|DesiClub.com's Top 50 Coolest Desis of 2011
|Here we are ladies and gents, another year, more accomplishments, more personalities and more to be inspired by. Read on and be thrilled by the company we keep. For another year has come to be and based on what transpired, we have plenty to be proud of.
|by Hiral Dholakia-Dave
What a year, what a year! A struggling economy, Osama's killing, Madoff and Rajratnam's arrests, loss of the iconic Steve Jobs, a crumbling Eurozone - as if hurricane Irene wasn't enough to make the world around us go topsy-turvy!
Yet the quest for all that is better never stops. From cleaning the corrupt system to charting unknown territories there are those who are setting a precedent and raising the bar. And we at the Desiclub are proud to be a part of the progressive brigade.
Year after year we have presented the list of the best and the brightest Desis who went on to rock the mainstream. Old habits die hard and here we are at it again!!
As much as it involves a hell of a lot of scouting, digging, short listing, verifying and the endless processing that goes on throughout the year - we just cannot wait to get to this very point each December.
To our pleasant surprise, the highlight of our list this year turns out to be a record number of women aboard from a variety of fields, and, the 74 year young Anna Hazare... representing the two so-called weaker sections of society who have emerged as big time achievers. A lady commander of a US warship, a DJ who had the White House rock to bhangra beats, a face of a global cosmetic house, a former Marine Corps veteran, a beauty goddess, a key Obama fundraiser, a business school dean - this is how diverse and impactful it became.
And then we have those who turned newsmakers hitting the headlines with their big ticket ventures. Shahid Khan will be the first Desi (Pakistani-American) to buy a NFL team with his purchase of the Jacksonville Jaguars for $760 million and director Tarsem Singh raked in millions with his epic 3D adventure 'Immortals' that also became the third highest-grossing R-rated film debut in 2011.
While some minted money, others got those who did just that, albeit illegally, behind bars. Manhattan's chief federal prosecutor Preet Bharara was the man behind a widespread crackdown against Raj Rajratnam and Co. in the largest insider trading case on Wall Street and the prosecution of Bernard L. Madoff for his multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.
Talking of the moolah rouge, our top bankers Anshu Jain of Deutche Bank and Citi's Vikram Pandit are turning the fortunes around for the banking behemoths in these troubled times.
Corporate, entertainment, sports - having made their presence felt in all these arenas, Desis forged into some new frontiers too. Such as Sohail Mohammed who is the first Indian-American and the second Muslim to become a state Superior Court judge in New Jersey or for that matter Lt Col Harjit Singh Sajjan who became the first Canadian Sikh to take the command as an officer in the British Columbia Regiment on September 11th.
But all said and done, the top slot has been grabbed by a determined man in his 70s, who eats, drinks and breathes community service. He lives in a temple and owns just a cot to sleep on. Yet, based on his sheer willpower, has been able to rock the foundation of Indian government, by his own admission "taken wickets of six cabinet ministers" and managed to wake up a nation from its slumber and got millions to join him in the anti-graft movement. Indians not just in India but around the world staged peaceful rallies, held vigils and got vocal on social networks, which in turn got the UPA led government in India to relent and work towards framing stronger laws to stop the practice. Hopefully the actions of one, can influence the rest of the world.
Read on and get inspired!
50. Sukanya Roy
Who is She: An 8th grader at Abington Heights Middle School
Why is She Cool: She won the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee crown to retain the coveted honor for the community for the fourth year in a row
What's Next: She hopes to pursue a career in international relations. Way to go girl!
Cool Fun Fact: She spelt right the tongue twister 'cymotrichous', Greek for having wavy hair, to win the championship. She walked away with a $30,000 cash prize, a trophy, a $2,500 US savings bond, a complete reference library, a $5,000 scholarship and $2,600 in reference works and other prizes. This list wouldn't be complete without a Desi spelling bee champ, now would it?
Location: Queens, New York
Who is He: Carnatic Jazz music band
Why is He Cool: It won the Ultimate Battle of the Boroughs contest in June to become the best music band of New York City. Charanams was the one and only Indian band featured in this fierce music contest that started off with 524 submissions from bands of all genres. Charanams performed "The Mystic Earth" and "The Hudson Ride", two original compositions of founder Nivedita ShivRaj that blew away the in-house audience and all the judges to win this prestigious honor.
What's Next: As the winner of the Battle of the Boroughs, Charanams performed an exclusive concert at the Summerstage concert series this year at Central Park and at The Greene Space Theater. In November it also performed at the Mayor's Awards for Arts & Culture at Alice Tully Hall-Lincoln Center.
Cool Fun Fact: Charanams, created by Queens-based musician Nivedita ShivRaj, presents unique world music by bringing together the best of carnatic (South Indian classical) and jazz styles of music.
48. Sai "Psychuck" Manapragada
Location: San Francisco
Who is He: Music Composer, Keyboardist and Singer
Why is He Cool: He became the fastest piano player! He earned his third Guinness World Record for hitting 669 piano keys in one minute, beating the former record of 498 keys held by Hungary's Balázs Havasi since 2009.
What's Next: Sai has already raised the bar. Given his expertise, we hope to see more records being made and broken.
Cool Fun Fact: In 2010, he entered the Guinness World Record for the first time singing the patriotic song 'Maa Tujhe Salaam' in a mind-boggling 265 languages. He has also learned ten different styles of piano playing. He has created a new piano style called the 'jalra' style, which has a fast-paced high tempo.
47. Lt. Col. Harjit Singh Sajjan
Who is He: Commanding Officer, British Columbia Regiment
Why is He Cool: He became the first Canadian Sikh to take the command on September 11th this year. Established in 1883, the regiment is said to be the oldest military unit in Vancouver, British Columbia and has received forty battle honors in its history and has been a formation of the Royal Canadian Armored Corps since 1942.
