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Young Power Women
Text by Shirin Mehta, Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena, Nasrin Modak and Malvika Sah
Published: Volume 20, Issue 6, June, 2012

Under 40 years of age, these women have proved that when talent meets ambition and drive is fuelled by inspiration, success is a willing ally. Quietly achieving their goals, they have shown in the last one year that they are determined to excel in their individual domains. Verve spotlights 12 women with the gumption to chart their own course and make a big splash....

saina NEHWAL

Padma Shri, Arjuna Award, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna...the long list of laurels only keep growing for this 22-year-old shuttlecock smasher who became the first Indian woman to reach the singles quarterfinals at the Beijing Olympics and bagged a gold medal at the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010.

Bogged down by a few injuries last year, she may have been down but certainly not out of the game as she managed to retain her Swiss Open Grand Prix Gold trophy in Switzerland and was runner-up in three Super Series events. One of India’s biggest hopes for the upcoming London Olympics, Nehwal too is leaving no stone unturned to bag that coveted gold to add to her increasing list of accolades.

Sunday menu: “I sleep late, have a good breakfast and watch movies of my favourite actors – Shah Rukh Khan or Aamir Khan – and get some more rest and sleep.”

Pound shedding: “To become faster on court I lost weight by reducing oily food and doing more practice on court.

I trust the result should be positive.”

Off the courts: “I like to dress simply and am a traditional Indian at heart.”

kirthiga REDDY

Facebook India’s first employee’s contribution to the company’s global business through ad sales and major tie-ups is remarkable. In a little over a year at her dream-come-true job, Kirthiga Reddy, Head and Director Online Operations for Facebook India, has capitalised on the company’s growing users, advertisers and developers. “I am humbled to have had the opportunity to work for a company that is changing the world, making it more open and connected,” she says.

Reddy grew up in India and moved every four years due to her father’s government job. That and her first job as a software programmer and trainer in Nagpur made her adaptable. She then went on to become the first in her family to get a technical and business degree in the United States – a Master’s in business administration from Stanford University and an M.S. in computer engineering from Syracuse University. Experimental by nature she has worked with brands such as Silicon Graphics and Motorola.

Top support: “Parents and husband, Dev, the pillars of strength.”

Success mantra: “Work-life flexibility and work-life integration, not really work-life balance, is what keeps the fire from burning out. Create your own choices: don’t accept the tyranny of the ‘or’ but embrace the power of the ‘and’.”

Big dream: “To create a Facebook India advantage for Facebook globally, along with fostering the next generation of women leaders in India, driving children’s causes like safety and access to education, and making an impact at a national level.”

shreya GHOSHAL

She is the small-town girl who struck all the right notes in the city of dreams. Brought up in a quaint little town called Rawatbhata in Rajasthan where her scientist father was posted, Shreya Ghoshal started learning music at the tender age of four.

Her real break came when she won a TV reality show where she impressed director Sanjay Leela Bhansali with her vocal prowess. She became the voice of the protagonist Paro and went on to win a National Award for Devdas. She showcased her musical variations last year by making the masses groove to Chikni Chameli and then ensured that they fell in love with the romantically intense Saibo. With umpteen popular trophies and four National Awards in her kitty, this pitch-perfect songstress seems unstoppable at the moment!

Languages she can sing in: Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Bengali.

Looks up to: Lata Mangeshkar.

Ooh la la moments: Singing and gyrating sensuously to catchy tunes at stage shows.

chiki SARKAR

The pretty face of Indian publishing was appointed publisher of Penguin India, having served as editor-in-chief of Random House India for five years, making her the head of the country’s largest English language publishing house in her mid-30s. This graduate from Oxford University was at Bloomsbury Publishing in London for seven years and has worked with best-selling authors like Jhumpa Lahiri, Anita Desai, Salman Rushdie, Mohammed Hanif, Daniyal Mueenuddin and Rujuta Diwekar.

Big success while at Random House India: Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight by Rujuta Diwekar.

