Top 50 Influential South Asians Of 2017


With the passing of each year South Asians are taking over the world in all areas, and 2017 was no less. From the reigning queen Priyanka Chopra to Ajit Pai, our list of the most influential is varied and all-inclusive. Trials, tribulations, disappointments, failures – they all have faced these at some point during their journey, but what sets them apart is the perseverance and determination to never give up. We applaud their stellar efforts and proudly say that you have truly influenced and inspired us!

50. AJIT PAI

Ajit Pai Top 50 List

Location: Washington DC, USA

Why Is He Cool: Hey, we have to take the good with the bad. The same upward mobile community that gave us many good community leaders and successful entrepreneurs also gave us this gem. Ajit Pai is the most hated person in the US and for good reason. He is the killer of net neutrality. But, his achievements (if you want to call it that) must be recognized as they will have a strong impact on how we use the internet going forward.

What’s Next: He will most probably spend 2018 fighting in court to prove the maintainability of his repeal of the net neutrality rules to deregulate broadband internet access services.

Cool Fun Fact: Pai used to work with the largest US wireless communication provider Verizon, as Assistant General Counsel. Verizon had sued FCC over net-neutrality and lost in Court of Appeals in 2016.

49. RIPPIN SINDHER

Ripping Sindher

Location: Los Angeles, USA

Why Is She Cool: She wrote a short film called The Hideout which was premiered at the New York Indian Film Festival this year and she went on to win the Emerging Filmmaker Award at the 2017 Festival Angelica in Bear Lake. Rippin Sindher graduated from UCLA and was planning to go to a law school but changed her plans and decided to pursue her passion for writing and filmmaking after returning from her trip to Amazon. She simultaneously worked a day job at the Directors Guild of America while planning her career as a writer.

What’s Next: She is planning to write several other short films and pursue her dream to become an accomplished writer and filmmaker.

Cool Fun Fact: Rippin has acted in a few other movies and series and has written another short film called The Man of Mystery (2012). For her short film ‘The Hideout’, she was the writer, filmmaker, star and the singer and collected funds for her film by hosting various fundraising events.”

48. BABNEET LAKHESAR

Babbu the painter

Location: Toronto, Canada

Why Is She Cool: Babneet Lakhesar AKA Babbu, who is among those leading South Asian artists today who have reinvented Indian pop culture, is an Indo-Canadian born in Punjab. Her explosive artworks, especially the Bed Beti art project (in collaboration with Hatecopy) created ripples across the South Asian diaspora this year because of its hard-hitting and satirical illustration of desi problems.

What’s Next: She will continue to unleash her style of art on the public – who may love her or hate her – but will never be able to ignore her!

Cool Fun Facts: The art series BAKWASS launched by this 23-year-old artist explores many diasporic issues and has become a popular online “Dukaan” where one can find hand painted jackets, handbags, clothing and much more. She says, “I come from a very Punjabi household, where my mother often says ‘what is this bakwaas you’re doing?’ So I was pretty sure I wasn’t the only one with this being said to me. My mindset was ‘if what I’m doing is bakwaas then I need to tell other people what they’re doing is bakwaas.’”

47. ANKUR JAIN

Ankur Jain BIRA 91

Location: New Delhi, India.

Why Is He Cool: New York became the host to India’s first and leading craft beer BIRA 91 which made created a flurry at the USA Trade Tasting 2017. Within 5 years of obtaining his Computer Engineer degree from Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology and his successful start-up in healthcare information, Ankur Jain realized his heart lies in brewing beer! In 2015, Bira 91 bottled craft beer, was launched in India and soon became one of the leading brands, selling up to 10,000 cases a month! In support of #MakeinIndia movement, the production was moved from Flanders, Belgium to Madhya Pradesh & Nagpur, India.

What’s Next: Ankur wants to become the number one premium brand in Indian the market by 2020 and hopes for a more proactive government with more practical policies.

Cool Fun Fact: Ankur risked his father’s dissatisfaction over being a beer entrepreneur and disruptor, to produce quality craft beer in the country. The Beer Yoga concept flourished in India only because of BIRA 91!

46. SARAH AHMED

Sarah ahmed

Location: New York, USA

Why Is She Cool: She has been named in the 2018 Forbes 30 under 30 watchlist! While working as a creative director at DL1961, Sarah Ahmed realized that the denim industry was missing to target size inclusivity. This drove her to build the successful direct-to-consumer, women’s and men’s contemporary denim line Warp+Weft. In less than a year, her startup has achieved revenue of more than $2.5 million.

What’s Next: Sarah aims to drive her company Warp+Weft to greater heights. She loves the fact that people in New York adopt fashion trends in a practical and functional way, and aims to achieve the same through her company.

Cool Fun Fact: Sarah Ahmed’s family has been in the denim manufacturing business for over 25 years. They run their own production mills in Pakistan. It’s almost like she has denim running in her blood!

45. NIKKI BRAR

Nikki Brar

Location: Los Angeles, USA

Why Is She Cool: She and her family chose to voice against the gender discrimination Nikki faced in the school. They filed a case against the private school, Heritage Oak Private Education in Yorba Linda, as it violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation. The school did not allow Nikki to wear girls’ uniform, use the girls’ bathroom or be addressed “she.” Nikki also faced social isolation as the girls in her school did not mingle with her and the boys bullied her. Through their actions, they have created a global awareness that no school has the rights to discriminate any student on the basis of their sexual preference or orientation.