What's Next: He's an inspiration to young Sikhs. We wish him more accolades!
Cool Fun Fact: Lt. Col. Harjit Singh joined the British Columbia Regiment as a Trooper in 1989 and was commissioned in the Regiment in 1991. He was promoted to Captain in 1995 and to Major in 2005. He has served in Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as three deployments to Afghanistan. In the course of his deployments he has been awarded a Mentioned-in-Dispatches, Commander in Chief Commendation, two Chief of Defense Staff Commendations and a US Army Commendation. He is also the recipient of the Deputy Minister's (National Defense) Award.
46. Ameya Pawar
Who is He: Alderman of 47th ward
Why is He Cool: The 30-year-old graduate student at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago became the first Asian American in City Council history, as alderman of the Chicago North Side's 47th Ward.
What's Next: He promises to have an elected ward council to guide his actions at City Hall and to give $50,000 of his salary to help offset the city's deficit or offer community grants.
Cool Fun Fact: An emergency preparedness expert working on his third master's degree, he has created a "Chicago Works" iPhone app that residents can use to report potholes or unplowed streets directly to the 311 center.
45. Isha H Jain
Location: New York
Who is She: Senior at Harvard University
Why is She Cool: Isha made it to the list of Top 10 College Women, published by Glamour magazine.
What's Next: This chemistry and biology major who's anything but a lab rat dreams to research disease mechanisms and help find cures and see as many women as men in the highest levels, in all fields of science. Is there any stopping someone with the lethal combo of beauty with brains?
Cool Fun Fact: At 16 she won $100,000 for her research on bone growth in zebra fish, she's coauthored six published scientific papers and she helped direct Harvard's National Symposium for the Advancement of Women in Science. When she's not doing anything similar she loves to dance, make jewelry and play soccer.
44. Arun Majumdar
Location: Washington DC
Who is He: The "green czar", materials scientist, engineer
Why is He Cool: He was nominated November 29th by the White House to the top post of Under Secretary at the Department of Energy.
What's Next: Majumdar has helped shape several strategic initiatives in energy efficiency and storage, and renewable energy. With the new position his scope of work widens and so does its impact.
Cool Fun Fact: In 2009, the Prez nominated him to head the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy at the Department of Energy. The agency was charged with finding and funding "out of the box" innovative technologies to reduce the country's reliance on foreign energy and tools to improve energy efficiency.
43. Neeli Bendapudi
Location: Lawrence, Kansas
Who is She: A scholar of business practices and professor of marketing
Why is She Cool: She was selected as the Henry D. Price Dean of the University of Kansas School of Business after a nationwide search. She had earned her PhD from KU as a graduate student. Now she's the university's dean of business.
What's Next: She defines her goals as simple but not easy. Building KU's brand, engaging all stakeholders and working in the right direction diligently tops her priority.
Cool Fun Fact: Bendapudi specializes in the study of consumer behavior in service contexts; her research dealt with customers' willingness and ability to maintain long-term relationships with firms and with the brands and employees that represent them. She has consulted for dozens of the world's largest companies, including Cessna, Deloitte & Touche and Procter & Gamble.
42. Ammar Malik
Location: Virginia & New York
Who is He: Songwriter, Singer
Why is He Cool: He co-wrote the year's most infectiously catchy single 'Moves Like Jagger' with Maroon 5's lead singer, Adam Levine featuring the high-octane voice talents of Levine's co-judge on "The Voice", Christine Aguilera. The song became an instant hit. It topped the charts in Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden and the United States while it was a top-five hit in most countries that it charted. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for four non-consecutive weeks.
What's Next: He aspires to become a rockstar. By his own admission, "Singing and performing has always been a passion of mine, so there will definitely be a move... toward my own singing career in the near future." We are all ears!!
Cool Fun Fact: Prior to this song he had collaborated with other musicians and songwriters to produce the Gym Class Heroes' smashing number "Stereo Hearts."
41. Upinder Singh Randhawa
Who is He: Radio and TV presenter
Why is He Cool: He became the face of coverage of the UK riots in 2011. Armed with a hand-held camera and a microphone, his live feeds of the arson and looting in Birmingham drew accolades from all over ever since he asked pursuing policemen to hop into his car and nab the rioters, which they did. All the while catching the action on his camera. Scores of Britons, including Prime Minister David Cameron lauded this face of Sangat TV, which is run from a small, makeshift newsroom in Edgbaston. Its footage was used by CNN, BBC and the likes, provided free-of-cost.
What's Next: He has his own show on Sangat TV now. We wish him the best for carrying forward the mission of responsible journalism!
Cool Fun Fact: India born Randhawa commenced his media career in 2004 as a Radio Presenter for various 'Drive Time' shows. His 'Late Night Love' show was so popular amongst listeners that it was carried through to other stations. He will also be seen in the Punjabi movie 'Mirza - The untold story' directed by Baljit Singh Deo.
40. Vini Nathan
Who is She: Dean, College of Architecture, Design and Construction at Auburn University
Why is She Cool: Nathan, dean of the School of Architecture at Philadelphia University was named dean of Auburn University's College of Architecture, Design and Construction, effective July 1 after a competitive national search.
What's Next: "I am not arriving with a boilerplate list of goals that I wish to impose," Nathan said in an interview. "Instead, I look forward to working with the CADC faculty, staff, students, alumni, our friends from all over the world and our University administration in continuing and extending our impressive legacy."
Cool Fun Fact: In addition to her academic work, Dr. Nathan is a classically trained dancer, a competitive chess player and a self-professed trivia buff.
39. Naeem Khan
Location: New York
Who is He: Fashion designer
Why is He Cool: We generally try and include new faces in our list each year but some personalities just barge in and claim their spot simply based on their merits! Khan is among those. Now, this gentleman crafts glamorous clothes for powerful women. And his clientele only gets more star-studded. It has extended from Michelle Obama and Beyonce Knowles to Eva Longoria and none other than pop icon Lady Gaga.
