The Mumbai Hot List: 20 people to watch

The Mumbai Hot List: 20 people to watch

Music, money, politics, comedy, philanthropy, food, technology, business … if you think Mumbai is all Bollywood, you haven’t met these fascinating groundbreakers
Entrepreneur and funny guy Vir Das.

And here they are, in no particular order:

1. Vir Das: Funny businessman

His career began with amateur comedy nights in the United States when he was 22. Cafes, auditoriums, any place with an elevated space -- one time that meant five stacked Pepsi crates -- would get him cracking jokes. Now 30, Das has done more than 800 stand-up comedy shows and written, directed and performed eight specials. He can also be seen in Alien Chutney, a comedy rock band. Next up: “A music album, ‘Hamateur Nights’ going nationwide, a book, Walking on Broken Das world tour, a TV show and, if I have time, I will convince a woman to talk to me for more than 20 minutes,” he humbly predicts.

2. Priya Dutt Roncon: Father’s daughter

Priya Dutt

Following in her father, actor and congressman Sunil Dutt’s humanist footsteps, the 41-year-old Congress Party Member of Parliament for Mumbai North West is the face of young politics in India -- the kind of candidate who hits the campaign trail 10 days after delivering a baby. Priya takes up causes on behalf of local hawkers, slum dwellers, education and health care with the same passion she brings to raising her two children or slipping into a wetsuit for scuba diving trips with her events-organizer husband, Owen Roncon.

3. Nikhil Patil: CG King

When Coca-Cola needed an animated 3-D rendering of actor Aamir Khan for a television advertisement, they called 33-year-old Nikhil Patil, the burly, commercials creative head at Pixion ATV. As creative guru of Mumbai’s leading computer graphics lab, Patil has also worked video magic for Videocon, MTV and many others. Ask him what life would be like without art and he says, “Not possible."

4. Chetan Bhagat: Formula racer

Chetan Bhagat

Chetan Bhagat has cracked the formula for low-priced, short and racy Indian novels written in simple English. Three of his four books have been made into feature films. All have made the bestseller list and pirated copies are snapped up at traffic signals. “The New York Times” described the 35-year-old as “the biggest selling English language novelist in India’s history.” Bhagat’s next move is “to do a spiritual retreat and look inwards to see what I want to do next -- most likely a pure screenplay.”

5. Dhanya Pilo: Visual aid

A self-described “visual jockey” who uses film and photography to create evocative images of India, the 27-year-old Pilo, a k a DeCOY, brought her unique visions to the Wall Project initiative, thus solidifying her status as one of the front faces of Bohemian Mumbai.

6. Gayatri Ruia: Designing woman

Gayatri Ruia

Her husband’s Phoenix real estate empire gave Ruia a platform on which to marry her interior design skills and affinity for luxury. The result: the vast Palladium, a super-premium fashion and lifestyle mall. (She also promotes new fashion talent through her store, Mogra.) The sight of the 39-year-old in a hard hat carrying a Prada bag has led to numerous double takes. So, what’s it like being a woman in a man’s world: “People expect me to be more demure than women are these days,” she says.

7. Madhu Kannan: Culture warrior

As the new 37-year-old CEO of the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), Kannan is rising to the formidable challenge of boosting the performance of Asia’s oldest exchange in the face of competition from the National Stock Exchange (NSE). He told CNN correspondent Mallika Kapur about the first changes he wants to make: “Start meetings on time and change the culture so no one’s late for meetings.”

8. Abhay Maskara: Gallery guardian

Collector, thinker and art writer, the 40-year-old is the curatorial director of avant-gardeGallery Maskara. Famously open to fresh ideas, Maskara is currently heading a show on the history of his gallery space (a former warehouse) and its surrounding neighborhood. Inspired by Van Gogh, Picasso, Duchamp, Pollock, Wall and Viola, he’s a font of knowledge on contemporary Indian art. Funniest comment he’s heard at an opening: “Let’s go to the other gallery, there’s no wine here.

9. Shilpa Chavan: Mad hatter

Known as “Little Shilpa” on account of her tiny frame, Chavan’s crafty fingers construct fashion bordering on installation art. Every year during Mumbai’s Lakme Fashion Week, this maverick craftswoman and former Philip Treacy apprentice sends form-defying hats, head pieces and sculptural jewelry down the runway. In September, Chavan displayed her work at London Fashion Week, supporting our belief that she embodies the bold future of Indian fashion.