Publishing wisdom: The writing should speak for itself.

Commissioned at Penguin: Anjum Hasan’s Difficult Pleasures, Pico Iyer’s Man Within My Head, Amit Chaudhuri’s non-fiction book on Kolkata.

roshni NADAR

Roshni Nadar needs large feet. That is, if she wants to fit into the large shoes of her famous parents – father Shiv Nadar, founder and chairman of HCL and the Shiv Nadar Foundation, and mother Kiran Nadar, chairperson of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA).

Nadar majored in radio, television and film and interned with CNBC, CNN before she did a short stint with Sky News, London. A ‘serious chat’ with daddy made her realise that she could never be a Rupert Murdoch unless she learned how to manage a business. So she did an MBA in social enterprise management from The Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

Today she is the executive director and the CEO of HCL Corporation and owns 50 per cent in HCL Technologies and 44.4 per cent in HCL Info Systems. Married to Shikhar Malhotra, she focuses on expanding the educational initiatives of the Shiv Nadar Foundation. Driven by a social vision, she has been actively involved in the Vidya Gyan Schools initiative since inception and helped launch their first school in July 2009. Multi-tasking seems to come easily to her!

Media attention: Finds it rather overwhelming.

After work: Is a classical musican and enjoys yoga.

On her inheritance: Is inspired, not intimidated.

kareena KAPOOR

Her sparkling eyes, glowing skin and incredible acting genes clearly sets this Kapoor girl apart from the other leading ladies of Tinseltown. Her ability to speak her mind at all times and her standoffish attitude adds to her superstar aura.

She has come a long way from her debut in JP Dutta’s Refugee.

Bebo reinvented herself with the Size Zero phenomenon. And soon Bollywood’s darling Chammak Challo was traipsing her way to the top of the success ladder.

Known as much for her fiery performances as her witty repartee with the media, Brand Kareena Kapoor has become the first actress to get a share in profits from her upcoming film Heroine.

They say you are as good as your last film in Bollywood but Kareena seems to be beating her own box-office record with every release. After two back-to-back hits that crossed the coveted 100-crore mark (Bodyguard and Ra One) in 2011, she is all set to dazzle her fans with Talaash and Heroine in 2012. But more than her films, it’s her wedding date to long-time beau Saif Ali Khan that has the country guessing and on its toes.

Fitness secret: Power yoga.

Favourite labels: Dolce & Gabbana, Hermès, Valentino.

Top leisure spot: Gstaad in Switzerland.

ameera SHAH

Under her leadership as CEO and managing director, Metropolis has evolved from a single-centre pathology laboratory to a profit-making company that’s expanding both nationally and internationally. With over 10,000 branches across 125 cities, the self motivated entrepreneur strongly believes in giving back to society. “Achievement doesn’t mean making lots of money, buying helicopters or any other materialistic things. Through my company and our endeavours, I want to give Indians a platform to be self-sufficient emotionally and financially.” She wants to be remembered as someone who is honourable, straightforward and has contributed for the betterment of society.

Secret passion: Climbing mountains.

Biggest challenge: “Professionally, the healthcare industry is very fragmented and competitive. It’s challenging to keep innovating. Personally, finding enough time for work, family, friends and myself.”

Big dream: “I dream to see every Indian getting quality treatment and diagnosis, including the rural segment that’s most ignored.”

mary KOM

Even as women’s boxing makes its debut at the London Olympics, Mangte Chungneijang Merykom simply known as Magnificent Mary is keeping India’s hope for a gold alive by being the only Indian woman boxer at the Olympics. Her move to a higher weight category is likely to tilt the scales in her favour. Although participating in the 51 kg weight category, she unexpectedly crashed out in the quarterfinals of the seventh World Women’s Boxing Championships, she qualified for the Olympics is expected to up her performance in London.

After over a decade inside the ring, an Olympic gold is the only medal that has deluded this diminutive mother-of-two and five-time world champion. Hailing from Manipur, Kom is the only boxer to have won a medal in each one of the six World Championships.

