People | Verve’s 50 Power Women 2009

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Verve’s 50 Power Women 2009
Published: Volume 17, Issue 6, June, 2009

It has not been easy to pin down on paper a select 50. For all over the country – and world – there are innumerable Indian women who are taking charge, breaking boundaries and coming out ahead of the curve. Even in a tough economic climate, core competencies, the willingness to adapt and an unwavering discipline have taken many of these women flying through the turbulence. Verve handpicks a set of the big players who continued to hit the headlines in the past year, whether in retaining their choice positions, causing a flurry overseas, grabbing 15 minutes of well deserved fame or raising their own bar. And, best of all, they don’t wear their gender on their sleeve

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (37)
THE CONGRESS’ TRUMP CARD

‘I am able to separate the drama that is made of me, from the person that I am.’ For the last decade, whenever an election year rolls around, India looks at Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and is forcefully reminded of her grandmother Indira. It’s there in the walk, the looks, and the self-assurance, but there, for now, the resemblance must end: the younger Gandhi scion consciously eschews direct political participation, preferring to take a behind-the-scenes role in her brother and mother’s political campaigns and exerting a quiet influence over the Congress’ activities. Vadra remains as firm as ever on her decision to stay away from public office. But behind the scenes in the party, the media, and increasingly in India’s mind, she assumes the admiration and importance she has long held among the people of her family’s constituency, Amethi.

First political speech As a 17-year-old adolescent.
Familial bond Boosting political clout of brother Rahul; baking cupcakes for her kids.
Off the soapbox Completing a Masters in Buddhist Studies.
At home Shopping for groceries in Khan Market; social development in Amethi.
Driving philosophy ‘Every single Indian should feel empowered to be able to change this country.’

Ashvini Yardi (36)
HEAD OF PROGRAMMING, COLORS TV

As head of programming for Colors, a channel that is zooming towards its first anniversary, Ashvini Yardi has collected several laurels for her crown. The channel’s line-up consisting of Balika Vadhu, Big Boss 2 and Khatron Ke Khiladi have all been runaway successes. In January 2009, Colors upstaged Star Plus from its undisputed throne for the first time in prime time TRPs.

Success mantra Giving people their stories. The audience has to feel that parts of the story, if not the whole, mirror their lives.
Smart strategy Disruptive scheduling by which the smaller towns start prime time earlier at night and the metros follow later. Helps her capture the maximum viewership.
Hangs out with Ekta Kapoor.
Signature look Form-fitted dresses in smart cuts.
Driving philosophy The higher the TRPs, the better life gets.

Bharti Kher (40)
VISUAL ARTIST

Bharti Kher, who raked in an unprecedented 1,06,100 pounds at last year’s Sotheby’s sale, has a BA Honours Degree in Fine Arts and painting. She is also a recipient of The Sanskriti Award, 2003 and YFLO Woman Achiever of the Year, 2007. Known as much for her bankability as for her provocative works her USP is the mass-produced bindis prevalent in her fibreglass sculptures and detailed kinetic diagrams. 2009 has her participating in group exhibitions at Who’s Afraid of the Artists? Palais des Arts de Dinard, France; Casa Asia, Indian Narrative in the 21st Century: Between Memory History, Madrid; and Shifting Shapes. Unstable Signs, Yale University School of Art, Connecticut.

Unwinds with “Good food, great wines, company of friends and my family.”
Treasured possession Dayanita Singh’s Still Life 2008.
Candid speak “Censorship is (caused by) the fear of independent thinkers. Keep the sheep on the same path with a few barking dogs and they are easy to put in the pen.”
Dream vacation “Thailand so far, but I want to swim with the whales and learn to deep sea dive.”
Pet peeve “Time wasters. Life is too short.”
Worthy cause “If you live in India can there be a single cause? Corruption in politics, child labour, poor healthcare for people with little money, female infanticide; caste realities in small-town India…the list can go on and on.”
Driving philosophy “Treat people the way you wish to be treated.”

