The end of a decade! 2019 was fascinating with the twists and turn of global events. An impeachment, global protests for freedom and democracy, children fighting for climate change, and body positivity activists making changes on social media. That’s not even the half of it, but we are here to focus on the phenomenal South Asians that have made this last year a little extra special. From Nobel prize winners to young athletes breaking world records, we at DissDash have compiled a list of the coolest South Asians.
Check it out!
50. AYAN & ANI SANYAL
Location: New York, USA
Why Are They Cool: Ayan and Ani Sanyal are founders of the Kolkata Chai Co., NYC. The brothers have got what every desi craves for, the flavor of authentic masala chai like you find in India. Kolkata Chai started with a simple idea: how to extend the authenticity, respect, and tradition behind a cup of masala chai to the mainstream? They say that chai has been repeatedly bastardized and appropriated in the US and they are putting it all on the line to make sure our culture and traditions are represented accurately and honestly. Aside from your average masala chai, the company also offers drinks like masala Limca, cardamom coffee, and nimbu chai. Your drinks are served in cups with sayings like “get rich or chai tryin,” this spot is should definitely be on your bucket list if you’re headed to New York City.
What’s Next: While based in the Greater New York City area, Kolkata Chai Co. is anticipating expanding with pop-ups in L.A. and other markets in an effort to center chai as a conversational starting point across generations. We sure wish them luck!
Cool Fun Fact: Over 700+ people showed up on the opening night of the Kolkata Chai Co. exceeding the founder’s expectations by almost 3 times. Ani Sanyal is also the manager of Bengali-American artist, Anik Khan.
49. AMIT & NAROOP
Location: London, England
Why Are They Cool: Born and raised in West London, Amit and Naroop came together in 2003, shooting in a makeshift studio in Amit’s parent’s living room. Word spread and they began working with the biggest record labels—photographing the most successful artists of the time. “Turbans and Tales” is the last chapter of a project that started in 2013—the Sikh Project. It explored the way the turban was worn by modern Sikhs. Combining the 72 portraits into a 245-page best-selling book, “Turbans and Tales” was released on January 24th, 2019 through Unbound Publishing and funded by the Ford Foundation. The book launch was held at the National Army Museum in Chelsea, London to a full house.
What’s Next: Amit and Naroop have established themselves as one of the best in their field and we hope to see more inspirational work from them.
Cool Fun Fact: The duo photographed thirty-four UK Sikhs and thirty-six US Sikhs and held exhibitions in London and New York.
Location: London, England
Why Is He Cool: Syed Nishat Monsur, better known by his stage name Nish, is a British singer, songwriter, guitarist and pianist of Bangladeshi descent. He is rapidly taking over the urban desi music scene with his brand of Bengali music. Nish kicked off 2019 with a spotlight on BBC Radio 1’s Asian Beats show in January to promote his debut album “Identity.” He revealed three tracks from his debut album—”Kache Esho Na,” “Remember,” and “Koi Gelay” on Asian Beats. He also performed an acoustic version of “So Real.” Later that same day, Nish went on Nadia Ali’s show on BBC Asian Network to reveal another three tracks—”You & Me,” “Obohela,” and “Maa Baba.” When the album was released, it topped the iTunes World Charts for Albums for a few days making it the first Bengali-language album to do so. In addition to this, the album artwork was even made the official artwork for the ‘World’ genre in iTunes across all platforms.
What’s Next: His next song, ‘Tera Mera Pyar’ is all set to be released on January 3rd. For this song, he has collaborated with Raxstar and LYAN.
Cool Fun Fact: In March 2019, he performed as a supporting act to Mumzy Stranger at BBC Asian Network’s annual live show at Arena Birmingham. His remake of the Bollywood hit, “Duniya” was performed by television star Shabbir Ahluwalia at the Zee Rishtey Awards in 2019.
47. SADIA SIDDIQUI
Location: New York, USA
Why Is She Cool: Sadia Siddiqui is the CEO and Creative Director of Mustang Productions and has brought forth a new face of fashion over the last five years through the renowned platform Fashion Parade. It started in London and is a well-established platform that celebrates South Asian culture, art, and fashion. Fashion Parade opened its doors to New York City at Christie’s on August 27th, 2019 at its inaugural event in the United States. A first of its kind, the show brought together Indian and Pakistani designers to a mainstream American audience.
What’s Next: After the successful Fashion Parade in New York City in 2019, where she brought Indian and Pakistani designers to the same platform, she hopes to make the project bigger and better in 2020.
Cool Fun Fact: She was behind UK’s first Asian modeling and event management agency, Caramel Management Ltd. which she successfully ran for 8 years, before branching out into television production.
46. JENNIFER CHOWDHURY
Location: New York, USA
Why Is She Cool: Jennifer Chowdhury an independent journalist from New York currently on the ground in Bangladesh. She is a foreign correspondent in Asia covering topics like child marriage, the harassment faced by Bangladeshi textile workers, the women in the Rohingya refugee camps, and more personal stories about being an unmarried South Asian woman living her dream. She continues to shine a light on gender inequality and is passionate about covering stories on women of color around the world whose voices are stifled by patriarchal attitudes, systematic racism, and socioeconomic burdens. She has written for The Guardian, Washington Post, NPR, New York Times, Elle Magazine, Marie Claire, Vice and NBC News.
What’s Next: Jennifer will continue to cover the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh. She will also continue to develop content for WFP, Bangladesh’s new social media campaign highlighting their every day, food, and culture.
Cool Fun Fact: Her grandmother’s last words “You always do things differently than the rest of my grandchildren. I see myself in you and I’m proud” has helped her through many facets of her life.
45. AYESHA MALIK
Location: Alaska, USA
Why Is She Cool: Ayesha Malik, a Pakistani American called out Priyanka Chopra-Jonas for being a hypocrite when India and Pakistan were at the brink of Nuclear war. Priyanka tweeted “Jai Hind #IndianArmedforces” on Feb 26th, and unlike her title as a UN Ambassador for peace, this was looked upon as her being a supporter of the war. Malik later took the mic at BeautyCon in LA and attempted to confront Chopra-Jonas as a humanitarian, but was shut down by security and Priyanka insinuated that Ayesha’s words were a rant….. sigh
What’s Next: Malik will continue to raise her voice through her social media platforms.
