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

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra 38
Enigmatic Inheritor

Though she took a backseat and was more in the news for being the force behind her brother Rahul Gandhi, the youth icon continues to exert her pull with her endearing candour and pleasant personality

What makes Priyanka Gandhi Vadra powerful is the distance she keeps from direct power while being in the power circle. Political power is stronger when there’s an enigma around it. While a powerful person who delivers has a strong effect, the pull of an untested leader is often greater. And that’s what makes Priyanka, like Rahul, stand out.

Priyanka gave me her first TV interview on the road in Amethi in 1999. She was campaigning for her mother, and I was on the Congress beat. Covering the Gandhis was surreal; you knew that the nation’s attention was entirely on them, on their every move and statement. So when Priyanka asked the securitymen in the back seat of her Tata Safari to hop off for a bit to let me and my cameraperson in, I was surprised.

What surprised me more was her candour, her ability to take the toughest questions with a smile, and laugh away some, without getting irritated. It was a good scoop, and viewers lapped up every word from her.

Eight years later, I met her again at her house. By now, Rahul had come centrestage and she was the force behind her brother. From being the more visible of the Gandhi siblings to the one taking a backseat was a major shift as far as the media was concerned, but Priyanka was completely at ease.

She spoke about Buddhist studies which she was pursuing a degree in, her children, and asked questions about the social responsibility of the media. I came away feeling that she had a deep sense of peace within – the kind of peace which, the dust of daily politics can unsettle.

Will she ever give that up and get into active politics? I don’t know. But as the countdown to Rahul’s ascent into prime ministership gets more hurried, there will be speculation over her role. I don’t think Priyanka will do it out of a sense of dynasty or duty, but she might if she feels Rahul will be strengthened by her coming in. If she does, Indian politics will gain.

Priyanka’s greatest strength is her directness. After 26/11, she said that had Indira Gandhi been alive, she would have reacted in a way that “would have made us all proud”. That comment caught the nation’s imagination, and again drew comparisions between her and Indira Gandhi. Those who’ve met Indira say the comparisions are true. I haven’t, but then at one time, few expected Indira Gandhi to rule India for so long.

Editor-in- chief of Times Now and host, The Newshour, Arnab Goswami, as a Congress reporter between 1998 and 2001, was the first journalist in India to interview Sonia Gandhi on television.

Rajshree Pathy 53
Unflinching Entrepreneur

The thumping profit margins in a recession year have won her plenty of headlines, but the future is only looking brighter for the chairman and managing director of Rajshree Sugars and Chemicals, and one of India’s best-known art patrons

“The buck stops with me,” says Rajshree Pathy, and it’s true of both her ambition and her achievements. “I’m a completely independent businesswoman, with no one standing behind me.” It’s true: she may have inherited the sugar factories, but neither family nor friends have had any hand in the stupendous success she has made of them. From being the target of public scepticism as a newbie tycoon, she can now no longer stop the phones ringing and the TV cameras crowding in, buzzing with curiosity and congratulations after announcing the numbers at a board meeting. “It’s been a good year,” she says. It has indeed. All too fittingly, her next project is to expand her firm’s presence in the electricity market: ‘the sugar company’ is all set to become – that’s right – a power company. Just as fulfilling personally is the launch of the all-new Coimbatore Centre for Contemporary Art (COCCA), a teaching institution with a private museum that will be India’s first such establishment for contemporary art. Her own strengths, she avers, come from “thinking positively. I’ve never had a day in my life when I’ve allowed myself to think negatively – through personal traumas and financial traumas, I’ve drawn strength from believing that I’m here for a purpose.” The firm approaches its silver jubilee next year, and its moving force, the woman behind it all, may well believe that the best is yet to come. She has good reason to think so.


Renu Sud Karnad 57
Bankable Head

The Managing Director, HDFC, apart from being the company’s brand custodian, is in charge of the lending operations of the company and is responsible for spearheading its expansion. A team player, the driving philosophy that permeates her work is simple: “I have an anthem even in small things. Don’t give up.”

Renu was amongst the first employees of HDFC and she has seen the organisation grow since its inception. She is focused and determined towards her goals and is a decisive leader. She has set an exemplary example for the Gen Next women professionals in India. Her most outstanding quality is her ability to relate to everyone – she remembers names, people and believes in empowering her team. With her it is always ‘You before I’ – a very nurturing, spontaneous and unique quality of her personality.