What’s Next: Nikki Brar is being homeschooled by her parents until she recoups from her current condition.

Cool Fun Fact: This is the first time the parents of a transgender child had filed a case against the school and sued it for its ruthless conduct towards an 8-year-old. This case has received a global support from LGBTQ as well as other human rights activists.”

44. RASIKA NAVARE

Rasika Navare

Location: New York, USA

Why Is She Cool: She has come a long way to fulfill her dream of becoming a model and she has walked ramps of many globally acclaimed fashion shows, New York Fashion Week being one of them. She has been the face of high street brand Chemistry and Lakmé Salon. She also represents top brands such as Smashbox Worldwide Cosmetics, Sephora, and Givenchy. According to Anima Creative Management, she is one of the most sought-after faces in the industry. She’s walked ramps for all top designers like Sabyasachi, Tarun Tahiliani and Anita Dongre. In April 2017, she featured as the cover girl on Verve Magazine’s Indian edition.

What’s Next: We expect to see her in upcoming international fashion shows and making India proud.

Cool Fun Fact: The Indian Super Model in America is the cover girl for one of the leading magazines, India Today. ”

43. GITANJALI RAO

Gitanjali rao

Location: Colorado, USA

Why Is She Cool: A 11-year-old middle-schooler and the winner of the Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge by finding a solution to the perpetual problem of lead-contaminated water that affects more than 5000 water systems across the US and caused a multitude of human death. She received $25,000 cash prize for inventing a cheap, lead-detecting device that accurately detected lead content in a given sample of water. The device is composed of three main parts – a core device, a housing processor with a Bluetooth extension, a nine-volt battery, and a slot to enter a disposable cartridge – all of which is connected to a smartphone.

What’s Next: She plans to improve the functionalities of her device, Tethys and also plans to become either a geneticist or epidemiologist when she grows up.

Cool Fun Fact: She named her device Tethys after the Greek goddess of fresh water.”

42. INDRANI DAS

Indrani das

Location: New Jersey, USA

Why Is She Cool: This year in March, young, talented Indo-American, Indrani Das won the 76th Regeneron Science Talent Search, which is famously quoted as America’s Junior Nobel Prize.  Ms. Das’ research involved enhancing the survival rate of neurons. In the laboratory model, she showed that exosomes isolated from astrocytes transfected with microRNA-124a both improved astrocyte uptake of glutamate and increased neuron survival. She is now a certified emergency medical technician, working with patients and helping them to be transported to the hospitals.

What’s Next: Apart from continuing her research processes, she hopes to become a practicing physician so she can work with patients.

Cool Fun Fact: At just 17, Indrani is a senior at the Academy for Medical Science Technology in Hackensack, NJ.

41. MARIA QAMAR

Maria Qamar

Location: Toronto, Canada

Why Is She Cool: With her book, Trust No Aunty, Maria Qamar has firmly put herself in the Desi comic scene worldwide. This Pakistani Canadian pop artist, whose Instagram handle is “Hatecopy”, has become a doughty crusader against racism and bullying. Her biting and hard-hitting satirical works have won her over 120K followers on Instagram.

What’s Next: A lot of new stuff! You will just have to check out her website for all the latest stuff that she keeps spouting.

Cool Fun Fact: Not only has her work been featured in Vogue, the Toronto Star, and BBC but they have also been published on the cover of the prestigious Elle Canada. Recently, actor and writer Mindy Kaling, Qamar’s dedicated follower, shared one of her humorous pieces on her popular show the Mindy Project.

40. Amandeep Singh

Amandeep Singh Inkquisitive

Location: London, UK

Why Is He Cool: Singh’s dazzling celebrity portraits and religious works have millions of fans across the globe today including Madhuri Dixit, Drake, Jennifer Lopez, and J Cole. With 182,000 Instagram followers and 132,000 facebook followers, this turban-wearing Sikh has found extraordinary success as an artist before completing 30 years of his life.

What’s Next: Amandeep Singh is an unstoppable and prolific artist. He has many new projects in the offing.

Cool Fun Fact: The pop culture inspired artworks of this British Sikh painter, known by the name of Inkquisitive, have been shared by many celebrities on social media. This art graduate has earned unbelievable success in six years and has done around 24 global exhibitions.

39. KARAN BRAR

KARAN BRAR

Location: Los Angeles, USA

Why Is He Cool: Karan Brar is an America-born Indian actor who is best known for his role as Chirag Gupta in the Wimpy Kid series and his role as Ravi Ross in the Disney Channel Original series Jessie. He began acting at an age of 11 in the comedy film Diary of a Wimpy Kid and took special coaching to perfect the Indian accent. He also starred in other Wimpy Kid movies that came out later and has also appeared in a few commercials and Youtube videos with Super-Woman Lilly Singh.

What’s Next: We will be seeing him as a cadet in Pacific Rim: Uprising in 2018.

Cool Fun Fact: He bagged the Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film – Young Ensemble Cast’ twice in 2011 and 2013 for his role in Diary of a Wimpy Kid and ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days’ respectively. He also won Best Performance in a TV Series- Supporting Young Actor for his role in Jessie in 2012.

38. RAJA KUMARI

RAJA KUMARI

Location: Los Angeles, USA

Why Is She Cool: Her song City Slums with DIVINE was one of the top trending songs of 2017. She is known for her collaboration with biggies of the industry such as Iggy Azalea, Gwen Stefani, Fall Out Boy, Knife Party and Fifth Harmony. She was nominated to the Grammys in February 2015 for her first song with Iggy Azalea “Change your life”. She wrote songs for Gwen Stefani which topped the charts in the year 2016. In the same year, she was honored at the BMI Top Awards for the song “Centuries” which she wrote along with Fall Out Boy.