Cool Fun Fact: She gives pro tips on curly hair care. Check out her YouTube channel for more!
44. JOYA KAZI
Location: Los Angeles, California, USA.
Why Is She Cool: Joya Kazi is a true boss lady who took her passion for dance and made her career with it. Her dance video “Madhuri Dixit Birthday Tribute” was nominated for the Favorite Dance Concept Video at the Universal Dance Awards this year. What’s more, her video was aired in the Indian dance show, Dance Deewane to promote their Grand Finale episode, where Madhuri Dixit-Nene herself was a judge. She has also been choreographing for the Sacramento Kings for the last 5 years and created the routine for the first-ever NBA India Games in 2019.
What’s Next: Joya Kazi Unlimited gives you a chance to learn from the best. Hopefully, you live in the sunshine state to reap this benefit! If not, stop by when you visit.
Cool Fun Fact: Kazi double majored in Political Science and Theatre & Dance with a minor in Managerial Economics. She is trained in 7 styles of classical Indian dance for over 20 years.
43. ZOHA RAHMAN
Location: Pakistan / London
Why Is She Cool: Zoha Rahman is a Pakistani-British actor and model who has acted in “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” She is the first actor who dons a hijab, to be credited as the main cast member in a Marvel Studios’ film. This is a huge step in mainstream representation where Muslims are not usually portrayed in a positive light.
What’s Next: Rahman will be next seen in the Bollywood film “’83,” starring Bollywood star couple Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, in the story about the Indian Cricket Captain Kapil Dev and the 1983 Cricket World Cup.
Cool Fun Fact: Rahman is a law graduate from Pakistan and was about to start her master’s degree in 2017 when she decided to pursue acting instead.
42. DR. BHASHA MUKHERJEE
Location: Derby, England
Why Is She Cool: Dr. Bhasha Mukherjee is an English Indian model and beauty pageant queen who now holds Miss England 2019 title, representing England in the Miss World contest. Born in India, Mukherjee moved to England at the age of 9 with her family. She pursued medicine in college and holds two degrees including one in surgery from the University of Nottingham. Ever the hard worker, Dr. Mukherjee actually took the 4 am train back home after her Miss England win to complete a shift at the hospital.
What’s Next: She will continue to work at the Pilgrim Hospital in Boston.
Cool Fun Fact: Dr. Mukherjee has an IQ of 146, officially making her a genius and she speaks 5 languages, Bengali, German, English, French, and Hindi.
41. PRABAL GURUNG
Location: New York, USA
Why Is He Cool: Nepali-American fashion designer Prabal Gurung has been living the immigrant dream from humble beginnings to rockstar success. He has dressed stars from Bollywood’s finest to former first lady, Michelle Obama. Gurung just released his first book this year, now he can add writer to his list of achievements. The book, titled “Style and Beauty with a Bite” includes stories, design inspiration, and never-before-seen photographs. Born in Singapore and raised in Kathmandu, Nepal, Gurung went to National Institute of Fashion Technology in India and then moved to New York to finish his studies at Parsons The New School for Design. Almost 80% of his collection is made in New York, as he is committed to sustaining domestic employment and income. Gurung is also an advocate for women with runway shows highlighting his feminism empowered beliefs with models rocking t-shirts that say “Feminist” and “The future is female.”
What’s Next: He has been very vocal about the political scene in the US and the policies of the Trump government. His latest Spring 2020 collection made a statement – with each model wearing a sash asking ‘Who Gets To Be American?’
Cool Fun Fact: Gurung has designed for the first lady Michelle Obama and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.
40. SUMAN RAO
Location: Mumbai, India
Why Is She Cool: Suman Rao represented India at the Miss World 2019 pageant in London, England, and was crowned as 2nd runner-up and as Miss World Asia. She is the first Indian to be crowned as 2nd runner-up at Miss World. The model and pageant titleholder was born in a small town near Udaipur, Rajasthan and grew up in Mumbai. She is studying to be a charted accountant at the University of Mumbai and is a trained Kathak dancer. In 2019 she became Femina Miss. Rajasthan and went on to win Femina Miss India.
What’s Next: Bollywood calling surely! We will just have to wait and watch what she will be doing next.
Cool Fun Fact: Rao’s Beauty with a Purpose project was selected in the Top 10 of the Miss World Contest. Her campaign is titled Project Pragati, for which she took initiatives to help the dreams of women in tribal communities by assisting them in acquiring financial independence. She procured machines which aid in the production of aloe vera and rose extracts, gels, and shampoo. Thereby, the women could manufacture the products and earn their livelihood from within their village.
39. NITA AMBANI
Location: Mumbai, India
Why Is She Cool: Nita Ambani is the is the wife of Asia’s richest person, but this does not define her. In 2019, Ambani was selected to be on the board of the largest U.S. art museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The former school teacher and philanthropist has spent years supporting exhibitions at the New York City institution. She has also been promoting Indian art and culture around the world along with sports and development programs inside the country as the head of the conglomerate’s foundation.
What’s Next: She has become a patron for sports in India and is working towards making soccer more popular in the country.
Cool Fun Fact: Nita Ambani is also the co-owner of the Indian Premier League (IPL) team, Mumbai Indians which won the title in 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019.
38. SHANI DHANDA
Location: London, England
Why Is She Cool: Shani Dhanda is a social entrepreneur and disability rights advocate who created the Asian Women Festival. Born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), or brittle bones, Dhanda not only suffered from bone fragility but also a lot of other medical problems linked to OI including a short stature of 3’10. Dhanda not only braved her battles with OI, but she came out strong on and top of them. Among her other achievements, she is also a speaker and columnist on disability and inclusion matters, holds several non-executive roles in regional and international charities and is one of the most influential disabled people in Britain. In 2019 Dhanda received the prestigious Asian Chamber of Commerce President’s Award.
What’s Next: As the founder of the Asian Woman Festival, on 30th March 2019, she hosted UK’s (and quite possibly the world’s) first-of-its-kind festival smashing stereotypes and stigma to empower and celebrate Asian Women and come April 2020 they plan to make it bigger and better!
