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Verve's 50 Power Women 2010
Published: Volume 18, Issue 6, June, 2010

Barkha Dutt 38
A Regular Girl?

Neat scoops from a lengthy interview with Sonia Gandhi, a hard-hitting report on what the Liberhan Commission actually said on the demolition of the Babri Masjid and creating a cutting-edge current affairs show The Buck Stops Here kept the Group Editor, NDTV, ahead of the curve

How does being ‘Barkha Dutt’ affect your personal life?
I don’t let it touch my personal life at all, if I can help it. While I value the recognition from my viewers, I try and not take myself too seriously. It’s really important to me to be just a regular girl.

You have the power of instant information. How do you decide what to share?
One of the toughest calls in sensitive or breaking news situations is how much you share with viewers. Often in times of war (Kargil) or conflict (Kashmir, 26/11) I have held back information that is related to national security. One also doesn’t report information that personally targets people or relates to their private lives.

How do you remain neutral?
By allowing all shades of opinions on my show. In some, rare situations however – there may not be another side – and in those cases, I don’t play the persona of a ‘detached’ journalist. I’m reasonably emotional about issues I care about.

You have received a lot of praise and, on occasion, flak.
All one can do in the end is to be true to oneself and to one’s own ethics. I have learnt that I can evoke strong opinions; I prefer it that way to be evoking middling ones for sure. That would make me feel bland!

Which interactions have you enjoyed most this year?
I would say my interview with Sonia Gandhi right after the Rajya Sabha cleared the Women’s Reservation Bill. She rarely gives interviews and is famously reserved. Here you saw a candid, relaxed, humorous side to her. Also, the first and only interview Shashi Tharoor gave three days before he stepped down as minister. We went live on air with it – it was a tough, candid interaction. I also really enjoyed interviewing M.F Husain on his decision to surrender his Indian passport and Sunil Mittal on his personal journey, since they were different from my usual political encounters.

The significance of having such a power to influence people...
It’s scary that one has to watch every word that one utters, in a sense, because everything one says can have an impact. I hope I will always speak loud and clear, when it matters most.


Chanda D.Kochhar 48
Woman On Top

Ranked 20th in Forbes’ list of ‘Most Powerful Women in the World 2009’, the MD, ICICI Bank, not only steadied the ship in the time of global crisis but has charted a new growth path in the last year. The head honcho of the bank, who is one of the big guns blazing this year, has said, “True power does not come from money. It comes from responsibility.”

The first thing that struck me about Chanda when I met her 25 years ago was her intellectual ability. Here was someone who had topped every exam she took, was exceptionally bright and keen to make a success of everything she did. As she grew in the organisation, one could see that she put these skills to good effect, adding a host of other attributes, all required in a leader. She could spot opportunity, execute it in a facile way and was ever dependable. No wonder, when ICICI was setting up ICICI Bank, she was sent as Employee No 1!

Over the years, she has developed the ability to build businesses, unveil strategic initiatives, drive these to success and stay calm in a storm. When she took over as Managing Director and CEO she had a clear cut game plan. And she had executed this game plan to a tee. Along the way she has built much needed relationships with different stakeholders. And the recognition for what she has done has followed, capped by a high place in the Forbes list of Power Women. In addition to all her qualities, Chanda has this enormous capacity to balance her personal and work life, which very few leaders have.

KV Kamath is chairman, ICICI Bank

Lata Mangeshkar 80
Perfect Songstress

The Officier de la Légion d’Honneur, the highest French decoration, conferred on the country’s most revered songstress last year, is but one in a long line of awards and titles (the Bharat Ratna included) that have dotted her illustrious almost seven-decade-long career

It is said that every second of the day, someone, somewhere in the world is listening to the voice of Lata Mangeshkar. Such is the power of her appeal that it has transcended generations, eras and styles and endures to this day. Nowhere in the world, in any field, whether it be sports, politics or the fine arts, has any individual been at the pinnacle of success for 68 uninterrupted years.