What’s Next: This Indo-American songwriter, rapper and recording artist has signed a deal with the global music giant – Sony Music – and with this, she begins her musical career in India. With this deal, a bridge between Western and Eastern countries will be created as she steps towards her motherland.

Cool Fun Fact: Raja Kumari holds a bachelor degree in Religious Studies and is a trained Indian Classical dancer and also a Hip Hop Dancer. Her real name is Svetha Rao and is called Raja Kumari professionally.

37. VARUN PRUTHI

VARUN PRUTHI

Location: New Delhi, India

Why Is He Cool: He was the keynote speaker at the Young Global Leaders Summit in September 2017, UAE. This young man is putting all the efforts he can through his skills, talent, and hard work to bring unity in the country. He is running an initiative, named, BHB – Bring Humanity Back. He comes up with amazing inspirational videos to change the mindset of people.

What’s Next: Pruthi will be continuing with his stellar work as a social activist and will be taking the cause of humanity to greater heights. With over 1 million followers on social media he will be a force to recon with in the future.

Cool Fun Fact: Varun completed his acting course from Hollywood California. Varun is also a trained dancer in Bollywood. Some of his dance forms include, Hip Hop, Robotic, Waving, Popping-Locking, and Bollywood.

36. RAFAT & ZOREEN ANSARI

RAFAT & ZOREEN ANSARI

Location: South Bend, Indiana, USA

Why Are They Cool: The immigrant couple that hails originally from Pakistan is known for their philanthropic work. This year they donated $15 million to the University of Notre Dame to “promote the idea of equality”.

What’s Next: The fund donated by them would be used to create Rafat and Zoreen Ansari Institute of Global Engagement With Religion for studying the role of religion in the public sector.

Cool Fun Facts: The donation is noteworthy because Zoreen and her husband are not billionaires and she admits, “We had to think, how is it going to affect us”. They took the decision because they feel that misunderstandings among religions have grown in the last few years.

35. RAJU SETHI

RAJU SETHI

Location: New Jersey, USA

Why Is He Cool: He is the man behind AVS, the leading South Asian entertainment television program in North America today. A true Hollywood contender, AVS is in par with any mainstream show in terms of professionalism and quality.  What began as a hobby almost 27 years ago turned gradually into a full-time profession for Raju. In the late ‘80s, a local cable station in South Jersey launched a channel. With the intention of advertising his store, Raju created a show, which was broadcast by this channel. The show was a hit and today, millions of people all over the world watch it. He has been applauded for bringing South Asian entertainment to a higher level.

What’s Next: Raju is directing music videos and doing advertisements, marketing and consulting too. He is continuously experimenting and is busy with new projects and concepts.

Cool Fun Fact: As the production director of TV ASIA he has worked with none other than Amitabh Bachchan.

34. ARJUN JAIN

ARJUN JAIN

Location: New Delhi, India

Why Is He Cool: Arjun Jain created White Fox India, a premium event production and management venture, which brought Justin Bieber to India this year! Besides Justin Bieber, Arjun’s venture has successfully organized many other music and food festivals in India with artists like David Guetta, Hardwell, Tiesto, Above & Beyond, Axwell, and Steve Aoki.

What’s Next: Arjun wants to put India and White Fox on the map by organizing more and more such successful events. Arjun aims to bring goodwill to both – the nation as well as his venture.

Cool Fun Fact: After completing his undergrad in Finance, Arjun spent a few years in the Real Estate industry while trying to work his way through various business plans worth executing. He did not feel quite satisfied with any plan until White Fox!

 33. SABYASACHI MUKHERJEE

SABYASACHI MUKHERJEE

Location: Kolkata, India

Why is He Cool: The recent collaboration between Sabyasachi and French fashion designer Christian Louboutin resulted in an ultra-exclusive collection of shoes and bags using the cut-off from sarees and ribbons from the studio archives of Sabyasachi making each pair completely unique and limited edition. The collection was launched at Harrods where the colorful installation showcases the brilliance from the Sabyasachi Haute traditional couture and Louboutin magic.

What’s Next: His collections have adorned the biggest fashion shows around the globe from Indian Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week, Miami Fashion Week, Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week. He is the forerunner of using Indian textiles in a modern context while promoting indigenous methods like bandhani, gota, block printing, hand dyeing, etc. in modern silhouettes and 2018 is just going to make him bigger and better.

Cool Fun Fact: In the recent splendid wedding of Indian cricket star Virat Kohli and Bollywood star Anushka Sharma (#Virushka), most of bride and groom’s outfits were styled by  Sabyasachi. The hand-embroidered antique pashmina shawl worn by Indian Cricket Captain Virat Kohli at his recent stellar reception in Delhi, was from the ‘Kashmiri Revival Project’!

32. ALI KAZMI

ALI KAZMI

Location: Toronto, Canada

Why Is He Cool: Ali Kazmi gave voice to the character Darya in Angelina Jolie produced animated movie, The Breadwinner, which has been nominated to the 75th Golden Globe Award for the Best Animated Feature Film. This Canadian actor of Pakistani descent began his career in 1995 as a child actor in TV series Zikr Hai Kai Saal Ka. Kazmi is playing the role of the husband in one of the most controversial TV serials ever produced in Pakistan, Baaghi, which is about the honor killing of the controversial Pakistani actor, model, and social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch.