Cool Fun Fact: In 2017 Dhanda founded the Diversability Card, the UK’s official discount card for people with disabilities for popular brands, services, and entertained providers. Dhanda has raised over £400,000 for organizing fundraising events with local charities and support groups. She has also traveled extensively in 28 countries.
37. MAHIRA KHAN
Location: Lahore, Pakistan
Why She’s Cool: Mahira Khan is more than just Pakistan’s sweetheart. The girl with a smile that lights up the room and a golden heart to match it just became the first-ever UNHCR National Goodwill Ambassador in Pakistan. In 2019, her film “Superstar” become the highest-grossing film at the Pakistani box office.
What’s Next: Mahira will continue to inspire people all around the world with her work as the goodwill ambassador. She will, of course, be gracing the screen delivering powerful performances as well.
Cool Fun Fact: Dancing was and is one of her first loves and she still has the same best friends she did when she was a teenager!
36. ARSLAN ASH
Location: Lahore, Pakistan
Why Is He Cool: Arslan Ash was crowned ESPN’s Esports Player of the Year 2019. Pakistani Tekken prodigy, Ash is undoubtedly 2019’s best competitive Tekken player in the world. Tekken is a Japanese fighting game focused on hand-to-hand combat. Earlier in the year, he beat Knee aka Jai Min Bae of South Korea and the rest of Tekken’s finest at the EVO Japan Championship series. He went on and won EVO USA 2019 as well, in the process, defeating the world’s greatest Tekken player Knee four times.
What’s Next: Conquering the world of esports in 2020 and putting Pakistani gamers on the global map.
Cool Fun fact: He has made history after being signed as the first Red Bull athlete based in Pakistan.
35. KUMAIL NANJIANI
Location: Los Angeles, USA
Why Is He Cool: Kumail Nanjiani is a Pakistani-American stand-up comedian, actor, podcast host, and writer. Nanjiani rocked 2019 by releasing an image of his ripped body on social media showing the world how hard he is working on his next role as the first South Asian Marvel hero. Nanjiani has made a space for himself in Hollywood with his work. Whether he has taken on stereotypical roles as taxi drivers and computer geeks to leading man, Nanjiani has proven his skills as an actor and comedian.
What’s Next: He is set to play the character of Kingo in the Marvel Studios’ “Eternals” to be released in November 2020. The film marks his debut action role with Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, and Salma Hayek.
Cool Fun Fact: In 2017, Kumail was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for writing “The Big Sick,” with his wife Emily V. Gordon.
34. NABELA NOOR
Location: Pennsylvania, USA
Why Is She Cool: She isn’t your average beauty influencer, this 28-year-old Bangladeshi-American YouTuber advocates for self-love and inclusion above anything else. In June 2019, she launched her very own clothing company Zeba, which seeks to empower people of all ages, body types, and backgrounds. By October she was breaking boundaries yet again, this time, with a brand-new makeup collaboration with E.L.F. Cosmetics. She really puts her South Asian culture at the forefront of her work. She was also a featured speaker at the 2019 CurvyCon event in New York City.
What’s Next: She plans to take Zeba to the next level and create a movement championing unconditional, radical self-love and unapologetic confidence.
Cool Fun Fact: She takes on her trolls head-on and is famous for her makeup tutorial where she wrote words like fat and ugly on her face as a contour set to the inspirational song “This is Me” from the hit film “The Greatest Showman.” Her company, Zeba is actually named after her mother, how sweet!
33. MINDY KALING
Location: Los Angeles, USA.
Why Is She Cool: Mindy Kaling is an actress, comedian, writer, mom, and all-round South Asian superhero that paved the road for South Asians in Hollywood. In 2019 she starred in the film “Late Night” with Emma Thompson, which went on to become a 22 million dollar box office hit! A badass mom, a brilliant writer, a relatable actress, and a beloved author, Mindy Kaling feels like everybody’s BFF. She was the first Indian American to write, produce, and star in her own network show, “The Mindy Project.” More recently, she produced the Hulu mini-series, “Four Weddings and a Funeral” that features diverse cast, including a handsome Brown man was the lead.
What’s Next: She really wants to do a kid’s movie and we are sure this kid flick will be quite epic!
Cool Fun Fact: Mindy was the only female writer on “The Office.” She takes prenatal vitamins, but not for the reason you would think. She swears by the Trader Joe’s prenatal vitamins for the thick, gorgeous hair and her glowing skin.
32. MAULIK PANCHOLY
Location: New York, USA
Why Is He Cool: Maulik Pancholy debuted his middle school novel “The Best At It” which released in October 2019. It’s an incredibly charming, heartfelt book about Rahul Kapoor, a gay Indian American boy coming into his own in a small town in the Midwest. Rahul Kapoor is heading into seventh grade in a small town in Indiana. The start of middle school is making him feel increasingly anxious, so his favorite person in the whole world, his grandfather, gives him some well-meaning advice: Find one thing you’re really good at and become the BEST at it.
What’s Next: In 2020, Pancholy is reprising the voice of Baljeet in the 2nd installment of the Emmy award-winning Disney animated series “Phineas & Ferb,” and its upcoming film titled “Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe.”
Cool Fun Fact: Pancholy was appointed to serve on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in 2014 under the Obama Administration. Pancholy co-founded an anti-bullying campaign called Act To Change for the youths of AAPIs. The campaign moved outside the White House after President Trump came into office.
31. USTAD RAHAT FATEH ALI KHAN
Location: Lahore, Pakistan
Why Is He Cool: He is popular as a Qawwal belonging to a family with 600 years of heritage in classical singing, Sufi singer and giving super hit songs and music in Hollywood, Bollywood, and Lollywood. He was honored in June 2019 with a doctorate by Oxford University for his contribution to music. He ended the year on a high by becoming the first-ever Pakistani and Asian to receive the Wembley Arena Award for a completely sold-out concert.
What’s Next: Khan Sahab will continue to contribute to the world of music with some rare and exquisite contributions to the very well received Coke Studio.