It is said that people follow music, but in Latajis’ case, music follows her. It has been the perfection of her singing that had every composer wanting her as the voice for the leading lady. As the noted classical stalwart Bade Ghulam Ali Khan said once, “Kambakht, kabhi besuri nahin hoti..”.

Though a very simple and reserved person herself, Lataji at the mike became the character she was singing for. Her rendition had half the work done for the actress, as the emotions were built in. Whether it was a devotional song, a ghazal, a frothy dance number, or a romantic duet, she was adept at it.

Lataji changed the concept of the female voice from the full-throated voices of the early ’40s, and broke all fetters for composers to create melodies that were hitherto impossible to sing. She led a crusade for the singers to get their due recognition, she sang when technology had not yet developed , and a singer had to sing a song umpteen times due to errors by musicians or technicians. She received top billing even when compared to senior male singers. Hers became the voice of three generations of great actresses but most of all, it is her humility, and her affable nature that makes her unmatchable!

Eminent producer and filmmaker, Yash Chopra has a lake in Switzerland named after him as a tribute to all the films he has shot in that country.

Mayawati 57
Mercurial Minister

On her birthday, the state chief doled out goodies at a pro-poor bash, and lit up capital city Lucknow with blue-string lights while the rest of the country watched open-mouthed

If the beating her Bahujan Samaj Party took in the general elections made 2008 an annus horribilis of sorts for the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, it hasn’t caused this self-styled saviour of the Dalit people to veer very far off course. With her party presenting a credible threat to the resurgent Congress forces in Uttar Pradesh, her home base, Behenji’s star has been on the ascendant once again. The courts may have forcibly halted work on her fulsome crop of statues – a crop that Foreign Policy magazine recently nominated on a list of the world’s ugliest statues – but her imprint is still visible on the state’s landscape. If nothing else, the currency garlands of the Bahujan Samaj Party’s silver jubilee celebrations are proof of just how far it is possible for this daughter of India’s least privileged classes to carry her ambition.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw 57
Biotech Queen

Every year, she donates $2 million to support health insurance coverage for 100,000 Indian villagers. She has donated $10 million to creating the 1,400-bed Mazumdar-Shaw Cancer Centre in Bengalaru, scheduled to open later this year. India’s wealthiest woman brings relief to villagers and cancer patients

At 25, in 1978, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw created a biotech company in her garage, when no one knew what biotech was. She initiated Biocon India in collaboration with Biocon Biochemicals with a capital of Rs 10,000, at a time when women entrepreneurs were a rare phenomenon. Today, that start-up, Biocon International is a one billion dollar operation.

The reason that this fine lady continues to appear on Verve’s list, year after year is that while growing an empire is definitely top in our book, Mazumdar-Shaw who in 2004 became India’s richest woman, is someone who craves to make a difference. Her newest venture, the Mazumdar-Shaw Cancer Centre, will treat poor patients free in the evenings, leaving their day free for work and family. Champion cyclist, Lance Armstrong, has this to say about her achievement: “I thank her for all her endeavours and for treating cancers like the global crises it has become.”

Sushma Swaraj 58
The Oppositionist

In an increasingly disjointed and risible political party, the year since the elections has been little more than a series of failed acid tests for most BJP honchos, but the new leader of the opposition has come through unscathed, and indicated the way forward

Indians used to seeing her public avatar were surprised earlier this year to see that now-iconic photograph of her sisterly embrace with Brinda Karat. The watershed moment came on the heels of the astounding multilateral consensus in Parliament over the Women’s Reservation Bill. It was inspired by the powers that be within the government, but its passage might have been impossible but for the unusual agreement reached on all fronts. A hefty chunk of that credit went to the woman who replaced veteran L K Advani as leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha in late 2009. The plaudits themselves are highly unusual for a politician whose modus operandi over the last few years has generally tended the other way – to scathing public demolition of the real and perceived failings of the coalition in power. Indeed, few other leaders today rouse the rabble as eloquently as she does, and it was inevitable that she would form part of the vanguard looking to rouse the BJP out of the rut into which it has fallen. In the world’s largest democracy, she holds a crucial office: she is the fountainhead of the checks and balances a parliamentary opposition is required to conduct. The Iron Man may have finally taken a backseat, but there is still India’s Iron Lady to reckon with.

