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

Bharti Kher 40
Inventive Artist

The UK-born-and-educated, New Delhi-based artist has consolidated her place in the international art world, whether it is in terms of her consistent presence or her ability to command high prices for her works. She is the recipient of the prestigious Arken Prize for 2010 awarded by ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen

Bharti is well-known for her deeply personal, evocative, and layered work. She explores questions of identity, globalism and tradition. Her work often reflects her complex cultural hybridity, as an artist located between geographic and social milieus. The ubiquitous bindi is reinvented as a central motif in her work. She uses these relatively banal objects, to transform the surfaces of both her sculptures and her paintings.

BK (as she is fondly referred to) has broken out of the confines of being slotted purely as an ‘Indian Artist’. This year, she opened a solo show at the Hauser & Wirth gallery in London and a three-person show at The Kunstmuseum Thun in Switzerland. Her upcoming projects include shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art – ‘Tokyo Art Meeting. Transformation’, Tokyo, Center Pompidou, Paris and solo projects at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin in Paris and GALLERYSKE.

She’s talented, hard working, gorgeous and extremely driven. She plays the roles of being the most successful woman artist in the country today, a very fun and inventive mom, a must-have presence at high powered dos and a friend one simply hangs out with.

Sunitha Kumar Emmart founded and runs GALLERYSKE, Bengaluru.

Mamata Banerjee 55
Courageous Opportunist

The honourable Railways minister, in her avatar as Trinamool Congress head honcho, has valiantly and vociferously opposed Special Economic Zones and industrialisation in West Bengal and is currently under public scrutiny for her solution to killer stampedes on railway stations

‘I have presented two budgets, tabled [a] white paper and the Vision 2020. I have approved the new catering policy. I have also started all new trains promised in last year’s budget,’ Madame Minister said recently. ‘All major promises have been fulfilled.’ Never mind that this declaration came along at the same time as her no-show during Mumbai’s recent local train crisis, a crippling strike that has now been called off. The Railways portfolio demands heft and weight, and even though Banerjee is often accused of substituting those qualities with sound and fury, her impact on the national consciousness is not to be ignored. Juggling this ministry with her status as local heroine to the Trinamool faithful back home in Bengal – where the party looks poised for a victory in the state polls – is no mean feat. But Indian politics’ grunge goddess has been going full steam ahead. In February this year, 19 new train services were flagged off, eight of which were designated for women only.

Katrina Kaif 26
Bollywood Beauty

The style icon and the most Googled actress, who is a popular brand ambassador for cosmetics and luxury goods, garnered awards for her 2009 releases New York and Ajab Prem Ki Gajab Kahani. Also voted the sexiest and the most desirable woman in 2009, the actor is essaying a de-glam role in the upcoming Rajneeti.

Though as an actor, she is nice but not really great, her box-office appeal stems from her innocence. The good thing about her is that because she is not pushing herself into specific roles, she has not been typecast or slotted into a stereotype. She has been doing almost everything.

When I did the Fevicol Train ad with her, she was wonderful to work with. I don’t think she knew at that time that she was going to make it big and was completely without airs. Any actor’s value as a brand depends on the likeability factor. She is eminently likeable and so is doing well as a brand ambassador.

Her biggest asset is that she is not seen to be controversial despite working in an industry that is filled with controversies. No matter who she has been associated with she is is known to be a clean person.

Her power, in the ultimate analysis, stems from her innocence.

The executive chairman and creative director, South Asia, Ogilvy & Mather, is a top-notch advertising professional.

Kareena Kapoor 29
Reigning Diva

The highest paying taxpayer of 2009-10 from among her contemporaries, the actor is one of the most sought-after brand ambassadors in Bollywood, with a clutch of labels in her growing kitty. She was also the only female lead to work with the three mighty Khans last year

Kareena Kapoor is a brand to reckon with. She really became one when the whole Size Zero thing happened and she re-invented herself. Before that she was a fair and lovely Punjabi girl, with slightly plump legs. Many of her roles did not require her to be a great thespian, but they required her to look good. And yet, her credentials for being a great actress have never been in doubt.