Cool Fun Fact: He has sung more than 50 title tracks for television serials and over 100 film songs in both Hollywood and Bollywood. He started his training in music at the age of 7!
30. OJAL NALAVADI
Location: Hubli, Karnataka, India
Why Is She Cool: Ojal Nalavadi is a 14-year-old skater who has set the world record for skating the longest distance while blindfolded! She skated 400 meters in 53 seconds and skated herself into the Guinness Book of World Records. The Guinness Officials offered her 3 chances with 60 seconds each but she was able to complete the task in less time than expected. Her coach stated that she has been practicing very hard every day early in the morning. Skating is an unconventional sport and Nalavadi is a determined athlete who is bound to leave her mark in the field.
What’s Next: Nalavadi hopes to compete in skating at an international level.
Cool Fun Fact: Nalavadi is not only in the Guinness Book of World Records but also is a record holder with titles in the Asia Book of Records and India Book of Records.
29. ANKITI BOSE
Location: Singapore, Asia
Why Is She Cool: Ankiti Bose is 27, a fashion junkie, and on course to become the first Indian woman to co-found a $1 billion startup. In four short years, she has grown her Southeast Asian e-commerce site, Zilingo, into a global platform with more than 7 million active users. With a rapidly expanding investor following, the startup’s latest cash injection in February 2019 valued the business at $970 million.
What’s Next: She wants to take Zilingo from Asia to the world and believes that it can be a global company.
Cool Fun Fact: When her parents had doubts about her turn to entrepreneurship, she assuaged them by suggesting they take the money they had been saving up for the MBA they had been hoping she would get, and use it for a vacation in Europe instead.
28. MALLAK FAISAL ZAFAR
Location: Dubai, UAE
Why Is She Cool: 12-year-old Mallak Faisal Zafar became the first Pakistani to win first-place laurels for figure skating at the 24th International Eiscup Innsbruck, Austria’s largest figure skating competition in the Basic Novice Girls II category. She represented Spain, against 22 skaters from Italy and Austria, among other countries. She had also conducted training camps for youngsters in Karachi and Islamabad in June 2019.
What’s Next: She hopes to represent Pakistan at the Winter Olympics in the future.
Cool Fun Fact: She started figure skating at the age of 5.
27. ANJALI LAMA
Location: Mumbai, India
Why Is She Cool: Anjali Lama burst on to India’s fashion scene in 2017 when the transgender model from Nepal walked for Lakmé Fashion Week. In 2019, she bagged a campaign for Calvin Klein. Lama, 34, is the first transgender model from the subcontinent and among only a handful worldwide to be featured in an international brand campaign. She bagged the Best In The Industry model category award in the 2019 Vogue Beauty Awards.
What’s Next: She is all set to conquer the international modeling scene and become one of the few renowned South Asian models to get that fame.
Cool Fun Fact: She gets many queries on Instagram and Facebook from people on their transgender journey, and she counsels and directs them to where they might find helpful.
26. PRANAV BAKSHI
Location: New Delhi, India
Why Is He Cool: This is what “Superpowers” are made of! At age 19, this teenager is the first autistic Indian model. He chose to use autism as a power instead of a setback and he has many hearts aflutter with his dashing good looks and a handsome smile. He was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 and also has echolalia and anxiety. He discovered his love for modeling in a theater workshop that was a part of creative therapy.
What’s Next: He will continue to break the glass ceiling as he has already with his TEDx youth talk and modeling for big names while using autism as his “Superpower”. More power to you young man!
Cool Fun Fact: He is an avid nature photographer and loves going to concerts!
25. JAMEELA JAMIL
Location: California, USA
Why Is She Cool: Jameela Jamil has been an outspoken actress and host for some time but now she’s showing off her comedy chops in America with a new show titled “The Misery Index” along with the comedians of “Impractical Jokers.” She also spearheaded the campaign that forced social media sites like Instagram and Facebook to change their rules on what ads users under the age of 18 are shown to protect them from ads such as diet fads that are unhealthy. This is a huge move on the part of the social media platforms. Jamil was one of fifteen women selected to appear on the cover of the September 2019 issue of British Vogue “Forces for Change,” by guest editor Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. On 2 August 2019, Jamil was awarded “Advocate of the Year” from the Ehlers-Danlos Society, an international non-profit organization dedicated to patient support, scientific research, advocacy, and increasing awareness for the Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS), hypermobility spectrum disorder (HSD), and related medical disorders.
What’s Next: Jameela Jamil has been fighting for equality for women, people of color and those that are marginalized. She will continue to fight the promotion of unhealthy diet products and unrealistic views of beauty through her I_Weigh Instagram page.
Cool Fun Fact: She vehemently opposes airbrushing of her photos and succeeded in insisting that the same rule be followed even on the billboards in 2019.
24. RIDHIMA PANDEY
Location: Haridwar, India
Why Is She Cool: 11-year-old Ridhima Pandey was among the 16 climate activist children, including Greta Thunberg, who had filed a complaint to protest the lack of their government’s action on the climate crisis at the UN Climate Action Summit. She has also led a climate strike in Dehradun in September under the FridaysForFuture movement and has expressed concern over the pollution and cleaning of the Ganga. The young activist first stood up against injustice in 2017 for the people who lost their lives in the devastating Uttarakhand floods in 2013, Ridhima petitioned India’s National Green Tribunal to direct the central government to take “effective, science-based action to reduce and minimize the adverse impacts of climate change in the country.” This young rockstar is on her way to saving the world.
What’s Next: The pollution of the river Ganga which enters the Gangetic plain through Haridwar and it’s cleaning is a major concern for the native Pandey. She urges on a total plastic ban stating that if the consumers come together against plastic, then the manufacturers have to stop manufacturing.
Cool Fun Fact: Pandey came into the national limelight of India when she filed a petition in the National Green Tribunal against the government for failing to take action on climate change. She also highlighted the growing concern over increasing pollution and environmental degradation in India.