She has also won the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2009 after winning the Padma Shri in 2006 and the Arjuna Award in 2004. For now, this ‘Queen of the Ring’ is busy preparing for the elusive gold – something she feels will decide the future course of her sporting career.

How she started: Videos of Muhammad Ali on television during her childhood days sparked her love for boxing.

Sparring moves: Three male sparring partners are said to keep her on her toes.

Hobbies: Loves to cook.

Family girl: Is married with two children.

sania MIRZA

After being in the limelight a few years ago, for her marriage to cricketer Shoaib Malik, the golden girl of Indian tennis known for her powerful forehand ground strokes won her 10th WTA doubles title at Indian Wells. She collected two more doubles titles and broke into the doubles top-10 in September last year. The most searched Indian sportsperson on Google admits to enjoying both single and doubles tournaments although she has had more success in the latter. Her passion for tennis is what keeps her ticking even today.

On writing a memoir: “I think I owe it to the next generation of tennis players in our country to provide a road-map to succeed in this amazing sport and there are also a lot of things that have not been said from my point of view.”

Owes her success to: “God, destiny, hard work and family.”

Hot holiday spot: “I love Malaysia.”

rohini IYER

She runs one of the biggest brand and image management companies for celebrities – Raindrop Media. She is the official publicist of a galaxy of filmi superstars – Kareena Kapoor, Vidya Balan, Katrina Kaif, Ranbir Kapoor, Abhay Deol, Ekta Kapoor and more – and her company also handles the media promotions of several prestigious films.

Born and brought up in the city that is home to celluloid dreams, she worked with several publications and a few channels before launching her own venture. Her strong media interactions combined with her insider knowledge on how the industry functioned was a major plus when Iyer offered to manage the publicity of Main Hoon Naa. “It was a dream launch – after that there was no looking back,” says the feisty girl. “My company’s name is inspired by Raindrops keep falling on my head.... It has been the story of my life.”

She loves the highs, drama, intensity and madness of managing temperamental stars. And since she does not look upon her job as work, she has “the maximum fun. Apart from being my clients, they are my friends too. And I am equally temperamental!” Her reputation precedes her. She is respected and carries clout in the industry. In her own words, that is because “I have a very strong sense of integrity when it comes to work. I’ve never taken my success for granted. I’m constantly trying to push the envelope and do it bigger and better.” Hollywood bound? That may be an option she has explored and will be travelling to Los Angeles soon to see where her stars take her.

A day in her life: “Power-packed, larger than life, filled with madness, and always accompanied with a smile.”

Starry guidance: “It’s not about telling them what to do but about giving them direction.”

Interacting with them closely: “I call it living in a dream and I hope to never wake up.”

On speaking up: “If I don’t tell them the truth, who will? My team and I are their reality check.”

The best part about being her: “Never playing by the rules.”


The queen of soap operas wowed the silver screen in the last 12 months with one superhit The Dirty Picture that had the critics and the masses alike applauding and the cash registers ringing all the way to the bank. Not ignoring the small screen, the CEO and MD Balaji Telefilms redefined romance with Bade Acche Lagte Hai – an unusual ‘mature’ love story. The last 12 months also saw Ekta Kapoor featuring in Forbes inaugural Asia Power Businesswomen’s list. Incidentally, she is the youngest in this hall of fame.

Caught between her varied commitments, this self-confessed workaholic arrives for our shoot at Taj Lands End a short while after her ‘co-star’ for the day, Vidya Balan. Kapoor, sporting her several rings and threads, displays the sari and blouse she has brought for the occasion – an Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla creation. A no-nonsense, determined girl, she takes very little time to get ready. When the business of dressing up is done, a small black tikka, not visible to the eye, completes the job.

I ask if astrology and superstition are somehow linked with what she does. Kapoor replies firmly, “My beliefs are very personal but I don’t really think that any ritual can guarantee success. Clearly, if I am praying I am doing that for other things in life. If I don’t work hard I will not be able to give my work that kind of time and energy. Prayers are basically to endow you with mental strength.”

