The Mumbai hot list 2011: 20 people to watch

The Mumbai hot list 2011: 20 people to watch

Reality TV stars, authors, models, musicians, cooks, programmers, comedians … here are the people who are going to define life in Mumbai over the next 12 months

Sure, politicians like to think they're the ones in control of our lives. But we all know life isn't about taxes or bribes or noise pollution laws. Life's about living, and these people are the one's doing it best, making us proud to be really living in Mumbai.

In no particular order:  

Vijay Nair

1. Vijay Nair

A few weeks ago all roads led to NH7 Weekender, a highly successful two-day indie music festival in Pune organized by talent and event management agency Only Much Louder (OML).

The volume went up this month when Vijay Nair, co-founder and director, OML, Counter Culture Records, Babblefish Productions and OML Digital, brought down cult band Prodigy for the first Invasion Festival.

Music was a road Nair set off down at 17 and in the eight years since its inception, OML has grown into an umbrella company for all things music related, as long as it’s not Bollywood.

Considered one of the most important people in the Indian music scene, Nair won British Council’s International Young Music Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2009. Not bad for a college dropout.


Vaibav Desai2. Vaibhav Desai

Programming analyst, 24-year-old Vaibhav Desai estimates clocking about 10,000 kilometers on his Trek 4300D mountain bike, mainly when he peddled from Mumbai to Ladakh. Desai's desire to travel, fueled by fear of the planet degenerating, motivates him.

En route he spreads awareness via his GreenCycleGreenEarth blog, “Not to save Earth, but to save energy and save ourselves. The Earth will save itself,” he says.

On a leave of absence from his job, his next mission is “to cycle the length and breadth of India and through 50 countries."

What’s the one thing that serves him best on these adventures? “It sounds cheesy, but a smile works well,” Desai says.

Kavita Mukhi

3. Kavita Mukhi

A little dabbling on her small farm in Alibaug prompted conscious living promoter Kavita Mukhi, 52, to start a little farmers' market in Mumbai in March 2010. A banner at the Sunday event in Bandra thanks the participating farmers and reads: ‘No bargaining, Organic is priceless.'

Besides offering fresh and healthy fruit and vegetables direct from source, the Farmers' Market is also an entertaining afternoon out with a café, foot massages, film screenings and children’s workshops. Mukhi hopes to makes this market a permanent feature in many corners of the city.

“We are planning to give people real health alternatives and solutions, not just product selling. It will be a healing place with a café and a place to chill, to find music you will love, books you will want to read and people you will want to befriend,” she says.


Ashvin Gidwani

4. Ashvin Gidwani

For 19 years Ashvin Gidwani has pursued his passion for theater. In that time, the 43-year-old has gone bust thrice and bounced back every time. Today, he adopts a more pragmatic approach with Ashvin Gidwani Productions.

“Theater has to be commercial," he feels. "I now dissociate myself emotionally.”

His growth story is of alliances evidenced by recent successful productions like "The Alchemist," Vir Das's "History of India," "Get Rid of My Wife" and "It’s a Kind of Magic."

Gidwani recently acquired the rights to Robin Sharma’s bestseller book "The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari" and has at least three other productions in the pipeline. “We believe in experimentation and use R&D to create theater and experiences,” says the Mumbai producer/director. 


5. Shobhna S Kumar

After moving to Mumbai from Fiji eight years ago, Shobhna S Kumar realized that queer literature was not easily available in India and created a solution. To circumvent the discomfort many felt browsing in a store, Kumar, 43, started Queer Ink.

The store functions from her spare room and covers all things queer -- books, art, DVDs, CDs, but not erotica. From the modest 100 indigenous titles available in the Queer Ink catalogue, one title Kumar recommends is "Same-sex Love in India" by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai.

“The types of requests I have received reflect a severe lack of knowledge of queer issues and lives in India,” says Kumar, who also has two decades of work in the NGO sector under her belt.


Siddhartha Banerjee

6. Siddhartha Banerjee

Siddhartha Banerjee, 36, describes himself as “more architect, less artist" of brand solutions. Currently working as a digital and convergent media strategist, spearheading the mobile business at Jack in the Box Worldwide, necessity propelled Banerjee to design the Meter Down iPhone app.

It was meant to help him and his wife deal with Mumbai’s challenging commute. “I’m an Apple fanboy. That’s the reason I launched Meter Down exclusively on the iOS platform. As of December 12 2010, Meter Down (both taxi and auto) had been downloaded 6,891 times,” he says.

The reactions of cab and auto drivers to his fare-calculating mobile app have ranged from surprise to awe. “Some of them are disappointed because they can’t cheat anymore,” says Banerjee.