23. ANURADHA BHAGWATI
Location: New York, USA
Why Is She Cool: Anuradha Bhagwati is an American veteran and an author you definitely need to know. Bhagwati’s parents are famous economists who pushed her to be a good Indian girl and conform to the desi diaspora’s norms. Despite her parent’s attempts to get Bhagwati to conform, she chose to join the Marines — the most male-dominated wing of the US military. Bisexual and brown, “in a sea of white dudes,” as Bhagwati says, she butted heads with its misogyny, racism, and also fought to get women to combat roles. She wrote all about it in her book, “Unbecoming: A Memoir of Disobedience, and her remarkable journey,” which was published in March 2019. Her unique perspective and skilled writing have brought some well-deserved attention to her memoir.
What’s Next: Her book is being made into a limited series by Entertainment One and Freida Pinto will be playing her character.
Cool Fun Fact: Following the end of her service, Bhagwati founded the Service Women’s Action Network, which has brought attention to sexual violence in the military and pushed to repeal the ban on women in combat.
22. DR. GAGANDEEP KANG
Location: Faridabad, India
Why Is She Cool: Dr. Gagandeep Kang is the first Indian woman to be elected to the Fellow of the London’s Royal Society in 360 years! The Royal Society is a Fellowship of many of the world’s oldest scientific academy and has eminent scientists like Issac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein as its fellows. Currently, Dr. Kang is a clinician-scientist and an executive director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), Faridabad, which is an autonomous institution under the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology. She also works as a professor in the Department of Gastrointestinal Sciences at the famous Christian Medical College, Vellore (CMC-Vellore).
What’s Next: She wants to see more women achieve greater things in the scientific line. “To retain more women,” Kang said, “the environment needs to be more conducive to develop a mentality where women are required in the system. I have found that when I hire more women, my team is very different. There is increased productivity and the team is capable of solving many more problems when it had so many women.”
Cool Fun Fact: Dr. Kang is known as India’s ‘Vaccine God Mother.’
21. GUNEET MONGA
Location: Mumbai, India
Why Is She Cool: Guneet Monga is an Indian film producer who won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject this year for “Period. End of Sentence” this past year. The documentary is about a silent sexual revolution as a group of local women in Hapur, India, learn how to create their own sanitary napkins. The documentary is now available for streaming on Netflix. The talented filmmaker is also a BAFTA nominee and the founder of Sikhya Entertainment a boutique film production house that produced notable films like “Gangs of Wasseypur,” “Peddlers” and “The Lunchbox,” “Masaan,” and “Zubaan.” She was voted as one of the top 12 women achievers in the Global Entertainment industry by The Hollywood Reporter and among the top 50 Indians changing India by India Today. With such unique films under her belt, her accomplishments are no surprise.
What’s Next: She has already announced her next Bollywood movie coming up in 2020, “Pagglait” featuring Sanya Malhotra in the lead and also announced her first Tamil project “Soorai Pottru” with superstar Suriya
Cool Fun Fact: Monga was appointed as the voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2018.
20. HIMESH PATEL
Location: London, Britain
Why Is He Cool: Himesh Patel rocked 2019 as the lead role, Jack Malik, in Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis’s “Yesterday.” He had the chance to perform the songs by The Beatles for this movie and did a remarkable job. Patel broke the barriers with his work in the film and proved that a brown man can star as the handsome lead and not a stereotypical supporting role like a taxi driver. The actor was featured in a supporting role in “The Aeronauts” opposite Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones and as Emery Staines in “The Luminaries,” a mini-series based on the 2013 book by Eleanor Catton.
What’s Next: In 2020, Patel will appear as Jordan Hatwal in the comedy series “Avenue 5,” starring Hugh Laurie.
Cool Fun Fact: At 16, he landed the role of Tamwar Masood on BBC’s “EastEnders,” a part he played for nine years.
19. HASAN MINHAJ
Location: New York, NY
Why Is He Cool: Featured as a pioneer in TIME magazine’s 2019 list of 100 most influential people in the world, Hasan Minhaj’s voice has been booming across continents with the “Patriot Act” on Netflix. Not only did he win the second Peabody Award for the show in April 2019 and also the Webby Award, but it was also his ticket to testify during a United States House Committee on Financial Services hearing on the issue of student loan debt in the US. The actor, comedian, host, father, and husband has been tirelessly working to create new trends and space for diversity to flourish through his work, and he’s not afraid to use his adorable daughter on social media to promote it!
What’s Next: Definitely more of the “Patriot Act.” He will be performing in Dallas at the Hasan Minhaj In Conversation, HearHere Add-on Performance, presented by the AT&T Performing Arts Center in April 2020.
Cool Fun Fact: In 2019, Minhaj played on the “Away” roster during the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game at the Bojangles’ Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina
18. NAOMI SCOTT
Location: Essex, England
Why Is She Cool: Scott is the first South Asian Disney princess! The young star played Princess Jasmine in the 2019 mega-hit film, “Aladdin.” Directed by Guy Ritchie, the musical has achieved widespread critical acclaim, thanks to the spellbinding performances of Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, and Marwan Kenzari. Scott was born and raised in London, England. The 26-year-old’s mother is from Uganda and of Gujarati Indian descent, while her father is British. She ended 2019 on a high with another reboot, “Charlie’s Angels” which released in November with Kristen Stewart and fellow Brit, Ella Balinska. In an interview with AnOther Magazine Scott said, “I know, it’s hilarious. I’m doing a lot of reboots. It’s like, ‘We need to reboot this film with a brown person – Nay, you free?’”
What’s Next: Scott hopes to release some fresh music and hopefully, we will be seeing her in more movies.
Cool Fun Fact: In June 2014, Scott married Jordan Spence, an English professional soccer player who has played for Milton Keynes Dons and Ipswich Town. The couple met in church.
17. KARENJEET KAUR BAINS
Location: Warwickshire, England
Home » Top 50 Coolest South Asians Of 2019
Why Is She Cool: Karenjeet Kaur Bains is the first Sikh female weightlifter representing Great Britain. The 22-year-old athlete from Warwickshire represented Britain at the World Classic Powerlifting Championships in Sweden in June 2019. She wants to represent the nation’s diversity and open doors for others. It is interesting to know Bains only began powerlifting 4 years ago, and already she has represented Great Britain in two international level tournaments for powerlifting. She is coached by her father, former powerlifter and bodybuilder, Kuldip Singh. Growing up in Warwickshire, Bains also won awards as a sprinter and in hammer throw events.