10. Malini Agarwal: Tireless talker

Malini Agarwal

Radio One 94.3 DJ, Channel [V] online “resident party animal,” columnist for “Mid Day” and self-proclaimed gossip girl, Agarwal, a k a Miss Malini, has Mumbai-sized energy. So does her blog. The 32-year-old Internet junkie reports without inhibition from the front lines of her own life, which takes in Bollywood and the local party circuit.

11. Viren Rasquinha: Gold miner

From the hip suburb Bandra, the former India hockey captain played in more than 100 international matches before quitting to join Olympic Gold Quest, India’s first major program aimed at developing gold medal athletes. With his shaved head, the 29-year-old Rasquinha is among the most respected and recognizable figures in Indian sports.

12. Ashutosh Phatak: Boy wonder

Dressed in his usual uniform of T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, the 38-year-old co-founder of the Blue Frog music project -- club, studio, record label, management company -- is living out every guy’s teenage, rock star fantasy. Ashu’s off-stage energy doubles onstage when he performs his own alternative music, which has been featured in advertisements and Bollywood movies. This kid helps keep live music alive in Mumbai.

13. Anuvab Pal: Official satirist

Anuvab Pal

It was the noble Indian bureaucrat that inspiredPal to return to India after more than a decade in the United States. The comic writer decided that India’s official babus (civil servants) were ripe for comic skewering. With movies such as “The Loins of Punjab Presents” and “The President is Coming,” and plays such as “Chaos Theory” and “1-888-Dial India,” the 33-year-old deftly makes the point that “our inability to see our own foolishness (is) almost a talent.”

14. Rujuta Diwekar: Diva downer

Ever since devotee/actress Kareena Kapoor revealed her sleek new figure, women have been devouring nutritionist Diwekar’s diet book, “Don't Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight.” With degrees in sports science and nutrition, and industrial chemistry, the trained yoga teacher and ‘size zero’ guru boasts a heavyweight client list. Her down to earth philosophy, as explained to “The Hindu's” Shonali Muthalaly: “Crash dieting is like a fling with a bad boy … even when you’re in it you know it’s not going to work long term.”

15. Riyaaz Amlani: Emperor of eats

Salt Water Café, DelItalia, Café Mocha, Mocha Mojo -- with 22 brands in eight cities at last count, the 35-year-old Amlani’s food empire isn’t just prospering, it’s eating the competition’s lunch. Not bad for a UCLA entertainment management graduate who started his career running a shoe shop in Mumbai. Gul Panag

16. Gul Panag: Tweeter leader

Former Miss India and actor Gul Panag is the glamorous face of Twitter in India. With 25,000 followers, and counting, the 30-year-old consistently ranks among the top tweeters in India. Avoiding meaningless chitchat and tweeting mostly on social issues about which she feels deeply, Panag has an attitude that’s perfectly suited to the new forum. “I don’t want my point of view to be hijacked by someone doing my interview,” she says. “When I feel strongly about something, why do I have to wait to make my point?”

17. Kapil Gupta: Shape shifter

If you’ve been wowed by the white metal tree branches inside Tote or the circular pods at Blue Frog, doff your hat to ‘design dramatist’ Kapil Gupta. He’s the co-founder of Serie Architects, a London- and Mumbai-based design firm. One of ICON’s 20 Essential Young Architects working on the international stage, the award-winning 36-year-old is no longer on the cutting edge -- he’s chipped his way beyond.

18. Gautam Shiknis/ Mo Polamar: Mustachioed mavens

Founders and managing directors of Palador Pictures, Shiknis, 38, and Polamar, 39, combine their management and strategic skills to bring world cinema to India. With a 1,000-strong library of movies by celebrated filmmakers, Palador titles are available on DVD, TV and via the film club, Reeload. With their carefully cultivated facial hair, the two will discuss Godard or Warhol with as much ease as Vipassana or vegetarian cooking.

19. Vikas Bahl: Myth buster

Vikas Bahl

From advertising and TV to the mad world of Bollywood, the 36-year-old chief creative officer of UTV Motion Pictures believes in pushing limits. Friend of the low-budget indie film, Bahl is credited with green-lighting cult films such as “Aamir,” “Dev D” and “Welcome to Sajjanpur,” but he prefers discussing scripts while watching cricket and drinking beer. The biggest myth about the movie business: “There is no such thing as a casting couch,” he says.

20. Sachin Malhan: Legal aid

It wasn’t enough that he co-founded legal-services firm Rainmaker Training & Recruitment, and Inclusive Planet, an online solutions venture aimed at the differently-abled. Malhan’s BookBole Project is now making literature accessible for those with reading difficulties. Who says whenever lawyers get involved nobody wins?

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

Read more about Udita Jhunjhunwala