What’s Next: Ali Kazmi is working on a number of projects. His admirers can expect some solid performances in the year 2018.

Cool Fun Facts: Kazmi married Alizeh Khorasanee, his childhood friend, whom he knew since the age of twelve. It is said that he moved to Toronto only for his sweetheart. The on-screen villain is a real-life hero and devoted husband.

31. SATNAM SINGH

SATNAM SINGH

Location: Frisco, Texas, USA

Why Is He Cool: He is the first ever Indian player to be drafted into the NBA. He was chosen by the Dallas Mavericks. He started his career at IMG Academy, Florida and attracted media attention which put him on the radar of NBA Teams.

What’s Next: He is now gaining more and more expertise in his game and improvising himself on field. Singh has represented India in 2011 and 2013 FIBA Asia Championship. He has now again joined the Indian National Team for 2017 FIBA Asia Championship.

Cool Fun Fact: He has played for Texas Legends and now Dallas Mavericks. He was the first player to be recruited directly from high school as a postgraduate since the league introduced age limits.

30. SHAAN PATEL

SHAAN PATEL

Location: California, USA

Why is He Cool: Shaan is a 26-year-old winner of Shark Tank, the founder of Prep Expert, an author of 10+ books, and an MD/MBA student at the Yale University and the University of South California. His startup Prep Expert is the nation’s fastest growing test preparation provider.

What’s Next: Shaan is currently in his last year of medical school and aims to take Prep Expert to greater heights.

Cool Fun Fact: Shaan grew up in his parents’ urban motel, attended inner-city public schools in the worst school district with a 40% dropout rate, and was clueless about standardized tests for the longest time. Yet, with his sheer hard work and determination, he got a perfect SAT score and is now working day and night to give back by helping many others fulfill their dream of achieving the same success.

29. MONICA SINGH

Monica Singh

Location: New York, USA

Why Is She Cool: She is the ultimate motivational personality, speaker, humanitarian, acid attack survivor, speaker at the UN and Global Youth Champion of UN Women. She is known for her strength in surviving an acid attack at the age of 19 and reaching New York all by herself to achieve her dream of becoming a fashion designer.

What’s Next: She graduated from Parsons School of Design, NYC in May 2016 and has been working towards her dream of becoming a hot New York-based fashion designer.

Cool Fun Fact: She is the co-producer of Priya Shakti’s comic book Priya’s Mirror and is also featured as one of the acid attack superheroes.

28. SATINDER SARTAAJ

Satinder sartaaj

Location: Chandigarh, India

Why Is He Cool: 2017 saw Sartaaj become the first ever turbaned Sikh to walk the red carpet at Cannes. He debuted with the much acclaimed Hollywood movie The Black Prince, the trailer of which was unveiled at the 70th Cannes Film Festival. His 2014 live performance at the Royal Albert Hall, London is till date one of his most memorable shows.

What’s Next: Sartaaj’s 2018 calendar already seems to be lined with music shows with his much awaited UK Tour in March.

Cool Fun Fact: The Black Prince was the first ever mainstream Hollywood movie to have a Sardar as the main protagonist.

27. ANANYA BIRLA

ANANYA BIRLA

Location: Mumbai, India

Why Is She Cool: Ananya is the first Indian artiste with an English single to be certified Platinum by Indian Music Industry (IMI). Her Meant To Be debuted at number five on Vh1 India’s Top 10 International Videos chart. Ananya released her debut single Livin the Life in 2016 in collaboration with Universal Music India.  She is also the founder of Svatantra Microfinance which provides microfinance to women of rural backgrounds. She is the founder of CuroCarte and Cofounder of Mpower.

What’s Next: Ananya is juggling her music and her business pretty well. She wants to bring Svatantra to the status of a national bank. She wants to get the e-commerce business growing and also touch the lives of people through her music and songs.

Cool Fun Fact: The microfinance company Svatantra was founded by Ananya when she was only 17.

 26. VISHWANATHAN ANAND

Vishwanathan Anand

Location: Chennai, India

Why Is He Cool: He ended the year at a high with the World Rapid Chess Championship title and surprised even himself as he had thought that he was too old for the format! He is also the five-time World Chess Champion! Anand has been India’s first ever Chess Grandmaster and has been making the country proud for more than four decades. He is considered as the best rapid chess player of his generation.

What’s Next: He is set to return to FIDE World Cup after 15 years with an aim to seal a berth at the 2018 Candidates tournament. Anand will lead a seven-member Indian team at the 128-player Knock Out tournament, where the finalists get to play the Candidates tournament.

Cool Fun Fact: Anand was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri at the age of 18, Padma Vibhushan award in 2007 and was also the first recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in 1991-92, India’s highest sporting honor.

25. KAMALA HARRIS 

KAMALA HARRIS

Location: Los Angeles

Why Is She Cool: From being the first woman to serve as the District Attorney of California to a Junior Senator from California, Kamala Devi Harris has come a long way. She has been compared to former President Barack Obama, both for her democratic political ideologies and bicultural (Indian & African-American) heritage. In January 2015, Kamala D. Harris announced her bid for U.S. Senate and went on to become the second woman of African or Asian descent to hold such a position. She has been assigned to several Senate Committees including Budget, Environment and Public Works, Homeland security and Governmental Affairs, Intelligence. She is also a member of Congressional Caucus like Black Caucus, Asian Pacific American Caucus, Caucus for Women’s Issues.