What's Next: From rave reviews at the New York Fashion Week to dressing up divas, Khan has arrived and how!
Cool Fun Fact: He launched his collection, Naeem Khan, in 2003. He shot to fame when Michelle Obama wore his dress for the first state dinner in 2009. His designs have been featured in fashion flicks such as Sex and the City and Dreamgirls.
38. Shalini Vadhera
Who is She: Beauty expert
Why is She Cool: As celebrity makeup artist she's taken her love for ancient Indian beauty secrets and established a thriving cosmetics empire. Vadhera can be seen regularly on shows like "The Dr. Oz Show," ABC's "The View" and NBC's "The Today Show."
What's Next: She is working with NBC Universal to develop a show based on her best-selling book "Passport to Beauty - Secrets and Tips from Around the World for Becoming a Global Goddess" which hit #1 on Health and Beauty lists two days after its release.
Cool Fun Fact: Her line of makeup and skin and hair care has been sold at Victoria's Secret, Sephora and on QVC.
37. Rakhi Mehra
Location: New Delhi
Who is She: Social entrepreneur
Why is She Cool: The Harvard Business School awarded the 2011 Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship to Rakhi, who was selected for her work in co-founding micro Home Solutions, a social initiative for developing sustainable housing solutions for the urban poor. Prior to receiving her MBA from Harvard Business School in 2009, she studied economics at St. Stephens College, Delhi and received a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University, where she studied politics, philosophy and economics.
What's Next: She is determined to make people and players think more creatively about urban housing and building inclusive cities. And given her track record, we have no doubts about her accomplishments ahead.
Cool Fun Fact: Rakhi was also a competitive swimmer for India and swam and won in the English Channel Relay for Oxford University.
36. Eboo Patel
Who is He: Founder, Interfaith Youth Core
Why is He Cool: He has been awarded Hofstra's 2012 Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize. The $50,000 prize is given every two years to recognize significant work to increase interfaith understanding. Patel incorporated the Interfaith Youth Core in 2002. By the end of the school year in June 2010, it had trained 18 "interfaith fellows" who each recruited about 40 students on their campuses. By this June, the Youth Core had trained leaders on 97 campuses, who engaged an average of 100 students, for a total of 10,000 participants - more than 10 times over the previous year.
What's Next: President Obama has sent a letter to 2,000 university presidents inviting them to sign up their campuses for the "Interfaith and Community Service Challenge" in the coming school year. According to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Eboo Patel, who served on the president's religion advisory council and his Interfaith Youth Core, were "critical early partners" in developing the new initiative. A few hundreds have signed on.
Cool Fun Fact: Dr. Patel, a Rhodes Scholar, was named one of "America's Best Leaders" by U.S. News and World Report.
35. Pratima Dharm
Location: Washington DC
Who is She: Captain in the US Army and chaplain on the medical staff at Walter Reed Army Medical Centre
Why is She Cool: Dharm is the first Indian-American woman to be appointed as the US Military's first Hindu chaplain.
What's Next: Most of her time at Walter Reed is spent reaching across faiths to minister to anyone who needs it. That's a key responsibility of military chaplains. It is a demanding job and our lady sure is capable enough.
Cool Fun Fact: She is Delhi-born. Had moved to the US months before the 9/11 attacks. She was earning a Masters in Theology and training in a Protestant seminary, when a phone call from the US Army in 2006 caught her by surprise. It took her six months to decide.
34. Sri Srinivasan
Location: Washington DC
Who is He: Principal Deputy Solicitor General
Why is He Cool: He was appointed principal deputy solicitor general. He replaced Neal Kumar Katyal, who left the position in August to join the law firm of Hogan Lovells. The principal deputy handles some of the United States' most important cases before the Supreme Court and serves as a key advisor to the Solicitor General.
What's Next: Maybe a big promotion after this stint in the same office or a move to higher echelons of power?
Cool Fun Fact: Srinivasan was named among The National Law Journal's 50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America in 2008. He is also a lecturer at Harvard Law School, where he co-teaches a course on Supreme Court and appellate advocacy.
33. Commander Shanti Sethi
Location: Silicon Valley
Who is She: US Navy officer
Why is She Cool: Cmdr Sethi is the first Indian American woman to command a U.S. Navy warship, the destroyer Decatur with its 275 sailor crew, mostly male. Of the Navy's 280+ ships fewer than 10 have female skippers. A woman had not commanded an aircraft carrier strike group - the pinnacle of Navy sea power - until last year. So she belongs to the first generation of women to be allowed on a warship.
What's Next: We take her Mom's word that someday soon she'll be an Admiral too.
Cool Fun Fact: A much-decorated officer, her credits include the Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal and the Navy Achievement Medal.
32. Jai Khanna
Location: Los Angeles
Who is He: Talent manager at Brillstein Entertainment Partners (BEP). They guide the careers of the likes of Brad Pitt, Adam Sandler, Natalie Portman, Mark Ruffalo and Gwenyth Paltrow, produce TV shows (Sopranos) and films, including Eat Pray Love and The Departed.
Why is He Cool: Jai is doing some groundbreaking stuff here. He's on a mission to rope in top Bollywood stars for Hollywood projects and lead BEP's new effort to explore the Indian market by promoting films to be shot in India.
What's Next: The last we heard, three films to be shot in India were in the pipeline. Action thriller 'Hope Lost' based on the hit comic book series by Jeff Albert, 'River of Gods' based on a novel by Ian McDonald that won the British Science Fiction Award in 2004 and 'Last Bachelor', an international romantic comedy, set in Rajasthan and Goa. And no prizes for guessing who'll be managing the show on its road to success.