What’s Next: Bains is just getting started, the athlete wants to use her passion to encourage young women of diverse backgrounds to make their mark in the powerlifting and bodybuilding world. She hopes to pave the way for young athletes.
Cool Fun Fact: Bains’ first international powerlifting tournament was at the Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, Canada. She broke two British records and was placed at 5th place along with competitors that have been in the field longer and are older than her.
16. SHAFALI VERMA
Location: Haryana, India
Why Is She Cool: Indians are raving about Shafali Verma, a 15-year-old cricket star who broke cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar’s 30-year-old world record! Verma became the youngest Indian cricketer to score a half-century in international cricket, her 49-ball 73 in the first T20 International against West Indies. Tendulkar was 16 years old when he accomplished the feat, and beating such a legend is a noteworthy feat in the world of Cricket. In 2019 she was selected in Indian Women’s Twenty20 International (WT20I) team for their series against South Africa. She scored 158 runs in five matches and was named the player of the series.
What’s Next: Verma has already been named the future of Cricket, and it’s just time to wait and see this young athlete flourish. She has been compared to the likes of Velocity skipper Mithali Raj, who has been the face of women’s cricket in the country since her India debut two years before Verma was born.
Cool Fun Fact: Verma grew up playing cricket in the streets with boys. Her father, a jeweler by profession, has been her biggest supporter. In a culture where girls aren’t encouraged to join sports, Verma states her father would keep away the criticism and cynicism and push her to keep working hard so she could reach her full potential.
15. TAN FRANCE
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Why Is He Cool: Tan France is a British-Pakistani stylist whose very existence is the epitome of cool. From his hit show, “Queer Eye” to his bromance with Hasan Minhaj and his hilarious commentary on all things fashion, France is an influencer that millions across the world have fallen in love with. He is a fashion designer, stylist, reality star, author and more. As a Pakistani Muslim gay man, France has faced a lot of hate but he is a pillar of love and tolerance. In 2019 he shed light on another topic close to his heart, colorism. France started his SHADED Instagram page that highlights the flaws in society’s obsession with light skin, his page is aimed to “celebrate” all shades of skin. France calls out companies like Fair and Lovely for promoting skin bleaching, he shares his own struggles growing up with his skin tone and highlights individuals of color that are leaving their mark in the world.
What’s Next: France is gearing up to host a new show on Netflix titled “Next in Fashion” along with Alexa Chung. It is a competition show coming to Netflix in January of 2020. The series will run for 10 episodes, and the winner will receive $250,000 and an opportunity to debut their collection with luxury fashion retailer Net-a-Porter.
Cool Fun Fact: Tan France’s real name is Tanveer Wasim Safdar, he grew up in a strict Muslim household. France states that it wasn’t until “Queer Eye” that his parents really started to accept his sexuality. He actually met his husband, Rob France, an illustrator, online and they bonded over their conservative religious upbringings. His grandfather had his own denim manufacturing company in Northern England where France remembers growing up watching the factory pump out denim outfits for Disney.
14. MYRA NASIM
Location: London, England
Why Is She Cool: Myra Nasim is quite possibly the coolest 15-year-old you’ll ever know. She is a British-Pakistani Karate Champion with a record of 64 gold medals! She has chosen to represent Pakistan in the World Karate Championship in Chile. Nasim states that she decided to represent Pakistan as it helps her keep her heritage close and that the Pakistani team has offered her greater opportunities than the British team. Nasim never wanted to start karate at all but she used to come to karate class with her older brother and follow along with the class from the sidelines. Her parents eventually enrolled her as well and her coach felt Nasim had great potential. She began training harder and went on to win her first medal at 7 years old and the rest is history. At the age of 10, Nasim was the youngest athlete to win 3 national titles in the same year. In 2017, she represented England at the youth level and took home the gold medal in her very first attempt. The following year she won all 4 international titles including the prestigious English National Championship.
What’s Next: Nasim wants to show young girls of Pakistani origin how important it is to be involved in sports. She hopes to not only bring home more gold medals but to encourage young girls to leave their mark in the sports field. She hopes more sports facilities are developed in Pakistan for young girls.
Cool Fun Fact: Nasim has also been in 11 television commercials for some of the biggest names. She’s also made an appearance in 3 television shows and worked as an extra in 2 films.
13. DUTEE CHAND
Location: Odisha, India
Why Is She Cool: Dutee Chand is not only the first openly LGBTQ athlete from India but also this year she became the first Indian sprinter to win gold at the 2019 Summer Universiade’s 100m race in Italy. She is the current national champion in the women’s 100 meters event and the third Indian woman to ever qualify for the Women’s 100 meters event at the Summer Olympic Games. Chand was not able to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics but in 2018 she was able to bring home a silver medal for the women’s 100m at the Jakarta Asian Games. It was India’s first medal at the Jakarta Asian Games since 1998. Chand is from a low-income family of weavers and her biggest inspiration was her older sister, Saraswati Chand who was also a state-level runner.
What’s Next: Chand is working towards the Tokyo Olympics.
Cool Fun Fact: Chand is not just an athlete, she actually studied law at Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology in Odisha.
12. KAVYA KOPPARAPU
Location: Virginia, USA
Why Is She Cool: Kavya Kopparapu is a young scientist and entrepreneur who has invented GlioVision, a precision medicine AI that predicts brain tumor characteristics by using a scanned image of a biopsy rather than a DNA sample. She is the Founder/CEO of Girls Computing League, a nonprofit group she established for more female representation in computer science. She currently serves as a student advisor to the board of the National Center for Women in Information Technology. In 2018 she was even named Time Magazine’s most influential teens and this year she won a Teen Choice Award from Nickelodeon and was named one of Glamour Magazine’s College Women of the Year.
What’s Next: She is currently collaborating with the University of Montreal as a future signatory of the Montreal Declaration for the Ethical Use of Artificial Intelligence.
Cool Fun Fact: She has been conferred with the 2019 National STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Education Award for her ground-breaking invention designed to improve treatments for glioblastoma, the deadliest form of brain cancer.
