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Verve’s 50 Power Women 2008
Published: Volume 16, Issue 6, June, 2008
The women on our list this year are special not only for the positions they inherited, the authority they wielded or the accolades they amassed but also for being who they really are and what they stand for. Tough, resilient, focussed women with an unwavering commitment to excellence, they influence the world around them and make a difference to the lives of others. Be it in the boardroom, public arena or on the marquee, these are women who have made the journey to the top with their own unique blend of compassion and strength. And who are determined to turn their big dream into a tangible reality

President, Indian National Congress

Named the sixth most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine this year and one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world for the years 2007 and 2008, it was the reluctant politician’s inner voice that prompted her to turn down the prime ministership when her party won the elections in 2004. The country watched in unbelievable awe as she relinquished a throne earned by hard work and political courage. Rajiv Gandhi’s widow has withstood, with stoic resilience, tragedy and taunts, notably the intense debate by her opponents (BJP, RSS) on the issue of her foreign birth though she became a citizen of India in 1983 and its First Lady in 1984, when her husband succeeded his assassinated mother as prime minister. That she remains the most powerful matriarch in a land of one billion is undisputed.
Published two books about her late husband, Rajiv and Rajiv’s World, and edited two volumes of letters exchanged between Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Freedom’s Daughter and Two Alone, Two Together.
Wedding sari A pink cotton one which Jawaharlal Nehru had spun while in prison, previously worn by Indira Gandhi at her wedding.
Emotional attachment The Charabara hills near Shimla which the family used to visit with the late Rajiv Gandhi.
Special interest Indian handlooms and handicrafts. Conservation of historic monuments and oil paintings.
Driving philosophy To build a society which combines compassion with competence, equity with excellence.

Philanthropist and society czarina

The Mumbai diva leads a power-packed life that is a fantastic blend of fabulous style and tremendous commitment. Her parties are what legends are made of, even as she entertains the likes of Goldie Hawn and Imran Khan and most recently, Salman Rushdie, the novelist in the news. And yes, she is always current in what she does. Jetting to the latest haute shows around the world, hobnobbing with CEOs, Hollywood stars and politicos, alike – whether at the World Economic Forum in Davos or on a yacht in the South of France. Her tremendous energy and sporting spirit that is game for any new adventure, make her a lady to reckon with, whether in the social or business world. For the stylish Queen G, mobilising societal leaders and the media to fight HIV/AIDS in India with the Heroes Project, is a commitment as fierce as her involvement in the Khushi Project that has drawn in artists and industrialists, amongst others, to provide for disadvantaged children.

Familial bonds Always makes time for her three children and two grandchildren who spend many a weekend at her palatial home in Walkeshwar. Now, there’s new daughter-in-law, Karla too.
Fresh achievements “I believe achievements tend to get diminished when one views it within the horizon of a year. When you chase bigger dreams that are intended to have a social impact, it’s better to take a long term view. In this respect, I feel great about beginning a new era with HIV/AIDS advocacy in India and charting a strategic road map for the evolution of property development in India through our real estate development business.”
People person “I dare say everyone I’ve met this year has been interesting in their own way. Put differently, I only meet interesting people!”
Invaluable must-have “Few business accessories can be better than working with bright and motivated people with a bias towards action. But, if I had to choose an object, it would have to be my Palm smartphone.”
Weekend luxe “Home is where the heart is....”
Unwinds with Meditation and yoga.
Driving philosophy “Much like our flagship personal grooming brand, Cinthol – Don’t Stop! Maintain a relentless quest for excellence and an untiring, shining optimism.”

Chief Minister, Rajasthan

A welcome change from the Hindutva-card playing hardliners of her party, the fiery BJP politician’s stint stands out for her commitment to socio-economic issues like infrastructure and development. Be it the issue of according Gujjars, Scheduled Tribe status, which sporadically erupts in violence in Dausa and in Delhi or the more recent bomb blasts that rocked Jaipur last month, the spirited Gwalior royal continues to put forth a positive, intelligent, often tough response during political flashpoints and times of crises.
Familial bond Initiated into politics by her mother, the late Vijaya Raje Scindia, who urged her to fight her first election from Bhind, Madhya Pradesh in 1984. “My mother taught me, you can do it with hatred and get away with it, but do it with affection and you never lose. The enemies are always the ruling classes, never the masses.”
Milestones She shattered the record of stalwart Bhairon Singh Shekhawat in the Assembly polls breaking the male bastion of chief ministership. Initiated the Fashion for Development Project in 2005 which strives to link artisans and craftspeople to the fashion industry. Won the United Nations Women Together Award in 2007 for her commitment to assist village women in self-employment.
Pet causes Khadi weavers and self-empowerment of women in villages.
Candid speak “I tell myself things can’t get worse, even though I know they can.”
Stress busters Using the treadmill, reading, spending quality time with herself.
Driving philosophy “You have to want more to strive more.”