Cool Fun Fact: He started in the training program at Writers & Artists Agency, servicing clients such as James Gandolfini (Sopranos) and Eva Mendes (Hitch). At BEP, his roster of clients is known to include Michael Weatherly (NCIS), Carmine Giovinazzo (CSI NY), Tiffani Thiessen (White Collar), Maulik Pancholy (30 Rock), Navi Rawat (Burn Notice), Parvesh Cheena (Outsourced), and Irrfan Khan (The Namesake, upcoming Spiderman).
31. Prabal Gurung
Location: New York
Who is He: Fashion designer
Why is He Cool: In June, Prabal Gurung won the 2011 CFDA Swarovski Award for Womenswear and his spring/summer 2012 show was a huge hit with critics, some even choosing to call him "New York's hottest young designer of the moment." Sarah Jessica Parker wears his innovative designs so often that people are beginning to question whether she is a brand ambassador. He has also had stars including Carey Mulligan, Hailee Steinfeld and Demi Moore sporting his designs to the biggest events of the year. Michelle Obama, Zoe Saldana, Victoria's Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio, The Piano actress Anna, Blake Lively, Amanda Seyfried, Kate Hudson - all have been spotted in Prabal's creations.
What's Next: More creations, more fame, more limelight. He has been tapped to relaunch Japanese label ICB for Fall 2012 in the US where it had ceased distribution in 2002. Then it was helmed by respected designers like Michael Kors and Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren of the brand Victor + Rolf. It goes without saying that partnering with a powerful company in Japan will help boost Gurung's profile throughout Asia as well.
Cool Fun Fact: Born in Singapore, raised in Kathmandu and graduate of New Delhi's National Institute of Fashion Technology, Prabal was the recipient of the Ecco Domani Fashion Fund Award and was selected as runner up for the 2010 CFDA / Vogue Fashion Fund. In 2011 Gurung was honored as one of USA Network's twelve Character Approved Award recipients, named goodwill ambassador of Maiti Nepal and was a finalist of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award in the Fashion Design category.
30. Bikram Singh
Location: New York
Who is He: Punjabi hip hop star
Why is He Cool: Since the release of Singh's first mixtape "Exclusives" in 2004, Bikram has released two highly acclaimed full length albums "American Jugni" and "Tip Top", toured the world, collaborated with mainstream artists including Das Racist, Bellringer, and Wyclef Jean. Bikram's music has also been featured in Hollywood films, TV shows and numerous music compilations. "BIK I AM" - his third full length album was released in November. It includes two hit singles "Beyonce" & "Kinna Sohna Munda" which are on heavy rotations on radio stations worldwide.
What's Next: For someone who's as rooted as he is - only the sky is the limit.
Cool Fun Fact: A graduate of Touro Law School, he is also an attorney in New York City, ladies!
29. Vikas Khanna
Location: New York & Mumbai
Who is He: Michelin-star Chef and Restaurateur
Why is He Cool: Vikas replaced actor Akshay Kumar as the host-judge of Master Chef India season 2. He featured as a consultant chef on celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's TV shows "Kitchen Nightmares" and "Hell's Kitchen." He also appeared as a guest chef in the episode "The India Show" on "The Martha Stewart Show" in March of this year.
What's Next: He has plans to open his next restaurant in India in Bodh Gaya, Bihar. He wants to offer Himalayan food there. He thinks as Indians we have started to look out too much to the western world and have stopped looking inside our history and culture.
Cool Fun Fact: He dreamt of having his own chana bhatura stall in Amritsar. While living in a shelter home in New York someone asked him to make appetizer for a party of 200 people. He made dhokla. A party guest recommended him to a restaurant called Salaam Bombay. That was his first proper job and there was no looking back. He now runs the upscale Junoon restaurant in New York City. Vikas also happens to be an old friend of Desiclub's!
28. Mannie Sadhra aka Kalikwest
Location: Northern California
Who is He: Entreprenuer, Social Media King, KaliKwest Media Group (CEO)
Why is He Cool: Mannie has been rubbing shoulders with the best of the best in mainstream and Indian entertainment for the last decade. Some of his clients include Akon, LiL Jon, Sukshinder Shinda, Jazzy B, Snoop Dogg, and many, many more. Mannie's ability to network gets him access to the top stars for who he and his team design all media from websites, to twitter pages and on and on.
What's Next: Mannie will continue to climb higher and higher in the pop entertainment world through his fast paced work style and ability to deliver results.
Cool Fun Fact: Mannie has produced some of the most popular mixtapes for Desi hip hop and punjabi artists and provided rappers for some of the biggest Punjabi/Hiphop tracks. Look out for his own music compilation called Kalikwest Connected.
Location: Canada & UK
Who are They: RDB (an acronym for Rhythm, Dhol, Bass) are a Punjabi DJ production team consisting of three individuals, Kuly, Manj and Surj, who blend western genres with traditional Punjabi beats and vocals
Why is They Cool: RDB shares the credit of bringing Grammy hip hop artist Ludacris to Bollywood for a smash hit soundtrack 'Shera Di Kaum' for the movie Breakaway with Akshay Kumar.
What's Next: They have earlier teamed up with Lehmber Hussainpuri for the song 'Sadi Gali' from Tanu Weds Manu (2011), 'Yamla Pagla Deewana' (2009) title song, 'Paisa Paisa' from De Dana Dan (2009), 'Om Mangalam' from Kambakkht Ishq (2009), 'Singh is King' featuring Snoop Dogg. Given their track record, we can only expect more rocking Holly meets Bolly collabs!
Cool Fun Fact: In 2003 RDB won "Best Club DJ Bhangra" at UK Asian Music Awards. The group is on the Brampton Walk of Fame.
26. Poorna Jagannathan
Who is She: Actress
Why is She Cool: She made her Bollywood debut with Aamir Khan's 'Delhi Belly' and won critical acclaim for her role as a spunky, irreverent journo.
What's Next: She moved to Mumbai from NYC in September soon after Delhi Belly's success. So watch this space!
