climb peaks only he can.
6. SABYASACHI MUKHERJEE
When he graduated from the National Institute of Fashion Technology in 1999, he was heralded as the future of Indian design. In subsequent years, he has lived up to expectations by crafting a series of stunning collections. By using indigenous techniques like bandhani, gota work, block printing and hand dyeing, Sabyasachi creates modern silhouettes that carry a rich aroma of India in them. His kalidaar kurtas, lehengas and saris are in heavy demand across the world, and his label thrives in countries like the US, UK, UAE, Greece, Germany and Singapore.
7. SIDDHARTH BASU
The original quizmaster of India, he made general knowledge fashionable among youngsters. Starting off with Quiz Time on Doordarshan, he went on to host and produce programmes like Master Mind India and India Child Genius. Basu’s biggest success came in the form of Kaun Banega Crorepati , a show that not just marked Amitabh Bachchan’s debut on the small screen, but also redefined TV viewing in India. Through his company, Synergy Communications, Basu is now working on various reality TV formats like Dus Ka Dum¸, India’s Got Talent and Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa.
8. PRASOON JOSHI
As a poet, lyricist, award winning adman and Aamir Khan’s chief creative officer, Joshi wears many caps. His ‘Thanda matlab Coca-Cola’ campaign, which won a Golden Lion at Cannes, was fizzy enough to guarantee his role as his advertising mentor Piyush Pandey’s spiritual successor.
9. JAGGI VASUDEV
Some say he’s the coolest spiritual guru since Osho. ‘Sadhguru’, who often swaps his trademark beige robes and turban for denims and Orkleys, and enjoys the occasional volleyball game, dubs his brand of spirituality ‘inner engineering’ and ‘software for the soul’, making him the go-to saviour of sanity for millions of stressed out infotech professionals in South India. Now, his Isha Foundation is taking the franchise route to reach a suburb near you.
10. DAKSHA SHETH
Over the last 45 years, Daksha Sheth has created an entirely new dance vocabulary by blending Mayurbhanj Chhau, Kalaripayattu, Kathak and the spectacular aerial techniques of Mallakhamb. Not one to shy away from the unknown, Daksha enjoys moving into fresh territory. Some of her famous works include Search for My Tongue, Mahisasur Mardini, Kalia Daman and Sarpagati.
11. SUBODH GUPTA
Bihar once had Nalanda. Bihar also housed this artist from Khagaul until he stormed the art world with his cowdung installations, steel katoris (bowls) and kattas (country revolvers). With a sensibility shaped by his home state, Gupta’s hands have converted clanging cooking vessels into gargantuan God-faced installations which have hung over Venice. When he exhibited gigantic steel buckets, art collectors filled them with half a million euros. A migrant-aesthete with global acclaim.
12. BIJOY JAIN
He shapes local raw material into houses you cannot forget. Take Tara House in Kashid, outside Bombay, with an underground pool in which cylinders of light stream down from lawns above. And he makes resorts to die for, such as Leti 360, an exquisite stone and wood structure in the Himalayas.
13. E SREEDHARAN
Delhi is an AM/PM city, thanks to him: ante-Metro and post-Metro. The rest of the city may be strewn with rubble, but his gleaming rapid transit system swishes its way around with élan.
14. VISHAL BHARADWAJ
His music is superlative, his dialogues memorable, and his movies cultural events. Pity that he got over his fixation with Shakespeare. Omkara and Maqbool remain as good as anything out of the Hindi film industry.
15. GUITAR PRASANNA
No one had coaxed a Carnatic kriti out of a Western guitar. No one could, until this player-composer with an engineering degree shook the raga firmament. In Electric Ganeshaland, he fired off a Carnatic-Rock tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Imagine that.
16. VIJAY IYER
Jazz critics all over America are waxing eloquent about this 38-year-old wizard on piano. His creativity, he says, took shape when he watched jazz legend Julius Hemphill’s solo presentation in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1990. He says, “He gave you something profound and alive.” For a sample of Iyer’s music, try Historicity.
17. EKTA KAPOOR
Neither saas nor bahu, and yet she changed the face of Indian television singlehandedly. Her Balaji Telefilms has been cloned, but having meandered into Hindi cinema, she has a new obsession to whet.