11. SAJID JAVID
Location: London, United Kingdom
Why Is He Cool: Sajid Javid is a British Pakistani politician who has been appointed to Chancellor of the Exchequer, the formal title of the finance minister in Britain Finance Minister. Javid is Britain’s first ethnic minority finance minister. With Brexit’s aftermath still sending waves through the nation, Javid had his work cut out for him this year. He is inspired by Prime Minister Margaret Thatchers’s passion for free markets and low taxes, he also calls for increases in public investment infrastructure projects, a policy that is more closely linked to the Labor opposition than his own Conservative Party. Javid only entered politics in 2010, before that he has built a 20-year career in banking. Javid is a graduate of Exeter University where he studied economics and politics.
What’s Next: Javid is currently working towards improving Britain’s road, broadband coverage and bus services, by setting out an investment package designed to win over the people of Britain.
Cool Fun Fact: Javid is the son of a bus driver who grew up on Bristol’s Stapleton Road, a road once dubbed Britain’s worst street by a newspaper. Javid is proof it’s not where you come from but how hard you work to get something better.
10. DR. MONISHA GHOSH
Location: Chicago, USA
Why Is She Cool: Dr. Monisha Ghosh has been appointed the first female Chief Technology Officer at the US government’s powerful Federal Communications Commission. She will advise Indian-American Chairman of the FCC Ajit Pai and the agency on technology and engineering issues, and work closely with the Office of Engineering and Technology. Ghosh has been serving as a rotating Program Director at the National Science Foundation since September 2017 in the Computer and Network System Division within the Directorate of Computer and Information Science and Engineering, where she manages the core wireless research portfolio as well as special programs such as Machine Learning for Wireless Networking Systems (MLWiNS).
What’s Next: Ghosh will take charge on January 13th, 2020. She replaces Dr. Eric Burger.
Cool Fun Fact: She is also a Research Professor at the University of Chicago, where she conducts research on wireless technologies for the internet of things, 5G cellular, next-generation Wi-Fi systems, and spectrum coexistence.
9. AJAY BANGA
Location: New York, USA
Why Is He Cool: Ajay Banga, the CEO of Mastercard, has been named the Empower Ethnic Minority Role Model, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and he was ranked amongst the top 10 best-performing CEOs in the world by Harvard Business Review. Banga was also featured in Fortune’s list of the World’s Leading Businesspersons and received the Leadership Award from the Business Council for International Understanding. Banga has served as the chief executive and president of the company for nearly a decade. Banga is credited for diversifying revenue streams away from consumer credit cards towards more predictable commercial payments and debit and prepaid cards. Mastercard has also added new streams of services such as data analytics, consulting and loyalty platforms. Mastercard’s net income has quadrupled this past year. Banga has also worked to create an inclusive and enabling work environment at Mastercard.
What’s Next: Banga continues to nurture the company’s “Decency Quotient” which ensures that leaders and employees to demonstrate decency towards their colleagues to create an environment where everyone feels respected, valued, and cared for. As a company, Banga works towards giving back to the community and to the employees so that everyone benefits from profits, not just shareholders.
Cool Fun Fact: In 2016, Ajay Banga was honored with the Padma Shri Award by the President of India.
8. SUNDAR PICHAI
Location: California, USA
Why Is He Cool: Sundar Pichai has gained attention in the media as CEO of Google and now the tech and business maven has taken over Alphabet as CEO. Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin announced they would be stepping down as Alphabet executives and that Pichai would become chief executive of Google’s parent company. Pichai will stay on as CEO of Google, a position he’s held since October 2015, but has gotten quite the pay bump to $2 million along with stocks in the company worth millions more. Pichai is known to be a humble and brilliant leader at Google who has pioneered projects such as Google Chrome, Apps and the Android division.
What’s Next: Pichai now heads Google and its parent company, Alphabet. As an innovative leader, investors are hoping Pichai will be able to successfully launch projects through Alphabet.
Cool Fun Fact: As a child, Pichai’s parents recognized his superpower of remembering numbers, as he could recall every phone number he ever dialed on their rotary phone. Rumor has it, he sometimes shows off his memorization skills at meetings.
7. BHAVNA TOKEKAR
Location: Pune, India
Why Is She Cool: Age-defying Pune-based powerlifter Bhavna Tokekar, recently won three Gold medals at the World Powerlifting Championship in Full Powerlifting, Raw Bench Press where she broke the world record, and Raw Dead Lift events of AWPC Classic Raw in Masters2 (45-49yrs) Under 67.5kg bodyweight held in Moscow. The 47-year-old mother of two teenagers showed extraordinary strength, both physically and mentally. She a hard-working woman who is breaking barriers of what it means to be a versatile woman, that is what makes her a fitting testament of female empowerment in the field of sports.
What’s Next: 2019 saw her bring home four gold medals at the Open Asian Powerlifting Championships from Russia in July and with the success she has achieved as the year is ending, we hope to see her compete in 2020 with renewed zeal.
Cool Fun Fact: She played table-tennis at the district level, representing Panchmahal in Gujarat.
6. AMNA NAWAZ
Location: Washington, DC, USA
Why Is She Cool: Amna Nawaz became the first South Asian to moderate a United States presidential debate. Last December, she was joined by Judy Woodruff, PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor, Yamiche Alcindor, PBS NewsHour White House correspondent, and Politico chief political correspondent Tim Alberta, to co-moderate the sixth Democratic primary debate, at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. The American journalist of Pakistani origin grew up in Virginia and was planning to attend law school when a fellowship with ABC News threw her off course. She began a phenomenal career in journalism working with networks such as ABC, NBC and PBS Newshour. As if being a female correspondent wasn’t difficult, being South Asian and Muslim meant Nawaz was the only person in a board meeting from her unique perspective. She has made it a point to present her side of the story through her work and represent who she is. Her list of accomplishments is endless, Nawaz has garnered many awards over the years including an Emmy and a Peabody award for her work. She was the first foreign correspondent to gain access to North Waziristan and the Islamabad bureau chief for NBC News, she was able to portray a side of Pakistan the western world was not privy to.