Gresham Fernandes

7. Gresham Fernandes

Gresham Fernandes is a classic example of taking the boy out of Bandra but not being able to take Bandra out of the boy. The 30-year-old executive chef fine dine for Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality masterminds the menus of popular restaurants The Tasting Room, Salt Water Café and Bespoke Café in Mumbai, besides restaurants in Pune and Delhi.

But give him a choice and Fernandes will take homemade east Indian food and his grandmother’s fugyas fried bread any day. His inspiration, however, comes from the venue and its kitchen and though experimentation is the buzzword, he admits that many go awry.

When someone eats one of his creations, the best reaction, he says, “Is their expression; they don’t have to speak -- their look, that smile, says everything.”

Sonakshi Sinha

8. Sonakshi Sinha

A debut with superstar Salman Khan and being part of what would turn out to be one the biggest hits films of the year ("Dabangg") is more than 22-year-old fashion designer turned actress Sonakshi Sinha could have hoped for. She’s now racked up a bunch of coveted projects with A-list heroes.

Daughter of yesteryear actor Shatrughan Sinha, Sonakshi is well trained in the ways of Bollywood including gossip writers. “I just ignore what they say; to each to his own. Besides, it’s their job to write and if they feel that every little move I make is important enough to write about, then I guess I must be doing something right,” she says.

The funniest story she’s read about herself? “That I got a nose job.”


Adam Dow

9. Adam Dow

Improviser-trainer Adam Dow, 32, arrived in Mumbai from the USA and set out to form his own Whose Line Is It Anyway? inspired improv group. He did so by setting up Improv Comedy Mumbai which conducts workshops and also holds evenings at Café Brun and is soon be associated with The Hub.

“I want to set up an ongoing and sustainable improv group,” says Dow who sometimes MCs the shows but mostly sits in the back row taking notes.

Sujal Shah

10. Sujal Shah

Sujal Shah, 37, has oddly managed to blend a biology degree with business work experience to land his current position as vice president and head of fashion for IMG India. As the man behind Lakme Fashion Week (LFW), his focus is on the business of fashion, though he admits, “It is nice to have so many pretty girlfriends.”

In this short tenure, he has created an e-commerce partnership at LFW and brought it into the digital age. “If I ever leave the fashion industry I hope to have left it in a better place,” Shah says.

His favorite part about LFW is the Gen Next and emerging designer’s shows. Keeping his colorful designer-shoe-clad feet firmly on the ground, he says, “Glamor and parties are perks but I see them as part of the job. It’s nice to be exposed to all of this but it cannot become who you are.”

Tell that to the guys who envy his job.

Anjali Joseph11. Anjali Joseph

It's a big deal when your debut novel earns you a spot in the London Telegraph’s list of 20 writers under 40 to watch. Thirty-two-year-old Anjali Joseph’s highly acclaimed debut book "Saraswati Park" is set in Mumbai has been described as "beautiful and lyrical.”

Joseph describes it as her “revisiting of the Mumbai that I grew up in.”

Joseph read English at Trinity College, Cambridge, taught English at the Sorbonne and worked briefly for the Times of India and ELLE India. It then took her just 18 months to write her first novel and is already working on her second novel while studying for her PhD.

Of writing, she says: “People who write do it because they love it. The rest is merely luck, and maybe doggedness.”



12. Arijit Datta

Wavy haired Airport front-man Arijit Datta, 33, doesn’t see himself doing anything except making music. From their first gig in December 2009 to recently taking the stage at the NH7 Weekender music festival in Pune, the band is riding high.

Their composition is the theme tune for MTV Roadies, their first music video is out, but fans will have to wait for an album. Datta, who started the band with guitarist Vinay Lobo, says, “I believe in storing and jamming. Once the songs start to cook I will start to think of an album.”

The five-member band also plans to take their music across India and international. Though he’s been overwhelmed by the response, Datta is not sure how he should react when an audience member says, "Your music is so beautiful. I have never cried in a concert but I cried when I heard that song."

"What do you say to something like that?” he wonders.

Deepak Dhar

13. Deepak Dhar

Reality TV began in India with Popstars, a talent hunt show for Channel V. That was a one-off, but now reality TV is Deepak Dhar’s middle name. Dhar is the big boss at Endemol India, producers and format owners of a host of reality shows such as "Fear Factor," "Deal or No Deal" and "Bigg Boss."

"Bigg Boss," the Indian version of Celebrity Big Brother, is just finishing its fourth season, Khatron Ke Khiladi (a Fear Factor spin off) had two successful seasons and Dhar is currently shooting a new show, "WipeOut," in Buenos Aries.

If he could choose a show, he’d love to be a participant on "Fear Factor." But the one lesson reality TV has taught him is, “To be on my toes all the time with all the twists and turns that come around.”

Dhar, 37, plans to take Endemol into the world of fiction soon.


Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal

14. Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal

Like the character from the movie "A Mirror Has Two Faces" which inspired her food blog to be called A Perfect Bite, Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal also needs “to get all the elements on my plate perfectly balanced in each bite."