Cool Fun Fact: Poorna started in advertising as a consumer and brand strategist. Gave it up to train in acting from University of Maryland and Actors Studio in NYC. Born in Tunisia, she grew up in countries such as Pakistan, Brazil, Argentina and Ireland as her father was in the Indian Foreign Service.
25. Sunidhi Chauhan
Who is She: Playback singer
Why is She Cool: She was part of an international album titled Euphoria where she shared tracks with the likes of Usher, Akon and Nicole Scherzinger from Pussycat Dolls. Sunidhi crooned a love duet titled 'Heartbeat' with none other than Latino pop star Enrique Iglesias for the album.
What's Next: She has sung more than 2000 songs! Been nominated for 14 Filmfare Awards, won 3 of them, won two Star Screen Awards, two IIFA Awards and one Zee Cine Award. And now with this international collaboration there is no stopping this Bollywood singer known for her seductive voice.
Cool Fun Fact: Enrique's original single "Heartbeat" features Nicole Scherzinger. Sunidhi was edited into the video with Enrique for the remix. She was the first choice for the song for her versatility and oomph factor. Enrique and Sunidhi were also set to shoot their video together. Unfortunately, due to conflicting schedules, they were not able to share studio space but this did not slow down the creation of the East meets West collaboration!
24. Floyd Cardoz
Location: New York
Who is He: Chef
Why is He Cool: He defeated the likes of Traci Des Jardins and Mary Sue Milliken for first place in the third season of Top Chef Masters, won the $100,000 prize with a simple upma dish! Also, the Mumbai born Master Chef donated his winnings to the Young Scientists Cancer Research Fund at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine in memory of his father who died of cancer.
What's Next: Cardoz will head another Danny Meyer production, North End American Grill in Battery Park City, New York. The restaurant, which is calling its cuisine "roof-to-table," marks a departure for the chef, who focused on high-end Indian cuisine throughout his tenure at now-closed Tabla.
Cool Fun Fact: By winning, Cardoz joined the ranks of better-known chefs Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill in Chicago and Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster and formerly Aquavit, both in New York, who won second and third seasons respectively.
23. DJ Rekha
Location: New York
Who is She: Musician, Disc Jockey, Producer, Curator and Activist
Why is She Cool: For having the White House rock to Bhangra beats. In April, she was on the celebrity guest list at the White House Easter Eggroll event with the likes of Colbie Caillat, Greyson Chance, Willow Smith, Mindless Behavior, the puppets from "Sesame Street," Little Beats and DJ Willy Wow. Later in the year she rocked the East Room party to celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month. The invitation is seen as recognition of years of hard work during which Rekha has helped popularize "bhangra" and Indian culture in the United States.
What's Next: On 11.11.2011 she launched her record label Beat Bazaar Music with Bobby Friction, Geko Jones, Eddie Stats, Raje Shwari, Ami Dang, and Zuzuka Poderosa - all performing. Here's wishing a smashing success to Rekha for 2012!
Cool Fun Fact: This is what the Prez had to say about our desi girl, "I want to thank DJ Rekha who's been spinning a little East Room Bhangra for everybody mixing a hip-hop beat with the sounds of her heritage; making a uniquely American sound that may not have been heard in the White House before." That's for sure! This isn't Rekha's first time on this list and we're pretty sure it won't be the last.
22. Anu Bhagwati
Location: New York
Who is She: Executive Director, Service Women's Action Network (SWAN)
Why is She Cool: Through SWAN, a human rights watchdog, she joined in support of a lawsuit filed against Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for failure to make measurable progress and marked improvement to the Pentagon's record of tolerating sexual abuse and rape. She's fighting for the cause of challenges faced by women in the military, including Military Sexual Trauma, equal opportunity violations, the changing roles of women in combat, the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and the VA health care and benefits system.
What's Next: Expect more groundbreaking work from this daughter of illustrious parents - Dr. Jagdish and Padma Bhagwati.
Cool Fun Fact: Anu is a Marine Corps veteran who left the service at the rank of Captain in 2004. She was the second woman to complete the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructor trainer school, earning a black belt in close combat techniques. Look out!
21. Shefali Razdan Duggal
Location: San Francisco
Who is She: Political Activist
Why is She Cool: She's among the top fundraisers for President Obama's re-election campaign. Shefali has raised between $50,000 - $100,000. She is also a member of Obama's Presidential Partners, the National Finance Committee (NFC) and the Northern California Finance Committee. Shefali's also a member of the Democratic National Committee Asian American Leadership Council and the DNC National Steering Committee.
What's Next: A White House appointment after the 2012 re-election of the Prez, we hope.
Cool Fun Fact: She was actively involved in Kamala Harris's campaign, previously worked with Senator Hillary Clinton's Presidential campaign and was also Executive Director of Indus Women Leaders, a national South Asian women's organization. Earlier in her career, Shefali worked for the MA Democratic Party, NH Democratic party, and Senators Ted Kennedy and Dianne Feinstein.
20. Anshu Jain
Who is He: The head of Deutsche Bank's investment banking division
Why is He Cool: In May 2012 he will assume duties as the Co-CEO of the bank. Deutche Bank is the fourth largest investment bank in the world and Germany's largest.
What's Next: In all probability he may be the only one leading it at some point in the future. Now how better can it get?
Cool Fun Fact: The investment banking business suffered heavy losses tied to subprime mortgages, pushing Deutsche Bank into the red in 2008. Jain revamped the division, returning it to profits the very next year. This led to his induction into the expanded management board. He was made sole head in 2010 of the corporate and investment bank, businesses that account for most of Deutsche Bank's revenues and profits.