For Kapoor, the highlight was her successful attempt to format her 24/7 workdays and nights. For one whose midnight meetings and discussions are legendary, that must have been a Herculean task. She says, “I made a better schedule for my life. I could not do those 2 a.m. meetings any more. It was different when I was younger. So now, it was a big achievement to meet my timelines and bring a discipline into my days. As for the Forbes list, I am quite amazed that I am on it. But it is quite alarming as well.”

Her ‘factory’ in the last so many years has produced more than 100 serials and Kapoor admits that her nose for what will work stands her in good stead: “When I am writing a script with my writers, I have already almost seen the characters. I have to first visualise them and then I put a pen to my thoughts. So, I know the kind of person I am looking for, what expressions he will have. When I was writing Bade Achhe Lagte Hai, I knew only Ram Kapoor and Sakshi Tanwar could play those roles.”

Apart from reinventing the careers of screen veterans, Kapoor has – several times over the years – created several household names like Tulsi, Parvati, Mihir and Mr Bajaj. Her power to create superstars or turn screen hopefuls into also-rans is legendary. She affirms, “When you are younger you are aware of wielding that power but as you grow older it becomes a part of your job. If you consider your work sacred then you will never exercise that power in a wrong way. So I may hate someone personally but if they suit a character nothing will stop me from signing them on.”

Circa 2012 for Kapoor marked her conquest of the big screen with The Dirty Picture: “I wanted to make a story about people who are sidelined on screen. Generally, biopics create a story about those who are great but they should be about weaknesses as well. Human greatness is realised when you overcome your weakness and live with it. But when I approached a few directors, none of them wanted to do it.”

And Balan was her first choice as Silk to explore the underbelly of filmdom, even though Kapoor had been told that casting the actor was a big gamble. “I wanted a girl who had a little extra weight, some innocence and someone who is a great actor. I wanted someone who would not just flaunt her body but understand the character of Silk Smitha. Without all these elements, the film would never have been what it became. Vidya took it to another level altogether. She worked the hardest and gave life to the movie. I have barely seen this kind of dedication in anyone else.”

Though Kapoor still does TV, she has seamlessly shifted her focus to the big screen as well. And in the 70mm version, her work is in a sense removed from the saas bahu serials she is known for. She has a few interesting films already in her kitty – Love Sex Aur Dhoka, Shor In The City, Once Upon A Time In Mumbai and of course, The Dirty Picture. She is looking forward to Lootera, Shootout At Wadala, Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai 2 and Ek Thi Daayan apart from the rom-com Kya Super Cool Hai Hum. On her varied offerings she says, “I try to make entertaining projects; I am not here to be a paragon of virtue and make a sad story which is seen by four people at a film festival. I take thoughts which I believe in – they could be mass themes or slightly more cerebral ones but at no point will they be pretentious thoughts. And even if the films are for a smaller audience, they cannot be boring pieces of cinema.”

On the small screen, she will continue her saga of soaps. For, as she says, “I honestly love stories. There are some stories I prefer on the small screen – they make you feel good when you are writing them – and some which I prefer on the big screen. So, if TV gives you many slices of life, the movies give you larger-than-life experiences. It’s like home food and outside food – you can never choose. You need a staple diet of home food, but you also need outside food once a week!”

vidya BALAN

Her sister Priya’s advice, given years ago, perhaps became Vidya Balan’s mantra for success: “You know you can spend an entire lifetime wanting to be someone else, while the easiest thing to do is to be yourself.” For, in 2011 – with No One Killed Jessica, The Dirty Picture and Kahaani – viewers have fallen in love with the actress all over again, simply because she has demonstrated how comfortable she is being Vidya Balan!

In a reel world peopled by Size Zero-toned bodies and pretty-as-a-picture heroines, Balan comes across as completely real and natural – a woman who has followed her own instincts and dared to live her destiny by being her own person and not morphing herself to fit into any conventional slot.