The 35-year-old mother of two has tossed aside animation training and extended food blogging into an enterprise. She’s a food consultant, food stylist, budding author and conducts food tours too. Her recent post on star anise and oranges could well be called food porn.

Sample this: "The noodles glistened up at me, wet and begging for a sauce to complete them, but they had a little longer to wait until the plum juicy chicken joined them."

Says Ghildiyal, “I’ve played on foreplay with food and it’s so descriptive that by the end you are really ready to go and cook.”

15. Roopak Saluja and Kirk Dias

Roopak Saluja (35) and Kirk Dias (46) are the creative life-force behind international ad film production company Bang Bang Films, “A thinking and doing company,” which ranked second on AllWorld Network's Top 25 fastest growing companies in India in 2010.

Most of this thinking, for clients like Nokia, Pepsi, Tata and Unilever, has happened across a glass-topped conference table over a tub of baby sharks. Dias, with 18 years experience in production, and Saluja with his multi-lingual, multi-cultural diplobrat antecedents, make a formidable team.

When not working, Dias dabbles in pan-piping while sushi-lover Saluja spends time with son Zen. In the future, Saluja sees themselves positioned “at the crossroads of communications, entertainment and technology.”

Lisa Haydon

16. Lisa Haydon

Lisa Haydon first walked the Indian fashion runway in 2007. Three years later, plans of becoming a yoga teacher cast aside, the 25-year-old model of Australian and Indian descent has been on the cover of fashion magazines like Harpers Bazaar and Elle.

Last year she made her Bollywood debut in "Aisha" with Sonam Kapoor. And to open 2011 the model-TV host-actor leads a bevvy of models in the highly publicized Kingfisher swimsuit calendar.

From some angles, mostly thanks to the bee-stung lips, Lisa bears an uncanny resemblance to Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, whom she says she is inspired by. Raised in Australia and USA, she’s learning Hindi now and hoping to speak it without an accent.

She’ll get some practice as the host of a new MTV reality show "Rock On."


Alex Baine

17. Alex Baine

A member of the NGO UnLtd India, Alex Baine spearheaded the Bombay HUB into existence, "A collaborative workspace for people contributing to social change."

Bringing his previous NGO experience from the UK, Alex now offers like-minded individuals and groups a common workspace for sharing of ideas and facilitation for fledgling social entrepreneurship outfits. Baine describes Bombay HUB as “a laboratory of social change."

In a CNNGo interview Baine said, “It’s about creating a community of people willing to share their skills to form a better world.”

Though he's moving from Mumbai in March, Bombay HUB will continue to be active.


18. Ashiesh Shah

“My philosophy would be combining contemporary and new media art with design,” says 32-year-old interior designer and architect Ashiesh Shah. His five year old firm, Ashiesh Shah Associates, applies this idea to homes and an eclectic mix of public spaces, like an upcoming lifestyle store, Le Mill, and a new restaurant in Bandra.

A collector of art (his home boasts specially commissioned works by 15 artists from around the world) Shah believes that art should be woven into the design of a house.

“Art is my design inspiration. Art makes you look at detail,” he says.

From a family of doctors, he almost became a dentist but chose to “follow his heart” instead towards the challenges of the limited spaces offered by Mumbai apartments.


Meghna Shah Aashish Hiramanek

19. Aashish Hiramanek and Meghna Shah

Boutique agency Tandem Communications is better known as Aashish Hiramanek (38) and Meghna Shah (35) who have been in the business of public relations for about 14 years, eight of them as partners.

Tandem focuses on art, lifestyle, fashion, food and décor and on making work fun. And with clients like the Comedy Store, Burberry, Gallery BMB, Ritu Kumar, Indigo, Royal Western India Turf Club (to name a few) what else can it be?

But PR is not just parties, clarifies Hiramanek. “We are trying to move to more sales-driven efforts, where required; innovative ways to create buzz. Our vision is to have a niche boutique lifestyle agency which is the last word on public relations.”

Shah says what sets them apart is their hands-on approach. “We are not a ‘one formula for all clients’ agency. No client is too big or small.”


Vikramaditya Motwane20. Vikramaditya Motwane

His debut film, "Udaan," was the first Indian film since 2003 to make the official selection at the Cannes film festival last year. The critically acclaimed film secured Motwane membership to the scantily populated club of Indian indie filmmakers and earned him best film and best director at the Star Screen Awards.

A history major and former assistant director, 34-year-old writer-director Motwane is currently working on his next film with UTV producing. "I find it funny when people tell me they liked my film because it didn’t put them to sleep. And others ask me what the damn point of it was.”

His future plans are “to keep making as many different films as I can."

Udita is an entertainment and lifestyle writer and author based in Mumbai.

Read more about Udita Jhunjhunwala