Once Kareena reinvented herself, she became much more professional, focussed and serious about her career. She became Kareena Kapoor, the brand, rather than Kareena Kapoor, the bimbette.

She has always had the Kapoor aura. All along she has been very hoity-toity, slightly standoffish. In fact, some people have found it difficult to deal with her, not realising that at heart she is really nice and a fun person to be with.

You can say that the fun element in her personality came to the fore when she began going out with Shahid Kapoor. Then came her relationship with Saif Ali Khan and she is now finally comfortable in her own skin. Being a part of ‘Saifeena’ does not in any real sense enhance her image for she is now Kareena Kapoor, a person who rules in her own right. Her power comes from her self-belief. She no longer needs to be protected; she is confident about herself and can hold her own on any forum. If she wants to show her affection in public, she is one of the few people who do so. As her personality grew in stature, her spontaneity came through.

She is growing at a phenomenal rate. If you peg her at any level now in terms of figures or numbers, it will not do justice for she has reached just about 25 per cent of the potential. The transition is so rapid. She is a diva on a song!

Ad guru and filmmaker, Prahlad Kakkar wears many hats.

Manisha Girotra 40
Poised Banker

India’s head of UBS, the world’s second largest bank, comes from a family of bankers, enjoys spending time with her daughter and believes that the vibrant hues she wears brighten up the staid corporate world

The dazzling lady in the fashionable sari stands out in the dark-suited male-dominated global banking industry. Manisha Girotra, head of UBS in India, has more of everything those bankers have – more grey cells, more marketing savvy, more connectivity, more good looks, more “tenacity, persistence and a higher Emotional Quotient (EQ)”. The latter, she says, is not unique to her but is common to and inherent in, the female gender, and helps them succeed in the workplace.

How does she use these skills in the hard-driven and work-obsessed banking industry? For her, some simple rules of respect for personal time and space apply. For instance, she doesn’t call colleagues or clients at 6 a.m. or 11 p.m. in her business. “Banking isn’t all of life,” she says.

And how does she apply those rules to her own life? She spends as much time as she can with her family and uses India’s “superior ecosystem of mums and mums-in-law – ‘grannies on wheels’, as my husband calls them – so that no one is neglected”. Her indulgence for herself: buying new saris.

Former business journalist, Manjeet Kripalani, is executive director and founder, Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations.

Meira Kumar 65
Voice of Reason

It may seem like a wicked coincidence that the country’s first woman speaker has presided over one of the most raucous Houses in recent times, but her diplomacy and gentle firmness has held its own amidst the fire and brimstone of quarrelsome MPs

A certain softness of tone and subtlety of profile meant that Jagjivan Ram’s daughter’s appointment to the post of Lok Sabha speaker came with its fair share of skeptics. But the tranquil exterior conceals some heavy artillery: she is a one-time IFS employee and a politician who has won significant victories in Uttar Pradesh elections against such intimidating opposition as Ram Vilas Paswan and Mayawati – and an award-winning rifle shooter. Who knew that an expression of ‘strong displeasure’ – her official communication over the disruptions in Parliament over the Budget session – could subdue our elected representatives? But if the MPs tend to represent the famed chaos of India’s culture, then Kumar’s reign so far has gone the opposite way and represented its dignity and seriousness of purpose. A worthy reminder.

Mrunalini Deshmukh 52
Sensitive Lawyer

Specialising in family law and matrimonial cases, she is privy to the secrets of the rich and the famous. While Aamir Khan, Karisma Kapoor and Valentina Nayar have been her celebrity clients in the past, in the last one year, Shvetha Jayashankar and Aditya Chopra, among others, have turned to her for counsel

One can almost miss her small office in a by-lane of Bandra and yet its precincts have seen the presence of clients from a spectrum of society, who have faced marital discord or familial issues. Hailing from a middle class background, Mrunalini Deshmukh has grown into a lawyer who deals with matrimonial cases and is an expert in family law – a sphere that creates almost a daily drama in her professional sphere.

The eldest offspring of the late legal expert T K Tope had no doubts in choosing the career she wanted to pursue. “My father, an idealist, was a member of the commission that drafted the Constitution,” she says. “My power stems from the inspiration that he gave me; the values he instilled in me.”