Deepak Parekh is the Chairman, HDFC Ltd.

Saina Nehwal 20
Shuttlecock Smasher

World No 6, the highest-ranked non-Chinese shuttler was awarded the Padma Shri this year and the Arjuna Award in August 2009. She became the first Indian woman to reach the semi-finals of the All England Super Series Badminton Championship in March. All eyes will be on her at the upcoming Commonwealth Games

Saina has come more into the spotlight in the last couple of years, especially after the Beijing Olympics. She is very determined and has a lot of willpower. She has shown immense dedication to her sport, is very focussed and determined to win. She wants to be the best. Saina’s power as a player is undeniable for she has reached such heights at such a young age. The fact that she is No 6 in the world is truly admirable.

To achieve what she has done, Saina must have confronted her doubts along the way, overcome her limitations and worked hard on her game. Her recent achievements have got her a great fan following. What I appreciate is that she has not let herself get carried away by all the adulation and has remained what she is: a player at heart.

Badminton is a different kind of individual sport. I know you have to be fit and healthy, practise a lot and remain focussed to be the best. Given a little bit of luck, one is confident that Saina will hit the top spot.

World champion and the first Indian to win an Olympic gold medal in an individual sport, rifle-shooting, Abhinav Bindra will also be worth watching at the Commonwealth Games.

Shoma Chaudhary 39
Incisive Scribe

The managing editor of the Delhi-based Tehelka was a joint winner of the 2009 Chameli Devi Jain Award for an Outstanding Woman Mediaperson, an award given annually by The Media Foundation. Her work functions as the guiding spirit of her magazine’s prescriptive but powerful motto: for reading, and righting.

While Shoma has always been a fine journalist, she seems to have turned a light inwards in the last couple of years and has found an emotional commitment that is now deeper than before. I cannot think of a journalist whose writing works harder at presenting the truth with such rigour, analysis and emotional intelligence. With her as its managing editor, Tehelka is in safe hands.

Actor and social activist, Rahul Bose is associated with several charitable organisations and is the founder and chairman of The Group of Groups.

Kangna Ranaut 23
Petite Dynamo

The gamine performer made the cut with her on-the-edge performance in Fashion (2009), winning accolades and awards, topped by the National Award early this year. A quest for completion drives this unconventional star, who once said, “I need to look for the rainbow.”

Her movies speak amply about her performances and her acting skills. She has always had a streak of confidence and a spark and one knew instinctively that she was one of the girls who was going to make it. Her choice of movies right from her debut film – Gangster to her award-winning Fashion – show that she is here to act.

She has chosen to do cutting-edge roles and that is her power as a performer. It is easy to look plastic and do the regular-run-of-the mill romantic movies. She knows her craft and she does it because she knows she can. Her aesthetics are perfect. Working with solid directors, she has come up with bravura performances right from Life In A Metro to Fashion.

A lot of people say she is not conventional looking. I have not understood what is meant by that, especially when you look at the spectrum of the Indian film industry. Smita Patil and Tabu are also not conventional beauties in that sense but they have done so many ‘commercial’ films as well.

Kangna’s plus factor is that she has a humungous sense of style and fashion. So, whether she is facing the camera for a film, a magazine or an ad shoot, she does it with panache. She is a youth icon especially with her impeccable taste in fashion.

I see her going places. Indian cinema is not restricted to our borders alone. She will get a foot into the cinema of the world. All she needs is time.

Ace fashion, film and ad photographer, Jatin Kampani spends a lot of his time shooting stars.

Anjum Hasan 38
Skilled Wordsmith

Her literary debut, Lunatic In My Head (2007) delighted critics and readers with its acute, compassionate portrayal of characters. That emotional astuteness has carried into the author’s sophomore offering, Neti Neti, published last year and the recently-launched journal of politics and culture, The Caravan, of which she is the editor

In a reading and writing culture used to rating authors by their star power and their marketing muscle, Anjum Hasan is a reminder that there’s still room for quality. Her three novels have a quiet, compelling incisiveness, excavating the smallness of our lives in places as diverse as Shillong and Bengaluru, and offering at the same time, a broad, inquiring perspective. She’s the kind of critic who can quote from Tarantino and Nabokov to make her point; and the kind of editor whose curiosity about the world opens up generous spaces for other writers.