Reigning superstar

Post playing the physically and emotionally scarred Kiranjit Ahluwalia in Provoked and the sensually beguiling queen in Jodhaa Akbar, the former Miss World and Bollywood’s Beauty No 1 will soon be seen in the much-awaited Sarkar Raj in a Rebecca Mark-like character, sharing screen space with husband Abhishek and father-in-law Amitabh, as well as the laughathon Pink Panther Deux with Hollywood funster Steve Martin. On the cards, could be a role with Meryl Streep in the Hollywood version of the French film, Chaos. Her most outstanding portrayal, however, remains that of the perfect Bachchan bahu. And being dubbed the most beautiful woman in the world still makes her squirm.

Candid speak “I still am (a kid) I think and don’t want to grow up. This child-woman thing is what I am.”
Alert for Midnight interviews on the phone.
Cannes dress code She shed the demure Indian look for cleavage defying strappy gowns and was the paparazzi’s dream come true.
Driving philosophy “Cherish the now, the precious present...”
Controversial moment The passionate lip lock with Hrithik Roshan in Dhoom 2. Family No 1 was not amused.

Star wife

She walked the red carpet – on screen – at the behest of her husband in an almost Alfred Hitchcock-like appearance during the end credits of Om Shanti Om, also produced by her for home production house Red Chillies Entertainment. According to director Farah Khan, she just had to play herself! Married for 16 years to the country’s top screen idol, the elusive, almost unapproachable trendy dresser surrounds herself with a clutch of handpicked beautiful people – a spicy mix of Bollywood and high society and rarely steps out of her walled premises by day.

Hot moves Earlier with Shiamak Davar’s troupe, she can rock the dance floor.
Shoe fetish A wardrobe full of Jimmy Choos and Manolo Blahniks.
Obsessive about Her privacy.
Amused by Comparisons with Victoria Beckham.
Always conscious Of the fact that she is Mrs Shah Rukh Khan.


Managing Trustee, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai, and Convener, Mumbai Chapter of INTACH

After successfully undertaking the restoration of the Bhau Daji Lad Museum, which won the prestigious UNESCO award in 2005, its managing trustee now wants to see the museum evolve into a dynamic city institution and a cultural buzz centre through educational programmes, book readings, theatre and exhibitions to get people interested in the cultural history of the city. “When I started, people told me the place was a kapad, a graveyard. But I motivated myself to persist because I could see the museum’s beauty and vast potential even in its derelict state. I did it because I’m an idealist.” Currently, she’s working on restoration projects for Gateway of India and Jinnah House, planned as the first SAARC cultural centre.
Milestones “We raised 45 lakhs in a single night of an art auction and put up a museum at Elephanta.” Considers her work with Bhau Daji Lad Museum as her biggest achievement.
Personal style Plays down the whole designer thing but loves Ferragamo for its subtlety. “I’m on my feet all the time, so it’s comfortable shoes like Tod’s for me.” Likes shopping at Harrods, Bloomingdales, Barneys and Bergdorf. Loves Indian embroidered jhola bags. “At the end of the day, it’s the craftsmanship that’s terribly important, not just a designer name.” Wears a lot of Jamdani cottons to work. Favourite designers include Tarun Tahiliani, Abu Jani and Sabyasachi.
Power belief “Any power I have tried to project at a public level stems from the fact that I have a vision. You have to be totally passionate and committed because that’s the only way you can carry so many other people.”
Current obsession Avid art collector. Is partial to Nalini Malani. “My collection is geared towards women artists. Sometimes I feel the only reason I want to make more money is to be able to buy art.”
Driving philosophy “No matter who you are, you have to get your nose to the ground. You just have to engage with the detail.”

Bollywood queen

Raj Kapoor’s granddaughter is having the last laugh. Hits, misses, flops, nothing has come in the way of her zooming to the top in popularity or earning power. Commanding the highest fee (allegedly Rs two crore)for an Indian actress today, with the possible exception of Mrs Bachchan junior, the porcelain beauty who turned size zero into a nationwide debate, has bagged the biggest banners and the hottest heroes, including the actor she has always wanted to pair with – Aamir Khan. The other Mr Khan, of course wears his heart on his sleeve, uh arm.
Pet peeve Make-up.
Familial bond Sentimental about the black, slinky Versace dress that sister Lolo (Karisma) presented her with on her 18th birthday.
Screen idols Nargis and Meena Kumari.
Films of note Chameli, Omkara, Jab We Met.
Questionable career move Tashan.
Candid speak “Failure is a part of life. What counts is how you deal with it.”