What’s Next: Nawaz is currently working on her PBS Newshour podcast, Broken Justice to shine a light on stories that need to be heard about the people who slip through the cracks of our justice system.
Cool Fun Fact: Nawaz’s father was a journalist in Pakistan who anchored a national English-language news show and covered wars around the world, guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! She was the Managing Editor for NBC’s Asian America vertical.
5. SAMAIRA MEHTA
Location: California, USA
Why Is She Cool: Samaira Mehta is a 10-year-old coder who has caught the eye of tech rockstars like Google and Microsoft. Inspired by her father, an engineer, Mehta began coding at the age of 6. She created the game CoderBunnyz with the help of her family to help teach children how to code. Mehta’s father helped her create the game, her little brothers test them and her mother helps her with marketing. Mehta soon became CEO and founder of her own company selling her game through Amazon. Since CoderBunnyz, Mehta also invented a second game called CoderMindz, a coding-based artificial intelligence board game that teachers basic AI concepts using the Java programming language. She has also spoken at workshops and conferences for Google, Facebook, Intel, and Microsoft.
What’s Next: Mehta is working to reduce gender bias and promote more females in engineering. In an interview with CNBC, Mehta states Stanford University is her dream college.
Cool Fun Fact: In 2016, Former First Lady Michelle Obama wrote her a personal letter encouraging her to keep working hard and called her an inspiration to all. She has an open offer from Google to join them once she finishes college.
4. MARY KOM
Location: Manipur, India
Why Is She Cool: Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom, also known as Mary Kom, made history last year as the first woman to win 6 World Championships with her win at the 10th AIBA Woman’s World Boxing Championships held in New Delhi, India. The iconic boxer’s bronze medal win at the Women’s World Boxing Championship 2019 made her the boxer with the most world medals among men and women! She was also the only Indian woman boxer to have qualified for the 2012 Summer Olympics, competing in the flyweight (51 kg) category and winning the bronze medal.
What’s Next: Mary Kom hopes to bring home even more awards in 2020 at the Tokyo Olympics.
Cool Fun Fact: She recently was given the honor to add “OLY” to the end of her signature as most professionals do with their degrees at the end of their name. The ‘OLY’ signifies a sportspersons’ ongoing role in society as an Olympian, living and promoting the Olympic values. Priyanka Chopra also played Mary Kom in an award-winning film about the boxing champion’s life.
3. JAGMEET SINGH
Why Is He Cool: Jagmeet Singh is a Punjabi-Canadian lawyer and politician that has been making waves through his work, his approach to hate with love, and social media swag. He has been a major player in the New Democrat Party since 2017 and in 2019 he became a Member of Parliament. Singh was the first person of a minority group to lead a major political party in Canada and the first turban-wearing Sikh to sit as a provincial legislator in Ontario. Singh is a social and progressive leader who has been increasing the morale and enthusiasm in his political party. He is also understanding of his role of putting the needs of the Canadian people first and has stated that he will support the Liberal party’s decisions if he feels they are beneficial to the Canadian people. As a man of color and a turban-wearing Sikh, it is safe to say he has faced his share of discrimination and hate but he has been able to overcome hate with love many times—and there are viral videos on the internet to prove it.
What’s Next: Singh reports he would like to work with his fellow leaders to implement more progressive laws that create a universal, single-payer pharma-care program and national dental coverage and to finally give access to clean drinking water, housing and equitable child-welfare funding for Indigenous communities.
Cool Fun Fact: Singh won the hearts of Canadians by being genuinely himself, the fashion-forward young politician captured the attention of Canadians with his social media presence and hilarious Tik Tok videos along with his wife Gurkiran Kaur. Kaur has also sprung into the limelight as an entrepreneur, fashion designer, style icon, and Instagram rockstar along with her husband.
2. LILLY SINGH
Location: California, USA
Why Is She Cool: Indo-Canadian star, Lilly Singh has been slowly but surely building her own empire through a uniquely millennial pathway, from social media fame to international stardom—breaking barriers along the way. She has been using her YouTube channels to launch an international tour, makeup collections, a book, and an acting career. This year she’s stepped it up a notch by becoming the first female of color on late-night television, not only that, but she is also the first bisexual female to have her own talk show in America. She is also the first YouTuber to have their own show on mainstream television in a sea of John Olivers and Jimmy Fallon’s. The creative comedian has definitely changed the face of late-night with her brand of comedy and hilarious antics that have some of the biggest stars of Hollywood taking part in unique games the would have never thought of. She has been challenging everything through her show, even fashion by rocking sneakers with pantsuits!
What’s Next: According to a recent interview with Paper Magazine, Singh’s current vision board features her as a guest on other people’s talk show like Ellen DeGeneres and to take on more philanthropic work in the future such as raising money to send girls to school.
Cool Fun Fact: Everything about Singh is a cool fun fact! This February she came out as bisexual via Twitter. She is a rainbow vomiting unicorn with mermaid hair that is taking over the world and we are definitely here for all of it.
1. ABHIJIT BANERJEE
Location: Massachusetts, USA
Why Is He Cool: Mumbai born Indian-American economist, Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee was awarded the 2019 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for developing an experimental approach to alleviating global poverty. He shares the award with his French-American wife, Esther Duflo and their colleague Micheal Kremer. This year, Banerjee is the only South Asian Nobel prize winner out of 15 laureates. Banerjee is also the co-founder of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, a research center focused on utilizing economic theories and field experiments to reduce global poverty. The lab was founded at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) along with wife Duflo and Sendhil Mullainathan. Duflo and Banerjee are also professors at MIT.
What’s Next: Banerjee, his wife Duflo and their colleague Kremer will donate their prize money to the Weiss Fund for Research in Development Economics, which is administered by Harvard University. The Boston Glove reported that their donation of approximately $916,000 will fund development economists and students’ research until 2035.
Cool Fun Fact: Banerjee and his wife, Duflo are the 6th couple to be awarded the Nobel Prize. The last couple to win was May-Britt and Edvard Moser for medicine in 2014. Banerjee is also the second Calcutta University alum to receive a Nobel Prize in economics, Amartey Sen previously won in 1998.