What’s Next: The position of Senator Kamala regarding abortion laws, gun laws, environmental laws, healthcare and immigration are very democratic. She has staunchly opposed the policies of President Donal Trump, especially the recent Tax plans as disguised health care plan and  Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Cool Fun Fact: She has been brought up in close proximity to both her Indian and African-American culture and heritage. She goes to churches and temples alike.

24. ABHIJAY PRAKASH

ABHIJAY PRAKASH  Location: California, USA

Why is He Cool: Prakash is responsible for the American studio and a Universal Film division, DreamWorks’ strategic planning and operations, including finance, business development, technology and administrative functions. In the past, Prakash has been a Focus Features and Universal Pictures veteran.

What’s Next: Prakash will also be serving as a bridge between DreamWorks Animation and Universal Pictures. The first DreamWorks feature being released by Universal Pictures under Prakash’s service will be How to Train Your Dragon 3.

Cool Fun Fact: Prakash is one of the most respected executives at Universal Pictures. He is deservingly recognized for his integrity, business acumen, and invaluable contribution to DreamWorks.”

 23. KANCHANMALA PANDEKANCHANMALA PANDE

Location: Maharashtra, India

Why Is She Cool: She secured the first rank in the 200-meter medley event in the S-11 category. The athletes in the S-11 category have very less visual acuity and usually no or very little perception of light. In spite of her disability, she managed to top the race. She has won 9 medals in international waters till date.

What’s Next: She now plans to participate in the upcoming Para Asian Games which would be held in South Korea in 2018.

Cool Fun Fact: She works with RBI – Reserve Bank of India. She has always won medals at the national and the state levels and had participated in the Commonwealth Games (2006) in Australia and Para Asian Games  (2010) in China.

22. RADHIKA JONES

Radhika Jones

Location: New York, USA

Why is She Cool: Radhika Jones is the first Indian-American to become the Editor-in-Chief of a glossy magazine in the United States, and the second woman to lead Vanity Fair since 1992.

What’s Next: Being a confident and passionate individual, Radhika is ready to embrace all challenges that come her way as the Editor-in-Chief. She aims to elevate the already high standards of the affluent magazine in the coming year.

Cool Fun Fact: Radhika is an incredibly smart woman, considering her academic charm! She went to Harvard and has a Ph.D. in English from Colombia University. Radhika is also an avid traveler and has lived in Taiwan and Russia.

21. MUHAMMAD RAYYAN SIDDIQUI

RYANN SIDDIQUI

Location: Pakistan

Why Is He Cool: Muhammad Rayyan Siddiqui is only 13, and he has been certified by Google as an Android Developer. Google notified that Rayyan is the world’s youngest Associate Android Developer Alumni and that up till now, nobody had been certified with this title below 18 years of age.

What’s Next: Associate Android Developer was the first milestone in Rayyan’s journey to become a successful Android Developer, and we are sure the young boy is going to make similar appearances in the International news in the future.

Cool Fun Fact: Muhammad Rayyan Siddiqui is also a blogger at an online publishing platform called Medium, where he has shared his experience with this course and additional guidelines for future aspirants.”

20. PAYAL KADAKIA

PAYAL KADAKIA

Location: New York, USA

Why Is She Cool: Payal’s fitness startup ClassPass connects its customers to over 8000 fitness studios in over 30 cities of America. Besides building her own fitness empire and making America fit, Payal herself is a trained Indian classical and folk dancer. She believes that everyone should be wired to live an active and passionate life.

What’s Next: ClassPass is in a full expansion mode currently. Payal and her team aim at expanding geographically with ClassPass, in order to enable more people to lead a healthier life.

Cool Fun Fact: Payal was searching online for a ballet class in the city, and despite spending over an hour on it, she couldn’t find enough resources to make a firm choice. That’s when she thought to herself ‘why is this so difficult?’; ClassPass is her answer to that question and a remedy for all who felt the same pain before ClassPass!

19. KUMAIL NANJIANI

KUMAIL

Location: Los Angeles, USA

Why Is He Cool: The Pakistani-American actor/stand-up comedian touched greater heights in 2017 with his autobiographical romcom The Big Sick becoming the years’ highest-grossing specialty opener at over $42.87 million. Best known for his role in Silicon Valley, The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail and also his weekly podcast The X-Files Files. He wrote down a personal story which was transformed into a show ‘Unpronounceable’ which brings up his Pakistani upbringing and includes how Muslims are perceived.

What’s Next: He plans to collaborate more with his wife for future work as The Big Sick has received various nominations at the Screen Actors Guild Awards as well as the Critics Choice Movie Award.

Cool Fun Fact: Kumail Nanjiani studied computer science in college and would have continued with his profession if he hadn’t switched to comedy. Interestingly, he plays the role of Java programmer Dinesh Bhugtal in the famous HBO series Silicon Valley.

18. VALERIE KAUR

VALERIE KAUR

Location: Los Angeles, USA

Why Is She Cool: Her anti-hate speech last year on New Year’s eve was a powerful punch against the hate crimes targeting the South Asian community. Her ‘Sikh Prayer for America’ went viral collecting more than a million views and shares on the social media. As a lawyer and a member of California Bar, she fought for and won policy changes on hate crimes, racial profiling, marriage equality, immigration detention, solitary confinement, and freedom of the Internet. She also commenced a project Revolutionary Love to encourage fighting against social injustices through ‘ethic of love.’ Her first award-winning documentary Divided We Fall: Americans In The Aftermath is based on post 9/11 hate crimes, was followed by Stigma, Alienation and The Worst of the Worst: Portrait of Supermax.