18. PRABHU DEVA
This dance prodigy stormed into Indian consciousness with the song Muqabla from the film Kadhalan. India was spellbound, as his seemingly boneless body moved, as if of its own volition, to this Rahman chartbuster. A trained Bharatanatyam dancer, he came to be known as India’s Michael Jackson. He now choreographs, acts and directs films as well.
19. NAMDEO DHASAL
When this Dalit poet-politician called himself “a venereal sore in the private parts of language”, admirers and critics sat up. Ever since 1972, when his dark poetry of Golpitha burst forth from Bombay’s seamy underbelly, Marathi literature hasn’t been the same.
20. RAHUL BHATIA
His journey from a Janpath travel agent to the owner of India’s most innovative no-frill airline, Indigo, has been a swift and heady affair. The aviation industry may be turbulent, but Bhatia’s metronomic attention to detail is the stuff of legend.
21. GIRISH KARNAD
In college, his dream was to become as famous as Shakespeare and TS Elliot. Today, this prolific author, playwright, actor and film director has achieved this in his own way by penning plays like Yayati and Tughlaq, using India’s rich history to tackle contemporary issues.
22. PINAKIN PATEL
This design guru has used every material available, including his elbow, to create shelf-space for Indian crafts; his latest offering is Hara Villa, a pop-up, bio-degradable holiday home.
23. RAKESH MARIA
This supercop investigated the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts. More recently, he gathered the evidence that convicted Ajmal Kasab. Currently DGP of Maharashtra’s Anti Terrorism Squad, he has a good network of informants.
24. FILMMAKERS OF MALEGAON
Some 300 km separate Bollywood from the nondescript town of Malegaon, where a bunch of filmmakers with micro budgets make spoofs of blockbusters. Sample Malegaon ke Sholay. Sheikh Nasir Khan, the man behind it all, has now gone global with Malegaon ka Superman.
25. AR RAHMAN
Among the world’s all time top selling artistes: over 150 million records of film soundtracks. Starting off with the Chennai rock group,Nemesis Avenue, he’s won award upon award. His Dil Se soundtrack is a classic.
26. SANDIP TRIVEDI
Most of us gulp at the idea of a world that demands dimensions more than the three we are familiar with. This is but the starting point for string theory. And Trivedi is working it out for us.
27. RONNIE SCREWVALA
He changed the mediascape with his company, UTV. Starting in 1981 with India’s first organised cable TV venture in Bombay, he got audiences addicted to daily soap operas before venturing successfully into cinema.
28. MALAVIKA SARUKKAI
She sees dance as an extension of life; it needs to draw inspiration and meaning from its surroundings to evolve. For nearly three decades now, she has stretched the conventions of Bharatanatyam.
29. FARHAN AKHTAR
With Dil Chahta Hai, this director threw Hindi cinema a whole generation ahead, and at warp speed. Since then, acclaimed lyricist Javed Akhtar’s son has never failed to surprise with his brand of cinema, be it as a producer, actor or director.
30. ABHIJIT AVASTHI
Currently O&M’s national creative director, he is the adman behind some of India’s most talked about campaigns for brands such as Fevicol and Cadbury.
31. CHARLES CORREA
This architect-activist and urban planner has given fresh meaning to shelter, shade and beauty. Mahatma Gandhi’s Memorial in Sabarmati offers clues.
32. RAJAT SHARMA
A snake’s marrying a mongoose, the mountain that Hanuman lifted… from the fertile imagination of Rajat Sharma and India TV has come a new definition of news, bridging fantasy and fact, myth and reality.
33. RAJKUMAR HIRANI
The test of a director, they say, is the sequel. Rajkumar Hirani passed that test with Lage Raho Munnabhai. And if you thought a dream run is hard to maintain, along came 3 Idiots, a film that shall delight generations to come.
34. SUNIL GANGOPADHYAY
Modern Bengali poetry owes its existence, almost, to the founding editor of Krittibas, which in the early 1950s offered a platform to young, experimental poets who explored new forms of poetic themes, rhythms and words. Gangopadhyay’s travelogues, prose, essays, features and children’s fiction are equally loved.
35. PRANAV MISTRY
An Indian graduate student at the MIT laboratory, he has ensured that it is technology that adapts to our needs rather than our adapting to technology. His latest invention integrates our real world with the virtual world.