Parmeshwar Godrej 64
Evergreen Philanthropist

The first lady of the Godrej empire amalgamates power, style and total commitment. Her sense of philanthropy and her advocacy of HIV/AIDS make her a legend in her own time. Her little black book is a listing of the world’s Who’s Who and her parties are what headlines are made of. As for her sense of style, she never has a bad day under that signature beret of hers

Have there been any new developments for 2009-2010?
My interest in tackling HIV & AIDS in India by advocating for a change in attitudes and actions, beliefs and behaviours continues unabated. In 2009-2010 we conceptualised and executed three landmark initiatives in close collaboration with Avahan and the state’s Nodal agencies. These were the International Candlelight Memorial, the Global AIDS Day and the Entertainment Media Roundtable that were supplemented by ongoing advocacy initiatives in four high-prevalence states. Additionally, we have also renewed our focus on the plight of children living with and affected by HIV & AIDS and have conceptualised an initiative christened Touch a Life that aims to harness the power of new media to engage the wider public.

Which projects are you working on with the Harvard School of Public Health?
The Harvard School of Public Health approached us to be able to study our model of advocacy for dealing with HIV & AIDS in India. They have expressed their desire to use us as a case study and are exploring and documenting our method’s efficacy as well as the approach we’ve taken over the last decade.

Can you tell us about your initiative with President Clinton’s global Initiative?
I’ve been a member of the Clinton Global Initiative for some time now and as his foundation expands their work in India, the CGI has become an important way of connecting organisations and individuals who want to engineer substantive, systemic change. At the moment, we’ve been approached by Alicia Keys and Leigh Blake of Touch a Life and are working on a plan to collaborate in the area of paediatric AIDS.

What was it like meeting President Obama at the Nobel Peace Prize Awards?
It was a memorable experience and one that I will treasure. It is always enlightening and energising to meet people who have the courage and gumption to change the world for the better.

What dreams do you have for your children?
I have always wished for my children to be healthy, happy and caring and compassionate human beings. I am grateful that they have exhibited all these qualities so you could say that, in many ways, my dreams for them have come true.


Shabana Azmi 59
Committed Crusader

Actor and activist and former member of the Rajya Sabha, Shabana Azmi continues to speak up for victims of injustice. Currently on stage again, she is holding audiences spellbound with her powerful renditions in her latest theatrical productions, Broken Images and Kaifi Aur Main

I still remember the summer of ’86 when moved by Anand Patwardhan’s film Hamara Shehar, Shabana Azmi decided to support the displaced slum dwellers and go on a hunger strike. The film fraternity was far from sympathetic and dismissed the episode as a publicity stunt. Today, almost 25 years later as Shabana crusades not just for the slum dwellers but for every victim in need of justice she proves all her detractors wrong.

In 1982 when Arth, delving on adultery, was released hordes of women walked up to her seeking solutions for troubled marriages. They applauded her for rejecting her wayward husband who wanted to return home in the climax. ‘You did the right thing,’ they told her, ‘and someday we will find courage to speak our minds as well.’

Shabana picked up her screen roles on instinct but the characters and their concerns lingered on. Unknowingly she awakened social consciousness whether it was the nuclear family in Jeena Yahan or the joint family in Apne Paraye. She was the voice of the disabled in Aparna Sen’s Sati, she addressed infidelity in Yeh Nazdikiyaan, fertility in Hari Bhari, surrogate motherhood in Doosri Dulhan, migration in Paar, lesbianism in Fire and Alzheimers in 15 Park Avenue.