19. Sohail Mohammed
Location: New Jersey
Who is He: Superior Court Judge, New Jersey
Why is He Cool: He is the first Indian-American and the second Muslim to become a state Superior Court judge in New Jersey. His effort in building bridges between Muslims and authorities in the wake of 9/11 superceeded the controversies on his appointment by Gov. Chris Christie. Quite an impressive appointment by the popular Republican Governor.
What's Next: Even more prominent appointments and headlines, hopefully.
Cool Fun Fact: Trained as an engineer he served as a jury foreman and stuck around after the trial for a long talk with Judge Robert J. Passero. That conversation led him to pursue a career in law and to obtain a degree at Seton Hall University and go on to a career as an immigration lawyer. Talk about a career change!
18. Melanie Kannokada
Location: Los Angeles
Who is She: A self confessed engineering geek turned actress, model, veejay, do-gooder and former Miss India America
Why is She Cool: Melanie is the chosen face of international brands such as Bare Escentuals, NesCafe, Herbal Essences, Crocs, Verizon, LG and Glamour Magazine. And you definitely spotted her in the Bud Light commercial aired during the NFL season.
What's Next: She chucked her high-profile corporate job after a 'hard earned' engineering degree from Stanford University to move to LA and pursue a career in front of the camera. And within weeks of her move she grabbed some noticeable guest roles on TV, her debut film 'Bicycle Bride' won the best feature film award at the South Appalachian Film Festival and she was nominated Best Actress, her second film Love Lies and Seeta is set for a summer release and she hosts Sony's international TV series In the Qube aired in over 60 countries! Do we need to say anything more? This desi lass is all set for a long haul, we bet!
Cool Fun Fact: She's a registered bone marrow donor and along with few college colleagues is involved in building a hospital to serve over 100,000 villagers in rural Jharkhand, India. Melanie also graced the cover of our 2008 swimsuit calendar.
17. Jay Dabhi
Location: New York
Who is He: Deejay
Why is He Cool: Along with deejaying around the world, running a dance music label and producing some awesome music, he's grabbed a mainstream 92.3 NowFM radio slot.
What's Next: We can expect only the best from someone dubbed as "America's #1 South Asian DJ"! We are certain that this is only one chapter in Jay's career as he will continue to climb the ladder to greater success in the coming years and keep amazing us with his sincerity and strong talent - mark our words!
Cool Fun Fact: Queens native Jay Dabhi (a.k.a. Lil' Jay) began deejaying at the age of 14 and acquired his nickname from the days when he stood atop milk crates to reach the turntables. "It all started when my mom would put me in front of the radio when I was 4 to keep me entertained while she was doing work around the house," says Jay. "By the time I was 8, I had rigged my parents' stereo system to play records and tapes at the same time but out of different speakers."
16. Bela Bajaria
Location: Los Angeles
Who is She: Executive Vice President, Universal Television
Why is She Cool: She is one of only a few female executives of Indian descent working in Hollywood. In August, she took her new position at Universal Television, NBC's sister studio. She's ranked 42nd in The Hollywood Reporter's 2011 Women in Entertainment Power 100 list.
What's Next: Since taking over, Bajaria has assembled a team, rebranded the studio and sold shows at all of the broadcast networks.
Cool Fun Fact: She's a super mom too. The mother of three spends whatever downtime she has away from work with her writer husband and family: doing math with her 10-year-old daughter, Rami; playing soccer with 8-year-old Sofia; immersing herself in the world of superheroes with her 4-year-old son, Enzo; and assisting her mother, who runs a nonprofit domestic violence shelter in Los Angeles.
15. Siddhartha Mukherjee
Location: New York
Who is He: Oncologist and award winning science writer
Why is He Cool: His book 'The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer' won the prestigious 2011 Pulitzer prize in the general non-fiction category. The Pulitzer called it "an elegant inquiry, at once clinical and personal, into the long history of an insidious disease that despite treatment breakthroughs, still bedevils medical science."
What's Next: Another book. Medical backdrop. Another bestseller, we hope.
Cool Fun Fact: The book has been listed 75th among Time magazine's "All-Time 100 Best Nonfiction Books." In choosing "the 100 best and most influential written in English since 1923, the beginning of TIME ... magazine," the influential weekly notes Mukherjee's first book "is also one of the best-written, most accessible, most relevant science books ever penned."
14. Vikram Pandit
Location: New York
Who is He: Citigroup CEO
Why is He Cool: He came aboard in 2007 when the financial crisis began, chose a $1 pay packet in 2010 and turned around the fortunes of the bank which was on its brink despite two government bailouts. By April 2011, it had squeezed out a $3 billion profit in the first quarter of the year. In May 2011, he received a $23.2 million retention package for making that possible. Citi's board awarded him as much as $16.5 million in stock and options as well as a cash payment valued at more than $6.65 million as part of a special profit-sharing program for top executives.
What's Next: Given the state of economic affairs, Pandit still has a long way ahead. We wish him good luck.
Cool Fun Fact: At Citi, Pandit has made Responsible Finance a priority. From innovative foreclosure prevention programs that have kept more than 1,000,000 Americans in their homes to a new, disciplined approach to risk management, Responsible Finance is being engrained throughout Citi's practices and culture.
13. Salil Mehta
Location: New York
Who is He: COO and CFO of NBCUniversal's Entertainment & Digital
Why is He Cool: He was appointed Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer of NBCUniversal's Entertainment & Digital Networks and Integrated Media division in April 2011. For the past three years, Salil served as President, Business Operations, Strategy and Development for NBCU. He also was a key player in NBCUniversal's integration with Comcast.
What's Next: In this role, Mehta is responsible for leading NBCU's global business strategy and corporate development activities, including identifying industry trends and investment opportunities and continuing to shift the company's portfolio toward high-growth areas. He also has executive responsibility for the company's Digital Media team.
Cool Fun Fact: His promotion comes as evidence that the exec, who joined NBCU from ESPN in 2008, is a rising star who is held in regard by the top brass at Comcast Corp. He also serves on the Board of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America.