What’s Next: She is going to be a part of The Evolution of Revolution, in the Annual MLK Commemorative Breakfast and also the Revolutionary Love Conference.

Cool Fun Fact: Divided We Fall: Americans In The Aftermath (2008) was screened in 200 cities of the US and she bagged the Outstanding International Documentary and Audience Choice: Best Documentary Awards.

 17. ANJULA ACHARIA

ANJULA ACHARIA

Location: Los Angeles, USA

Why Is She Cool: One of the Elle Magazine’s Power Women in Tech, Anjula is a partner in Trinity Ventures and is most famous as the fairy godmother of Priyanka Chopra in America. She is a well-known angel investor in ClassPass, The Hunt (acquired by Pinterest), Mayvenn, Gobble, The Muse, Cue and Hooked – Telepathic; and has introduced many popular artists like Lady Gaga and Britney Spears to the emerging markets. She also indulges in philanthropic work and is currently a part of the UN Foundation Girl’s Up Campaign advisory board which is responsible for promoting girls’ health, safety, leadership, and education in the developing countries.

What’s Next: She is planning to spend more time in her philanthropic work along with Priyanka Chopra and is currently focusing on new start-ups and coaching sessions.

Cool Fun Fact: She has been featured in many popular publications like Forbes, NY Times, The Wall Street Journal, etc. as she not only works to bring diversity into pop culture but also works with several consumer tech companies as an advisor.

16. PRAMILA JAYAPAL

PRAMILA JAYAPAL

Location: West Seattle, USA

Why Is She Cool: She is the first Indian-American woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives as well as the first woman to represent the 7th District in Congress, and the first Asian-American to represent Washington in Congress. Prior to her political stint, Jayapal was a civil rights activist with pro-immigration activist groups like OneAmerica and founded Hate Free Zone. She is a member of the Judiciary and Budget Committee in the U.S House of Representatives.

What’s Next: In order to protect the citizen’s rights under the Trump administration, she along with Rep. Jamie Raskin have introduced ‘Trump Transparency Package’, a series of bills aimed at the elimination of conflict of interest in the White House and protecting and promoting transparency. Jayapal and her fellow co-chairs of the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force introduced a package of Environmental Justice bills to fight the impact of climate change on the communities. She is actively trying to protect the rights of the citizens under the present administration.

Cool Fun Fact: The Hate Free Zone, formed after 9/11 attacks, successfully sued the Bush Administration’s Immigration and Naturalization Services in order to prevent the deportation of over 4,000 Somalis across the country.

15. MARY KOM

Mary Kom

Location: Manipur, India

Why Is She Cool: 2017 saw Mary Kom back in the ring to win gold at the Asian Boxing Championship. The 34-year-old became the first Indian boxer to qualify for Olympics in 2012 and bagged a bronze medal in the 51 kg flyweight boxing category and is currently ranked at number 4 in the Flyweight world ranking. She was awarded Padma Shri in 2010 and Padma Bhushan in 2013 for her contributions and achievements in sports.

What’s Next: She was recently offered a position as the boxing national observer but due to her active status as an athlete, she had to resign. She is now planning to bag the gold medal in 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. She plans to concentrate on the Boxing academy that she opened up in Imphal once she retires.

Cool Fun Fact: Mary Kom is a mother of 3 children and has a biographic film made on her in 2014 where Priyanka Chopra played the role of Mary Kom.

14. PREET DIDBAL

PREET DIDBAL

Location: Yuba City, USA

Why Is She Cool: Preet is the first elected Female Indian -American Sikh Mayor in the USA! Her parents immigrated in 1968 and she was born and raised in the USA. She is a sexual assault survivor who was sexually assaulted when she was 19. But she persevered and worked her way up by sheer hard work, first on the Sutter County Planning Commission for two years and then eight years on the Yuba City Planning Commission and thereafter being the first Sikh woman to be elected to a US city council in 2014!

What’s Next: According to reports, she will continue to prioritize youth, infrastructure and public safety policies.

Cool Fun Fact: Being the daughter of Indian immigrant parents, her family is predominantly full of farmers and she is the first one to graduate college and pursue masters! ”

13. HASAN MINHAJ

HASSAN MINHAJ

Location: New York City, USA

Why Is He Cool: Hasan Minhaj is an America-born Indian Muslim who is currently a Senior Correspondent on The Daily Show and was the host at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner 2017. He takes regular jabs at Donald Trump and also takes up a small segment named Minhaj’s Muslim Makeover in the show which talks about all the taboo and uncomfortable realities. Minhaj released his Netflix special, Homecoming King, earlier this year reiterating that he truly is the best thing that happened to us in 2017.

What’s Next: He is planning to uncover more political and social issues in his segments and is currently working on the various LGBT issues to create more awareness.

Cool Fun Fact: He was a political science major in college and graduated from the University of California and was inspired by Chris Rock’s ‘Never Scared’ special to switch to Stand-up Comedy. He also won the Mr. India California which resulted in his job at The Daily Show.