Nilanjana S Roy is a literary columnist and is working on a collection of essays on reading for HarperCollins.

Hema Malini 61
Graceful Leader

Her stature was such that, at one stage, superstars whose careers were on the skids leaned on her to pull them out of trouble. Her foray into politics took on a new turn when the actor, always referred to as ‘dream girl,’ was appointed one of the new vice-presidents of the Bharatiya Janata Party in March this year

In politics, as in films, what sets Hema Malini apart is the quiet sense of dignity and grace with which she conducts herself. Years ago, when she made her film debut opposite an ageing Raj Kapoor in Sapnon Ka Saudagar (1968), the industry had seen nothing in her beyond her resemblance to the reigning star Vyjayantimala and her dancing skills. In fact, her choice was attributed to Raj Kapoor’s Vyjayantimala fixation. Hema lived down the film’s nightmarish performance at the box-office with determination.

It was Vijay Anand’s slick thriller Johnny Mera Naam (opposite Dev Anand) that established her box-office credentials beyond doubt. A series of hits – Seeta Aur Geeta and Sholay – took her to the top slot and she went on to dominate the ’70s like no other heroine had done.

In spite of her tremendous record at the box-office, she was often ticked off as a ‘non actress’. To silence her detractors, Hema went out of her way to do films like Khushboo, Kinara, Meera and Rihaee which showcased her at her histrionic best.

Hema was – and is – never flippant, never given to outlandish statements to garner headlines. Her foray into the manipulative terrain of politics surprised many who had known her as a straight, simple person. It surprises her too. ‘I never wanted to be in politics, I never thought I belonged there,’ she admits. She gave in after resisting for a while after a tall leader of the BJP kept pleading with a politically manipulative logic. But once into the grind, she took it in her stride. She might not have done anything earth-shaking as yet, but she has stood out as she did her in her film career with her grace and style of interacting with people. It’s the same demeanour that has kept her a cut above the rest in public perception. It explains why her relationship with Dharmendra, a married actor, and her marriage to him, didn’t dent her image at all!

Lakshmi Venu 26
Heiress Ascendant

No greenhorn to the ways of the world of business, recently confirmed in her role as director of strategy at Sundaram Clayton Limited, she is the newest inductee into her family’s business tradition, now four generations old

Sundaram Clayton is the holding company for TVS Motors, of which Lakshmi Venu’s father, Venu Srinivasan, is the chairman and managing director. The board of directors’ latest appointment has clarified once and for all the question of succession for one of India’s largest auto companies. But this young woman – also the daughter of Mallika Srinivasan, director of southern conglomerate amalgamations – brings to the role an education and experience that ensure that questions of succession are not necessarily dogged by those of competence. She holds a degree in economics from Yale University, and a doctorate in business management from Warwick. Nor is she a greenhorn in the business: her time in the rank and file of the company’s management trainees, as everyone is anxious to emphasise, has formed an all-important springboard for her growth. From one milestone to the next, it’s va-va-vroom on the road for TVS’ tycoon-in-waiting.

Mary Kom 27
Feisty Pugilist

Selected for India’s highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, with boxer Vijender Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar, the Manipuri pugilist, who is a four-time world champion, and a DSP in the Manipur Police Department, has an eye on the London 2012 Olympics

Mary Kom is a magnificent lady who has really made the nation proud. Unfortunately, she hasn’t received the popularity and acclaim which she deserves, but I’m sure she’ll reach the top very soon.

Nowadays, we hear about many women who have begun to take up different kinds of sports especially in Manipur. We are proud of women like Mary who has taken up an offbeat sport like boxing. I hope her victories prove to be a breakthrough moment for women’s boxing.

It’s an unbelievable achievement for any woman to fight all odds and reach a level of success in a country like India, in a sport like boxing. Mary Kom has already got us several gold medals but looking at her talent, I expect her to get a gold medal in the Olympics. She has got a lot of potential to knock out anyone.

Of course, she is an inspiring person. Her stamina and concentration are incredible. I am sure that she will definitely be an icon/role model to a lot of Indian girls.

Olympic bronze medal winner in boxing, Vijender Singh is looking forward to bettering his performance in the Commonwealth Games.


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