Who mattered most in India 2009

Who mattered most in India 2009

Unconventional movie heroes, teenage sports prodigies, Nobel-winning scientists and political elections all grabbed headlines this year
Who Mattered Most
'If only we could get it back to Earth ...' Indian Space Research Organisation Chairman Madhavan Nair confirmed the discovery of water molecules by the moon mineralogy mapper through the Chandrayaan-1 lunar mission.

While much of the world battled against the recession this year, India corrected, but didn't falter. Indeed, there was even time for a general election that resulted in a thumping win for the United Progressive Alliance, victories in sports other than cricket, a successful moon mission and a new generation coming to power in Bollywood.

Much of the year was of course cast in the shadow of the horrific terrorist attacks in Mumbai late last year. 2009 also certainly saw no less corruption, nepotism and corporate scandal than previous years. But 2009 was about role models stepping up to show the rest that India has a central place in the world. Here are the 'who' and also the 'what' that propelled India this year.

Ranbir Kapoor: Bollywood boy

Who mattered mostFilm actor Ranbir Kapoor

The 27-year-old actor’s career got to a spluttering start, but this scion of Bollywood’s first family delivered two of the most unexpectedly popular hit films of this year, "Wake Up Sid" and "Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani." Catapulted into the big league, he's now being seen as a challenger to the Bollywood Top Five, ending the year with the intensely anticipated film "Rocket Singh."

Chandrayaan-1: Lunar undertaking

The odyssey of India’s moon mission, Chandrayaan-1, may have been abruptly aborted, but not before it recorded evidence of water on the moon and sent more than 70,000 images back to Earth. The presence of water molecules on the lunar surface was confirmed after data analysis in the United States and India.

Saina Nehwal: Most exciting female athlete

Who mattered mostBadminton idol Saina Nehwal

In mid-2009, 19-year-old Saina Nehwal became the first Indian woman ever to win a badminton Super Series event (a very big deal). She’s so focused on being a top player that she has no time for boyfriends, she says. Born in Haryana and training in Hyderabad, Nehwal's ranking in the top 10 of the world makes her the most exciting female athlete in the country at the moment.

Dr Manmohan Singh: No push-over PM

At 77, Singh was returned to the Prime Minister’s office for a second term after opposing his allies on the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal. Despite his soft spoken manner, Singh proved he was no pushover when it came to making economic deals, fighting terror or climate change. Seen as the dependable face of India on the world political stage, Singh enjoys the confidence of the Gandhi family, his electorate and global leaders.

Pankaj Advani: Breaking the boundaries

Who mattered mostSnooker star Pankaj Advani

Not many sportsmen can boast of having seven world titles to their name, but Pankaj Advani is one. The 24-year-old has bagged world championships in both snooker and billiards, and has been beating the country’s best since the age of 16. Today, acknowledged as having gained a position of influence in the sport, Advani hopes to bring more pizazz to the sport with colorful waistcoats rather than black and white tuxedos.

Naz India Foundation: Pink power

When the Delhi High Court decriminalized consensual homosexual sex between adults in July 2009 it was a highly anticipated and emotional victory for the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender community as well as Naz India. The NGO had fought for this change for eight years, filing a Public Interest Litigation challenging Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in September 2001.

Kareena Kapoor: Zero and hero

Who mattered mostScreen siren Kareena Kapoor

Ranbir's cousin Kareena made headlines because of her size zero figure as well as her status as the number one actress in Bollywood. Four releases this year proved her versatility, though their mixed successes at the box office underlined how high expectations are now for this screen siren. A style icon, the 29-year-old was the in-demand face for magazine covers and is rarely out of the tabloid headlines due to her very public relationship with actor Saif Ali Khan. Next year she appears in the Bollywood remake of "Stepmom" and the action adventure "Agent Vinod."

Ratan Tata: Role model for the price conscious

When he handed over the keys of the first Nano car, the 71-year-old chairman of Tata Sons became everyone’s hero. Not only did Ratan Tata keep his promise of delivering the world’s cheapest car, he did it despite political opposition. He also unveiled the poor man’s water filter and championed the speedy restoration of his devastated hotel, The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower in Mumbai, to reopen on the anniversary of the 26/11 terror attacks.

Rahul Gandhi: Waiting in the wings

Who mattered mostPolitician Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi, the face of the Congress Youth division, helped revive the Congress Party’s fortunes in the state of Uttar Pradesh and propelled it to a resounding victory in the 2009 General Elections. Son of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, Rahul held 125 meetings and covered 87,000 km during this year's campaign. He set an austerity drive in the party and humbly declined a Cabinet post offered by the Prime Minister. At 38, there’s plenty of time for leadership.

Vijender Singh: Here comes the hot stepper

As the first man to win an Olympic medal for India (a bronze) in boxing, and as the world’s highest ranked boxer in the 75 kg category, you would think India would be proud enough of Vijender Singh. But the government feels he deserves even more than all the highly lucrative attention he's getting, and conferred on him the country's highest sporting honour this year -- the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award.

A R Rahman: Pied piper of Bollywood

Composer of the track Jai Ho, from the soundtrack of "Slumdog Millionaire," musician-composer AR Rahman had the world singing to his tune and went on to win a Golden Globe, an Oscar and a BAFTA. The Maestro of Madras now features on credits for mainstream Hollywood movies while still delivering hit Bollywood soundtracks. At 43, he has been named among the 100 most influential people in world by TIME magazine and most recently bagged two Grammy nominations.

Abhay Deol: Face of the alternative

Who mattered mostProducer/director Abhay Deol

Just four years in the industry and Deol (33) has already thrown the Bollywood hero rule book out of the window of his vanity van. The producer/director found cult acceptance for "Dev D," a contemporary psychedelic interpretation of the classic love story "Devdas" and "Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!" A young champion of independent cinema with his own production house, Deol's next project, "Road, Movie" is already the toast of film festivals around the world.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: Nobel behavior

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, 57, was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for "having shown what the ribosome looks like and how it functions at the atomic level," according to the Nobel citation. Born in Chidambaram in southern India, the U.S. citizen is now a senior scientist at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.

Jairam Ramesh: Eco champion

Who mattered mostEnviro-champ Jairam Ramesh

Ramesh took over the role of campaign manager for the Congress Party during the 2009 general elections. After the victory, the trained engineer and economist was appointed Environment Minister and has been a pivotal figure in formulating India’s climate change policy. "There is simply no compromise on India’s national interest. I am prepared to come here again and again to answer any concerns," he told parliament this year.

Nandan Nilekani: Identifying India

Who mattered mostSocial innovator Nandan Nilekani

Nandan Nilekani was the poster boy of the Indian IT sector when he decided to chuck it in and join the government as chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India project. The former CEO and MD of global software major Infosys, author of the best seller book "Imagining India" and voted among the 100 most influential people in world by TIME magazine, 54-year-old Nilekani is focused today on how to assign a unique identity number to each of India’s billion plus citizens. A massive task, no doubt, but an essential one -- to help pave the way for benefits, better healthcare, education and welfare to India's needy.

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

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