12. Vinod Khosla
Who is He: A venture capitalist and do-gooder
Why is He Cool: He pledged half of his fortune to charity either during his lifetime or after death. As per Forbes, Khosla's net worth was USD 1.4 billion in March this year. By pledging his wealth he joined the elite group of billionaires which includes the likes of venture capitalist John Doerr, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, hedge fund manager Tom Steyer and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg who have previously signed on to the pledge promoted by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.
What's Next: Khosla is keenly interested in funding technologies that can be widely adopted in fast-growing India and China, what he regularly refers to as the "Chindia test." Entrepreneurs, are you listening?
Cool Fun Fact: 56-year-old Khosla is Silicon Valley's most prominent "green" venture capitalist and a dominant personality in the cleantech community. A co-founder of Sun Microsystems, Khosla was a general partner at VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers before striking out on his own with Khosla Ventures in 2004.
11. Subhash Chandra
Who is He: Media baron, ZEE TV Founder
Why is He Cool: He has been honored with 2011 International Emmy Directorate award for his contribution to India's television industry. He is the first Indian recipient of the award.
What's Next: The award puts India's media industry on the map and raises the profile of India with regards to its media and content. And Zee sure leads the bunch. The bar has been raised!
Cool Fun Fact: Chandra's Essel group launched India's first satellite television channel, Zee, in the early 90s, a development that sparked a revolution in India's television industry.
10. Shahrukh Khan
Who is He: Actor, producer, marketing maestro
Why is He Cool: India's first most expensive sci fi movie Ra.One didn't exactly set the box-office on fire on the first day but much as we say that hats off to the superstar for pulling off the most ubiquitous, over-the-top promotional campaign in the history of Indian cinema. The marketing blitzkrieg that he unleashed with tie-ins worth millions is bound to see the movie rake in profits in the long run despite a weak storyline.
What's Next: He's the King Khan. Wonder what else can get any bigger for him than this? Surprise us Mr. Khan.
Cool Fun Fact: Within 24 hours of being launched, the Ra.One social online game was the most downloaded game in India. It was also the most downloaded game in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Malaysia.
9. Tarsem Singh Dhandwar
Location: London & Los Angeles
Who is He: Director
Why is He Cool: His visually-stunning epic 3D adventure "Immortals" opened to a record estimated haul of $32.2 million in 3,112 locations in North America and $38 million internationally in 35 countries. With its November 11th opening the film impressively took the number one spot in America and became the highest R-Rated action film this year and the third highest-grossing R-rated film debut in 2011 behind The Hangover 2 ($85.9mm) and Paranormal Activity 3 ($52.6mm).
What's Next: The first official trailer of his upcoming enchanted, reimagining of the classic Snow White fairy tale MIRROR MIRROR, starring Oscar winner Julia Roberts, Lily Collins (The Blind Side), Armie Hammer (The Social Network), Sean Bean (Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings) and Nathan Lane (The Lion King, The Birdcage), has premiered in theaters nationwide. It releases in theaters across North America this coming spring on March 16, 2012.
Cool Fun Fact: Tarsem, prefers to be called by only one name, was born in Jalandhar, India. He attended Hans Raj College, Delhi and is a graduate of the Art Center College of Design, California. He has made just three feature films in the past decade though he has done many ad films and music videos. This is his first huge hit. His first feature film was The Cell which grossed about $100 million. His second one The Fall was hardly seen by anyone except at events such as the Toronto International Film Festival.
8. Aziz Ansari
Location: New York
Who is He: Comedian
Why is He Cool: His brand of comedy got one more major thumbs up when he was dubbed "The Funniest Man Under 30" and featured on the back cover of the September issue of Rolling Stone magazine. He was called "leader of comedy's new wave" and we couldn't agree more. He also starred in the film "30 Minutes or Less."
What's Next: He is featuring in the next "Ice Age" film lending voice to a prehistoric rabbit, which is part of a pirate gang. I'm laughing already!
Cool Fun Fact: He's appeared in "Funny People," "Get Him to the Greek" and stars in "Parks and Recreation" on NBC. Way to go brown guy!
7. Mindy Kaling
Location: Los Angeles
Who is She: Actress, comedian, writer and producer
Why is She Cool: Mindy signed a seven figure deal with NBC on being promoted as Executive Producer of hit sitcom "The Office." And she's out with her new book 'Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).' Big deal, it sure is.
What's Next: We heard that much as she wants to have her own TV show and get married, Mindy aspires to have a fashion line and a network of her own and be like a combination of Oprah and Gwen Stefani. We say Amen!
Cool Fun Fact: Mindy started out on The Office as a producer and was promoted to a co-executive producer in 2008. During that time, she was responsible for penning some of the show's most memorable episodes, most notably Jim and Pam's Emmy nominated wedding ep "Niagara" (co-written by fellow EP Greg Daniels).
6. Amir Khan
Location: Bolton, UK
Who is He: A Boxer
Why is He Cool: Amir Khan won British Boxing Board of Control's "Britain Boxer of the Year" award for his 2011 successes over Paul McCloskey and high-profile American Zab Judah.
What's Next: He's already on his quest to be rated the world's leading boxer at any weight. On December 10th, he faced Lamont Peterson for the World Boxing Association (WBA) and International Boxing Federation (IBF) light welterweight titles in Washington D.C. wherein he lost in a controversial split decision due to points taken away by the ref. Khan has appealed against referee Joseph Cooper's decision to deduct points for pushing and the verdict is awaited. But irrespective of that, many of boxing's most influential figures believe the 25-year-old from Bolton has the talent and charisma to be viewed by Americans in the same bracket as Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
Cool Fun Fact: And who do you think has the ability to crack up this 2004 Silver Medal Olympian? Our very own Russell Peters! Amir enjoys Russell's DVDs and watches them when not into his rigorous training.