12. PALBINDER KAUR SHERGILL

PALBINDER KAUR SHERGILL

Location: Surrey, Canada

Why Is She Cool: She is the first turbaned Sikh to be appointed as a judge in Canada. The Sikh human rights lawyer, Palbinder Kaur Shergill, was appointed as a Supreme Court Judge of the British Columbia in New Westminster. She was born in Punjab and at the age of four, her family immigrated to Canada. Prior to the appointment in the judiciary, she practiced as lawyer and mediator and has extensive trial and appellate experience. She is regarded as the leading human rights advocate and has helped shape the human rights and religious accommodation laws in Canada through her decades of work as General Legal Counsel of World Sikh Organisation. She was also appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2012.

What’s Next: She has achieved great success in her field and is an inspiration for all immigrants who want to pursue a better life in foreign shores.

Cool Fun Fact: She was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2012 and is a recipient of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for Community Service. She plays tabla and harmonium and is gaining towards her Taekwondo black belt!

11. RAVINDER SINGH BHALLA

RAVI BHALLA

Location: Hoboken, New Jersey,  USA

Why Is He Cool: Ravinder Singh Bhalla, is the first elected Sikh turbaned Mayor in the United States of America. He won with 33% of the total votes. Ravi is a Civil Rights lawyer turned politician and he earned national recognition for his legal advocacy after suffering a violation of his own constitutional and civil rights during a jail visit to a client. The incident motivated Ravi to lead a successful campaign to reform the federal government’s visitation policies at correctional facilities nationwide.

What’s Next: In his election campaign, Ravi had advocated for several issues like response development, open-space initiatives, defending Hoboken’s citizens’ rights in present administration’s, fiscal responsibility, holding the line on local taxes, and building a surplus for city emergencies. More to see when he starts his term in 2018 as Mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey.

Cool Fun Fact: The racist campaign against Bhalla came to naught when he won the elections! Just days before the election anonymous flyers were distributed featuring his picture with the statement “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our Town!”.

10. ZAYN MALIK

ZAYN MALIK

Location: Bradford, UK

Why Is He Cool: He won the 2017 Billboard Music Award for Top New Artist. Once a part of the boy band One Direction, that was formed in The X Factor, he is now an established singer and songwriter of Pillowtalk fame that reigned #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles Chart.

What’s Next: We hope to hear more of music in various genres either hip-hop, reggae or even a Qawwali ghazal for that matter.

Cool Fun Fact: Malik was known as the“Bradford Bad Boy” of One Direction, on account of his mischiefs, scandals, numerous tattoos (he got his maternal grandfather’ name inked in Arabic), graffiti art, and rock star hairstyles.

9. RUPI KAUR

RUPI KAUR

Location: Toronto, Canada

Why Is She Cool: At 25, she became the #1 New York City best-selling author with her two books Milk and Honey (a collection of prose and poetry dealing with violence, abuse, love, loss and feminism) and The Sun and Her Flowers (a poetry anthology that celebrates all forms of love). Quoted as the Insta-poet of the year, she posted photos of herself lying in bed with menstrual blood stains in an attempt to destigmatize taboos attached to menstruation. She is bold and outspoken about her thoughts on the misogynistic society, striving to prevent women from being stigmatized. In the digital age, she’s one of the most followed Instagram poets whose freestyle poetry has garnered more than a million fans and followers.

What’s Next: We expect to read more of her thought-provoking poems and see her deal with other social injustices.

Cool Fun Fact: She self-published her first book, Milk and Honey, in 2014 only to be later published by Andrews McMeel of “Calvin and Hobbes,” comic strips fame. Her book topped the New York City bestsellers for 70 weeks.

8. SIDDHARTHA KHOSLA

SIDDHARTHA KHOSLA

Location:  Los Angeles, USA

Why Is He Cool: He won the BMI TV Music Award 2017 for his fantastic soundtrack for Emmy Award-winning series This Is Us. He has also created amazing soundtracks for shows and films such as Grandfathered, Fat Camp, Liv etc.

What’s Next: Though he is loaded with work, he is still working on two new projects – Marvel’s Runaways and Me, Myself and I. Both of these new projects has a feel to it and are very dear to Siddhartha.

Cool Fun Fact: His original song from This Is Us, ‘We Can Always Come Back To This,’ was #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart for 4 straight weeks and top 20 in the Billboard Rock and R&B charts.

7. MANUSHI CHILLAR

MANUSHI CHILLAR

Location: Haryana, India

Why Is She Cool: She was crowned Miss World 2017 and is the sixth Indian woman to win the title of Miss World. Born to a scientist and doctor, Chillar herself is pursuing medicine. Apart from academic excellence, Chillar is also a trained Kuchipudi dancer. She was also the co-winner of Beauty With a Purpose competition for her Project Shakti, which focuses on spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene in rural India.

What’s Next: In the coming year, she plans to travel abroad to participate in ‘Beauty with a Purpose’ projects along with other participants at the Miss World pageant. Also, she plans to advocate lowering the taxes on sanitary pads in India and hence create awareness among people regarding menstruation.

Cool Fun Fact: She’s the first winner of the Miss World crown after Priyanka Chopra, who won the title in 2000. Indeed India waited for 17 years to see the next Miss World!

6. JAGMEET SINGH

JAGMEET SINGH

Location: Ontario, Canada

Why is He Cool: Jagmeet Singh is the response of New Democratic Party to Justin Trudeau, Liberal Party Leader and Prime Minister of Canada. His famed response to racist attack during his election campaign went viral in 2017. He is the first non-white and Sikh Leader of a prominent political party of Canada. He started his career as a criminal defense lawyer and turned to politics in 2011. Within a short span, he has become the leader of a popular party who knows how to connect with the voters.