36. PRINCE DANCE TROUPE
Last year, a troupe of 24 faceless dancers became the toast of the nation when it won the popular reality series, India’s Got Talent. Instead of the usual Western jazz routine, these untrained dancers from Behrampur, Orissa, showed the richness of Indian classical dance.
37. AAMIR KHAN
This actor rarely works with the same director twice, and yet his movies are not just a cut about regular Bollywood fare, but make money too. With a celluloid record any performer anywhere in the world would die for, he’s simply a must watch.
38. HARSH MANDER
An Indian Administrative Service officer with an imagination, Harsh Mander became an inspiration when he resigned in protest of the 2002 anti-minority pogrom in Gujarat. He has since dedicated himself to an India free from ‘hate, hunger, and homelessness’.
39. G RAVINDER REDDY
Everyone, even the gods, would want this sculptor gilding them for posterity. He has re-fashioned Hindu deific traditions into giant gold-faced female heads who stare at you unblinkingly. Fibreglass, his favoured medium, is worth more than platinum in his hands.
40. VIRENDER SEHWAG
This Sachin clone has morphed into one of India’s most imaginative shot player in cricket. Boring knocks are anathema to him, with a Test match average of 81.5 runs every 100 balls.
41. RATAN THIYAM
This theatre guru is known for his ingenious stage craft and thought-provoking themes. A painter, composer, choreographer, costume designer, playwright and director, he sees theatre as ‘collective expression’ . See Andha Yug and Chakravyuh.
42. A RAJA
It requires quite some talent to shut the press up if you figure in a Rs 60,000 crore telecom scam and your tapped tele-conversations with an alleged lobbyist make headlines. It takes even more creative ambition to whistle along as if nothing is wrong with India’s telecom policy framework.
43. JAYANT V NARLIKAR
A scientific imagination and an ability to present his ideas make Narlikar a champion of astronomy in a country given to much mumbo jumbo. From envisaging the Steady State theory of the universe as an alternative to the Big Bang, to suggesting life having reached earth from outer space, he has also steered clear of conventional science as we know it.
44. ANURAG KASHYAP
He’s written movies like Satya, an underworld film which impressed several viewers on the lookout for such gritty ‘realism’, and even managed to become a film director himself. Dev D, that phantasmagoric journey of a film, a supposed remake of the classic Devdas, exemplifies his very own take on modern ‘reality’.
45. LALIT MODI
The terminator of Test match tedium, he created a distinctly Indian yet global brand of Twenty20 cricket, Indian Premier League (IPL), that grabbed more attention overnight than anybody dared dream possible in this era of relentlessly declining attention spans. Despite his undoing and ejection from the BCCI, his creation cannot be dismissed. Few have ever drawn Indian eyes as compulsively as he has.
46. RAGHU DIXIT
With a mind trained in microbiology and a body in Bharatanatyam, the last ten years have seen him achieve fame as a musician. Touring India and the world, he has played with Israel’s Dub LFO, England’s Too Late Lucy and renowned French musicians Anaïs, Emily Loizeau and Mademoiselle K, to name a few.
47. VG SIDDHARTHA
Founder-owner of the Café Coffee Day chain and son-in-law of External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, he has developed a fine nose for lucrative business opportunities. Apart from coffee shops, his businesses include venture capital, financial services, plantations and real estate. Amalgamated Bean Coffee Trading Co, set up in 1993, is India’s largest green coffee exporter, and he wants to take his cafes global.
48. SAINA NEHWAL
Not yet 20 and already the country’s top woman athlete. At a young age, Saina’s mastered the one thing that matters: winning. You don’t see her smash her racquet to score a point beyond the scoreboard, unlike her name-dyslex-sake. Saina has four Super Series wins already, and is the world No 2. She admires Federer, but her own game relies on toil, not grace. But if it works, why complain?
49. ABHAY DEOL
Precariously perched between commercial cinema and its indie cousin, he’s the guy who took off for New York right after the finest film of his career to study a craft. Not your average film star.
50. PATU KESWAN
This Taj Hotels’ veteran leads the country’s budget hotel boom. His chain of no-frill hotels, Lemontree and Redfox, is what market leader Ginger (a Tata chain) is watching closely.