5. Salman Khan
Who is He: Founder, Khan Academy, a not-for-profit org which provides world-class education online for free.
Why is He Cool: In 2004, Salman, a Harvard and MIT alumni and a hedge fund analyst, began posting math tutorials on YouTube. Since, he has posted more than 2700 video tutorials, which are viewed nearly 100,000 times around the world each day. It is the most-used educational video repository on the Internet with over 86,568,911 million lessons delivered to-date. The tutorials cover basic addition to advanced calculus, physics, chemistry, biology, history, banking and money, cosmology, astronomy, economics, among other subjects.
What's Next: Khan academy has received generous support from people such as Reed Hastings, founder, Netflix, Scott Cook, co-founder, Intuit, Google, Bill Gates and the most recent influx of cash came as a $5 million donation from the O'Sullivan Foundation. The fund will be diverted in hiring more teachers and expanding the subjects it teaches, on "crowdsourcing," or collecting teaching ideas from people all over the world and on testing other ways of teaching, meaning offline, in a classroom. Its first summer school camp in June 2012 will test some of its teaching ideas using the camp as a laboratory.
Cool Fun Fact: Bill Gates claims to use the Khan Academy Exercise Software to teach his own children.
4. Freida Pinto
Location: Los Angeles
Who is She: Actress
Why is She Cool: She gave us two box office hits this year. Rise of the Planet of the Apes opposite James Franco and Immortals in which she played the oracle priestess Phaedra. Quite an achievement for someone who started just three years back.
What's Next: In December, her one more movie is set to release titled Black Gold, which is directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. She plays Princess Lallah and stars Tahar Rahim, Mark Strong and Antonio Banderas.
Cool Fun Fact: She just moved into a $1.5 million rental home in Santa Monica with boyfriend Dev Patel. They met on the sets of academy winner Slumdog Millionnaire in 2008 - remember that movie?
3. Preet Bharara
Location: New York
Who is He: US Attorney for Southern District of New York, an office that is considered perhaps the most prestigious federal prosecutor's post outside Washington.
Why is He Cool: As the chief federal prosecutor in Manhattan, Bharara led a widespread crackdown against Raj Rajratnam and Co. in the largest insider trading case on Wall Street and the prosecution of Bernard L. Madoff for his multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. In addition, his staff of more than 200 prosecutors successfully prosecuted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad; charged terrorism suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed with killing nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001; tried the first pirate in modern times; broke up a Russian spy ring; extradited suspected arms trafficker Russian businessman Viktor Bout and extracted a guilty plea from Jamaican drug trafficker Christopher Coke. In addition, the office has conducted major probes into Medicare fraud and illegal online gambling. And these are just the visible cases. By his own admission, "There are many investigations which can't be talked about."
What's Next: Big Daddy is on the prowl bad guys. You've been warned!
Cool Fun Fact: He is also known as "The Sheriff of Wall Street" for his crackdown on white collar crimes. His budget is $50 million but the office has been able to generate a return of $800 million for the U.S. Treasury. This guy should've been heading the Super Committee!
2. Shahid Khan
Location: Urbana, IL
Who is He: Businessman and sports buff
Why is He Cool: He's buying NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars reportedly for $760 million! Our guess is he's the first Desi to own an NFL team. Isn't that cool enough?
What's Next: We hope to see Mr. Khan in the owner's box watching his Jaguars in action.
Cool Fun Fact: Khan, 60, a native of Pakistan, is owner of auto parts maker Flex-N-Gate. Incorporated in 1956 to produce stock racks for pick-up trucks it today makes bumpers, pedals, grills, hinges and other auto parts for Chrysler, Ford, Honda, BMW and other carmakers. It employs more than 10,000 associates in 48 states, with annual sales of $3 billion. Way to go Pakistani-American businessman, talk about the American dream!
1. Anna Hazare
Who is He: Social Activist
Why is He Cool: He is the face of India's fight against corruption. This 74 years young man had the guts to take on the system. He led a hunger strike in April this year for implementation of the Jan Lokpal bill, the anti-corruption bill drafted by his team of crusaders that demands establishment of a stronger ombudsman than envisioned by the government. Armed with the Gandhian principle of non-violence, the mass movement received support of millions of Indians all over the world. He lives in a temple and his only income is a pension he receives from the Indian Army, where he served as a soldier. Through a number of peaceful agitations he has also fought for the implementation of the Right to Information Act. His anti-corruption movement for changes at state level also led to resignations of several corrupt cabinet ministers over the last 30 years. The mass movement he created is rumored to have partly inspired the Occupy Wall Street protests.
What's Next: He is now fighting for the passage of the Lokpal Bill in the parliament before the end of the Winter Session on Dec 23rd. In a letter to the Prime Minister of India he has reiterated his threat to fast from Dec 27th followed by a Jail Bharo agitation from Dec 30th. He has demanded including the citizens' charter in the draft and bringing the Crime Bureau of Investigation's anti-corruption unit under the functional control of the watchdog, which aims to weed out rampant corruption from the system.
Cool Fun Fact: Apart from being an activist most of his life, this social do-gooder was conferred the Padma Bhushan by the government of India for his efforts to turn around a once impoverished, drought prone village of Ralegan Siddhi, in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra into a model village of development. We wish Anna the best in the coming years and hope his efforts do not go in vain. Let us all follow his lead.
Also read our Top 50 Coolest Desis lists from previous years:
DesiClub.com's Top 50 Coolest Desis of 2010
DesiClub.com's Top 50 Coolest Desis of 2009
DesiClub.com's Top 50 Coolest Desis of 2008
DesiClub.com's Top 50 Coolest Desis of 2007
DesiClub.com's Top 50 Coolest Desis of 2006
DesiClub.com's Top 50 Coolest Desis of 2005
DesiClub.com's Top 50 Coolest Desis of 2004