Interacting with the crème de la crème of society comes easily to her due to the time spent with her dad who was principal of Government Law College and later Vice Chancellor of Mumbai University. “Being the eldest of my siblings, I was very close to him. He would take me for many of the functions he was invited to and that social interaction taught me a lot. ”

That poise has given her the power to deal with a variety of issues with tact. “Marital problems,” she states, “are matters of great sensitivity. The issues I deal with are very delicate. It is important to often give the correct advice in matters not just to litigate but to sit across the table and talk or go in for out of court settlements.”

After her high-powered appearances in court and sessions at her office, she relaxes by socialising, playing badminton and reading. “When we were kids, we rarely saw a movie; we read a lot and discussed all that we imbibed. That is why later on I found reading law volumes easy. Today, even at the end of a hard day, I read before I go to sleep. It keeps your mind fresh and alert.”


Nirupama Rao 60
Feisty Diplomat

In July 2009, she became the second woman to hold the post of Indian Foreign Secretary, proving that women can handle the highest positions with gutsy élan

From a reputed family in Kerala, India’s Foreign Secretary joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1973. Ever since, this feisty lady has been posted to Indian missions in Vienna and Colombo and later laid special focus on India-China relations. She has been minister of press affairs at the Indian Embassy in Washington as well as India’s ambassador to Peru. From 2001 to 2002, she was joint secretary (external publicity) and official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, the first woman officer to hold this post in the Ministry. Today she competently heads the Indian Foreign Service.


Shobhaa De 61
Reinvented Writer

Editor, author and, now, publisher. The popular social commentator and celebrity icon takes on a new role with Shobhaa De Books, the new imprint from Penguin India that is all set to make an impact worldwide

The Mumbai-based literary diva who, for a long time has been an active consulting editor with Penguin Books, has penned a fresh title for herself with a new chapter with the publishing house – her very own imprint. The co-branding, she is confident, will help India to be better chronicled. Almost two decades ago, the social chronicler had given bestsellers a colourful language – with her highly individualistic and extremely colourful ‘Hinglish’ that peppered her books – that redefined the art of writing with a new lingo. She is now keen on handpicking her titles and bringing on board only those people who have powerful tales to tell and has several names on her wishlist. Quality over quantity is her buzzword. And as she said, “With this imprint, I feel like I have come full circle. It is payback time…for all that writing has given me.”

Priyanka Chopra 27
Award Collector

The youngest actress to win the National Award in the Best Actress category in March this year, the effervescent scene-stealer is still riding high on the win for Fashion, having rocked the screen with her performance in Kaminey. Her enormous fan following online is rivalled only by Shah Rukh Khan from the film industry. She is also the first woman to top TV celebrity endorsement charts last year

“I don’t think it (power or fame) has drastically altered my life in any way. It has, in fact, enhanced it. I still continue to do the things I used to (much to the chagrin of my family and my team) from going to a theatre for a movie to stopping at a crowded coffee bar to get my caffeine fix to eating out with friends. I am a creation of the people and if all they want is to come up and say hello, take a picture, shake my hand...I’m very happy to do that and reciprocate the love in some way. I have had a few tricky situations with crowds but I have a great team that takes care of me, so I will never shy away from ‘crowded’ situations!

Let’s be honest, I am being watched all the time. Even simple things like scratching my nose will get captured in all its glory! But I’m pretty much a ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of person, so I do get caught off guard quite often. I’m myself at home and around my family. That’s the real me. I have been fortunate enough to have had my family (a very big one at that) with me from the day I began this journey. Over the years, I have also been fortunate enough to make some very good friends, both from the industry and outside of it, while maintaining a few key friendships from when I was in school. They ensure that I’m never lonely. They are my biggest supporters and also my biggest critics. They have kept me grounded – in line with my middle-class roots. They’ve come to terms with my fame and in turn have helped me understand and deal with it as well.

My public persona is a mirror of who I am. The only thing I guard very carefully is my personal life. It’s never been a question of hiding any of the relationships, but more about keeping them away from public glare. I’m not comfortable opening the doors of my private world for the world to see....”


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