Katrina Kaif (25)
PRETTY WOMAN

The model looks, Kashmiri antecedents and London accent preceded her flirtation with romantic comedies. Persistence reaped rewards and her camera-friendly curves and refreshing presence saw her basking in the sudden boom of success with back-to-back hits in 2008 which propelled her to the top of the popularity charts in 2009 making her the flavour of a very long season. The most Googled actress with the maximum downloads also joined a group of world divas like Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross and Beyonce Knowles when she became the Indian face for the Barbie Doll at the iconic toy’s 5oth anniversary this year!

On screen hit Akshay Kumar (Singhh is King).
On screen miss Salman Khan (Yuvvraaj).
Valuable asset Her smile.
Valued asset Nakshatra.
Beyond romance Prakash Jha’s Rajniti where her character is said to resemble Sonia Gandhi.
Is realistic about ‘actors having a shelf life.’
Travel must-haves Vitamin supplements.

Neelam Dhawan (49)
MANAGING DIRECTOR, HEWLETT PACKARD INDIA

In a career spanning two decades, Neelam Dhawan has raced to the top of the Indian IT world. Appointed Managing Director of Hewlett Packard India last year, she is responsible for driving the company’s sales, marketing and business development in India. Prior to Hewlett Packard, Dhawan was the managing director for Microsoft India. Back in the 1980s when she started working for HCL Computers, there were very few women entering information technology. Though the rate has improved now, women still account for less than 20 per cent of the Indian IT work force.

Working style Follows the rule of exception. She has full confidence in her team. If there is a mistake, she steps in.
Graduated from St Stephens College, Delhi.
Unwinds with Puzzles and crosswords. Cooking Sunday meals.
Vacation break London, for its crowds, familiarity and the country’s rich cultural history.
Driving philosophy Ambition, staying power and organising ability. A supportive family is a must.

Saina Nehwal (19)
SHUTTLECOCK DYNAMO

Small, quick and powerful, Saina Nehwal captured India’s imagination even before she stormed her way to gold at the 2006 Philippines Open, her first major international title. With her impressive showing at the Beijing Olympics, the Commonwealth Youth Games gold, and her maiden entry into the global badminton top ten in 2008, and top of the list in India’s junior badminton rankings. It’s a far cry from travellng 50 kilometres a day to train as a child, but the spirit remains the same.

Born In Hisar, Haryana, to Harvir Singh and Usha Rani Nehwal, both State badminton champions in their time.
Olympian feat Quarterfinals at Beijing against heavy odds, beating world no 5 Wang Chen.
Named 2008’s Most Promising Player by the Badminton World Federation.
Ranked Ninth in the world badminton rankings, and advancing steadily higher.
Coach connection Pullela Gopichand, India’s All-England tournament hero, trains her at his Hyderabad academy, and to whom she is often compared.
Driving philosophy “I can’t stay a day without badminton. I can only relax if I’ve trained.”

Sania Mirza (22)
TENNIS PRO

Sania Mirza claimed her first Grand Slam title in 2009 winning the mixed doubles at the Australian Open with Mahesh Bhupathi. She also reached the finals of Pattaya Women’s Open in Bangkok this year. The tennis ace was awarded the Arjuna Award in 2004 and the Padma Shri in 2005 for her contribution to tennis. A slew of injuries kept her off the court for most of 2008 but she’s already back to her winning ways. She most recently won the doubles with Chuang Chia-jung at the 2009 MPS Group Championships in Florida.

Early start Won the bronze medal in the mixed doubles at the Asian Games with Leander Paes when she was just 15.
International support Kim Clijsters said, ‘Her best tennis is incredible…. She’s probably hitting the ball a lot harder and cleaner, than a lot of the top girls’.
Controversial moment Was issued a fatwa for her ‘inappropriate’ outfits and their ‘corrupting influence on the youth’.
Trademark look Nose rings and quirky T-shirts.
Big decision Her choice to not team with rising Israeli tennis star Shahar Pe’er in the 2006 Australian Open for fear of being seen collaborating with the Israelis. She did however play with Shahar at the 2007 WTA Tour of Stanford, California.
Driving philosophy “I am not here to become a glam doll. Tennis is my first and lasting priority. Nothing else is important.”