What’s Next: Jagmeet has his eyes on the next federal election in 2019. He is hoping to capitalize his chances by putting Trudeau’s policies under the microscope and the actual actions of the administration. He identifies himself both as a progressive and social democrat while advocating the decriminalization of personal possession of all drugs, expansion of universal health care, raising taxes on high earners and tackling precarious work with the Better Work Agenda.

Cool Fun Fact: Apart from politics, he is known for his distinguished turbaned look, fashion sense and active practice of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

5. AZIZ ANSARI

AZIZ ANSARI

Location: Columbia, South Carolina, USA

Why Is He Cool: His Master of None has actually made him the KING of all! Aziz Ansari, the Indo-American actor, won the 2017 Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series along with Alam Yang. He has been nominated for ‘Best Actor in a Television Series’ at the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards as well as the ‘Best Actor in a Comedy Series’ category for the 23rd Annual Critics’ Choice Awards and has also been nominated in the ‘Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series’ at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Ansari is best known for his character ‘Tom Haverford’ in the political comedy sitcom ‘Parks and Recreation’ and as the creator of the Netflix series Master of None.

What’s Next: He has no plans to release the third season of the Master of None, a Netflix series which has become quite popular with the fans and will continue to make content but not for money anymore. He is currently traveling around the world to take a break and recharge himself for his future endeavors.

Cool Fun Fact: He also wrote a book named Modern Romance: An Investigation which was released in June 2015 which talks about the comic aspects of dating in the modern world and also gave his voice-over for the character Squint in the movie Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012).

4. VIRAT KOHLI

VIRAT KOHLI

Location: New Delhi, India

Why Is He Cool: 2017 saw him break multiple cricketing records. He is the highest scoring international cricketer of the year and is the only international cricket captain to score 6 double hundreds in a year. He is known for his cool mind and great cricketing shots. As a captain, he is absolutely adorable and has a lot of influence on his teammates. And getting married to Bollywood beauty Anushka Sharma at the end of the year just took the cake!

What’s Next: Virat will be seen in South Africa starting January 2018 due to the test matches, ODIs and Twenty20 series. This is the most challenging assignment for him as a captain of the Indian Cricket Team.

 Cool Fun Fact: Kohli has scored a total of 52 centuries in tests and ODIs making him the eighth highest century-maker in the field of Cricket. His ODI centuries are 32 in number and now we are waiting for him to break the record of Tendulkar’s 49 centuries.

3. SUNDAR PICHAI

SUNDAR PICHAI

Location: California, USA

Why Is He Cool: 2107 saw the test of the mettle of Sundar Pichai as the CEO of Google when he had to address an anti-diversity memo from an employee that went viral. He was praised by most in the industry for his stern action of firing the said employee. In an extensive email to all Google employees, Pichai stressed upon the need of inclusivity and wrote, “Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives. To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.”

What’s Next: 2017 was the year Sundar Pichai pushed Artificial Intelligence as the future of Google, and he with the support of his team, are working diligently to make AI a successful reality in the near future. Besides, Pichai has pledged $1 billion in philanthropic initiatives to ensure equal opportunities for all.

Cool Fun Fact: Even though the Indian IIT alumnus, Pichai, was appointed as the Google CEO in 2015; he has been taking responsibility for all the operations at Google since 2004!

2. RIZ AHMED

RIZ AHMED

Location: London, UK

Why Is He Cool: 2017 saw Riz Ahmed become the first Muslim and South-Asian actor to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his role in The Night Of. He also won the 2017 MTV Video Music Award for Best Fight Against the System with his song ‘Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)’. Riz is a British born Pakistani actor who is known for his work in independent films like The Road to Guantanamo (2006), Shifty (2008), etc. and is also a member of the Swet Shop Boys. He is also actively involved in raising funds for the Syrian refugee children and Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh.

What’s Next: He is currently filming for the Spider-Man spin-off and aims to include more diversity into the field of media so that fewer younger people are tempted to join ISIS.

Cool Fun Fact: Riz Ahmed graduated from Christ Church, Oxford with a degree in philosophy, politics, and economy, which is one of the reasons why he often takes a stance against cultural and racial injustice and is involved in many activist activities. He rapped for the first time when he was 11 years old but got into trouble with his teacher for the compromising lyrics.

1. PRIYANKA CHOPRA

PRIYANKA CHOPRA South Asians Influential

Location: Mumbai, India

Why Is She Cool: Do we really need to tell you that? She has been on fire throughout 2017 and has gone on to achieve one feat after another! She debuted in Hollywood with Baywatch and went on to become the only woman in Forbes top 10 highest paid Indian celebrities. Along with her successful run with Quantico, for which she won Favourite Actress award at the 43rd People’s Choice Awards; and producing regional movies in India, Priyanka Chopra truly made her presence felt globally. She was appointed as the Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF and was also awarded the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice. Forbes also placed Priyanka on the 15th spot on the list of the Most Powerful Women In Entertainment And Media, in its list of 100 Most Powerful Women of 2017.

What’s Next: She will be seen in at least two more Hollywood movies – A Kid Like Jake, directed by Silas Howard and Isn’t It Romantic directed by comedian Todd Strauss-Schulson. There are also strong rumors about a biopic on Kalpana Chawla.

Cool Fun Fact: She was the most watched celebrity at all award functions and continued to make fashion statements that won over the fashion police world over. In fact, her 2017 Met Gala Ralph Lauren trench coat became the subject of the highest number of memes in 2017!

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