On her growing celluloid appeal that has been amply reinforced in the last 12 months, the actor says simply, “For me, power is an acceptance of self. When I accepted myself completely and felt unapologetic about the way I am and about my decisions, the world began to accept me in the same way as well. And ultimately, acceptance by the world gives one the power but that power actually comes from within.”

No wonder then, she continues to follow her instinct to choose what she will do on screen – often cracking norms to surprise her critics and audiences. Curling up on the sofa, she reiterates, “It is all a case of the gut. If it feels right I do it. If it doesn’t, I don’t.”

The first and most obvious point of discussion here is her bold avatar in The Dirty Picture. Completely trusting its producer Ekta Kapoor with whom Balan had done her first tele-serial Hum Paanch and having conquered her mother’s fears about portraying Silk Smitha in a biopic, the actor plunged into the project headlong: “It was such a compelling script and role, I couldn’t say no. As an actor, my only driving force is the need to be different people on screen. I want to live their lives vicariously and if I am getting opportunities to do that why would I not take them? And Ekta’s work is very definitive and individualistic – she does not follow the beaten track.”

When two strong women come together, the result is there for all to see. The industry – and the world – is applauding Balan’s bravura act as Silk in a role where she piled on and flaunted the inches generously, exuding a raw sexuality. Balan laughs out loud: “The Dirty Picture made my sex appeal obvious, but do you know till now I never had an opportunity to portray it on screen before? Yes, there were flashes of it in Ishqiya. I love my femininity; I love Indian clothes because they accentuate that femininity. And Silk wore her sexuality on her sleeve; it was oozing out of every pore.”

Is she embarrassed by all the attention that her body talk got? Not at all! In fact, she seems to revel in her screen avatar. Balan says, “When you enjoy your body and your being, it gives you a certain freedom. It has nothing to do with size and The Dirty Picture in which I was 12 kgs more than my normal weight underlined that more than ever.”

On screen and off it too Balan operates from a position of power. She emphasises, “From my first film I’ve been very fortunate to have portrayed very strong characters. Every woman is innately strong. Depending on the circumstances, there is an opportunity for expression for some; otherwise it’s just suppressed but even in that suppression there is a certain amount of strength of tolerance.”

As an actor, she has set no limits in her head. With each film, Balan stepped into the shoes of different people. She states, “I like the fact that people have certain expectations of me. That is encouraging but I don’t let it put any kind of pressure on me. I’m here to play different people, to live different lives, to inhabit different worlds. I’m just exploring, exploiting that need, that desire or whatever you call it. It’s been a journey of self discovery, to let go of one’s body, one’s vanity and let the dark side take over.”

She revels in the power of portraying characters not like her. Smilingly, she says, “The joy ride starts now because people are finally saying that even if the character is not like her she can still do it. Because audiences have an appetite where every kind of cuisine is being made available to them, I’m getting those opportunities and I’m milking them because I can portray different faces of woman power, her strength and her core on celluloid.”

Balan’s mantra to slip into the skin of her characters is “to get into a zone when I’m doing a film. I do one film at a time, shoot it at a stretch and prefer to shoot films outside Mumbai so that I remain in that zone. But I need a cool-off period after every film because it’s a strain. And yet from a Parineeta, Ishqiya, Paa, No One Killed Jessica to a Kahaani and The Dirty Picture the journey has been really fulfilling”.

Today, she has been acknowledged – and the several awards that adorn her shelf prove it – as an actor who thinks out of the box to deliver the goods. But she wears the mantle of her success lightly, saying, “There’s only one emotion I feel – gratitude. I feel extremely blessed and now, more than ever, I know that there are no rules in life. It makes me feel content. I’m at peace. But having said that let me reiterate that I am not looking at doing just one kind of cinema. I am an actor, I have had a fantastic meal now but I will get hungry in a bit. That hunger is still there.”

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