Pallavi Shroff (53)
CORPORATE LAWYER

Her place on a list of India’s power women was assured this year with her role as the legal force behind the landmark deal between Satyam Infotech and Tech Mahindra. Brokering the deal at the negotiating table and being its public face in the media have only confirmed her as one of India’s most influential faces in corporate law. But it takes a lifetime of achievement to accumulate the résumé of Pallavi Shroff, lead litigation partner at Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A. Shroff & Co. As an advisor to governments, a director on the boards of some of the country’s top companies and with a reputation in corporate law built on several successful representations of giants like Coca-Cola, GE and Indian Oil Corporation, her place at the table was never in doubt.

Definition of power Responsibility and accountability.
Professional strengths “Great determination, integrity and single minded focus, and the ability to understand client needs.”
Familial bond Niece to legendary economist Jagdish Bhagwati.
Role model Father P. N. Bhagwati, former Chief Justice of India.
Relaxation strategies Gardening, cooking and Indian music.
Driving philosophy “Excellence in anything I do.”

Priyanka Chopra (26)
SCENE STEALER

2008 saw six films starring Priyanka Chopra, including two big box office successes Dostana and Fashion. The latter earned her a third Filmfare Award and her second Screen Weekly Award for best actress. She also won the Star Screen Award, Stardust Award, Cineblitz (CB) Award and Lions Club Award for best actress. This year, she bagged the Nielsen Box Office at the 3rd Annual Asian Film Festival held in Hong Kong for outstanding contribution to Asian films; while also being awarded at the 10th FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) Frames this year for her contribution to entertainment. She is currently endorsing Lux, Sunsilk, J.Hampsted and Hero Honda, while having received the best brand ambassador award at the NDTV Profit Car and Bike Awards. Chopra is also the first Indian actor to have a ‘last’ of her foot immortalised at the Ferragamo Museum in Florence. She is the only other Indian to be a part of this museum after the Maharani of Cooch Behar.

Early start She was a 17-year-old schoolgirl when she participated in the Miss India beauty pageant (on an entry sent in as a lark by her family) and she had just finished school when she became Miss World. “I had to grow up in a month!”
Milestones “Every day has been an achievement.… from Miss India and Miss World to Andaaz (my first film). There are many other films, in my short span of my career, that have been defining milestones from Aitraaz to Fashion.”
Role of challenge 12 different characters in the upcoming Ashutosh Gowarikar-directed What’s Your Rashee.
Comfort wear Leggings and a long spandex top in her favourite colour, black.
Unwinds with Music. Her van, room and car are always blasting music.
In her current profession because of “Chance.”
Inspired by Life. “I’m grateful I have it and I love every moment of it from the time I wake up till the time I get to bed. I’m just lucky to be alive.”
Working style 20 hours a day. 25 films in less than five years, Hasn’t taken a single vacation in five years. “It’s a hectic life and I love it!”
Loves to read Prose, shayaris, Urdu and personalised hand-written notes.
Addicted to romantic comedies and horror films.
Driving philosophy “Don’t ruin today by thinking about tomorrow because today is so beautiful!”

Shilpa Shetty (34)
DIVA REINVENTED

Coming into her own over the last few years, Shilpa Shetty’s Madonna-like powers of reinvention have seen her grow from strength to strength. ‘Brand Shilpa is everywhere,’ we wrote of her in 2008, struck by the diversity of her power, marketing everything from a new perfume to yoga DVDs, to a biography in the works. With her poised sizzle in the South African sun cheering on her latest acquisition, IPL team Rajasthan Royals, Shetty’s appeal broke new barriers this year.

Bollywood blowout A guest appearance in Dostana’s über-hot Shut Up And Bounce sequence.
Signature look Fitted white sleeved tee-shirt under a slinky Rajasthan Royals fan jersey.
Overshadowed The combined star power of her entire cricket team, including superstar captain Shane Warne, and boyfriend and co-owner Raj Kundra, during the IPL season.
Good deed Praying for frenemy Jade Goody during the latter’s battle with cancer.
Home “London’s like a second home to me, but I can never live there. Home is Bombay.”
Scent of success Popular perfume S2.
Coming soon A role in Sunny Deol’s The Man.
Driving philosophy “If people remember me as a good person, it would be an achievement for me. The rest is immaterial, really.”

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