As a journalist watching her career for 30 years I will say that as an actress she is as nervous and passionate about a role today as she was in the beginning of her career. As a friend I have watched her don many hats simultaneously – daughter, activist, sister, public speaker, counselor, parliamentarian, wife, employer and feel the reason Shabana excels in everything she does is because she gives 100 per cent of herself.

Those who don’t know her well enough perceive her as intimidating. Those who do, will vouch that if she wills, she turns strangers into soul mates. Her admirers say that for the hardships she endures to selflessly serve so many causes she is not given her due.

I don’t think Shabana ever thinks about this. She does what she does because she is committed to it.

Credibility comes chasing her to whatever she lends her name to and that according to me is real power!

A cinema journalist for almost three decades, Bhawana Somaaya has authored nine books, among which two are on Amitabh Bachchan.

Shobhana Bhartia 53
Media Baroness

The chairperson and editorial director of HT Media capped a fine year by announcing significant growth for her media company, which includes flagship newspaper Hindustan Times, and a spot on the Financial Times’ global list of top 50 women in business

At a recent seminar, she made news with her emphatic statement that sustainable growth for India could only be achieved if women are brought ‘to the centre stage of development,’ and that inclusion, empowerment and opportunity were the three stepping stones to this ideal state of affairs. She should know. Her media company, HT Media, has been one of India’s firms to recover most visibly from the trough of a global recession. While her English newspapers may be making inroads into the preferred reading matter of the country – and the world’s – opinion-makers, it won’t do to forget that it is the Hindi-language Hindustan that forms the company’s true triumph: it is India’s third most widely-read newspaper. The quiet revolution has been remarked on by several media pundits, who have largely credited the lady at the helm for transforming the slightly stodgy media group into a vibrant, hip brand over the last decade. Close relations with the government in power and a successful stint as Rajya Sabha MP have clearly done her clout no harm. If future tycoons doubt her feminist advice, they need only look to her own example: the woman thing is working, alright.

Sonia Gandhi 63
India’s Matriarch

The Congress Party President once again made headlines for successfully steering the Women’s Reservation Bill and for her appointment as the head of the first National Advisory Council this year

Power’s a funny thing. It comes from the most unlikely places. I knew Indira Gandhi. Rajiv too. Their power was drawn from the office they occupied. The office of the Prime Minister of India. Even VP Singh, Chandra Shekhar, Deve Gowda, IK Gujral and Vajpayee had that power but only for as long as they lasted. Once they were out, the power vanished – poof! Our population’s so young today that most of them haven’t even heard of them. Gujral goes for walks in Maharani Bagh unnoticed. Deve Gowda demands Z-plus security so that people know who he is, or at least ask. The BJP has forgotten that Vajpayee was once their tallest leader. No one even visits him.

Sonia interestingly is the first Congress Party boss who wields more power, more authority than the Prime Minister. The job that Dev Kanta Barua and Sitaram Kesri had reduced to a joke, she has brought back into serious reckoning. She has given it a new shine, a new muscle. Today, it’s the top job in Indian politics. She got all the credit for the RTI Act and the Women’s Reservations Bill, not the Prime Minister. The failures of the UPA Government vest in the ministers. Sharad Pawar gets the rap for rising food prices. Chidambaram gets knocked when the phone-tapping controversy breaks. Raja is everyone’s pet hate, as the spectrum trader. Praful Patel is accused of driving the national airline into bankruptcy. Pranab’s model tax plan is being widely criticised. But Sonia wears Teflon. Nothing touches her. She only tots up the credits.

That’s power. It isn’t easy to reach that place where storms can’t touch you, scandals don’t scare you. Sonia’s there. Supremely well-ensconced.

Chairman, Pritish Nandy Communications and chronicler of our times, Pritish Nandy was the editor of the erstwhile iconic The Illustrated Weekly of India.


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