Toyota Presents DissDash’s Top 50 Coolest South Asians Of 2020
At the start of the year, our biggest worry was how to lose those last 10lbs and make it to work on time. But sadly, those thoughts were short-lived, as the pandemic overwhelmed the world and reminded us that we are not invincible. With entire cities shutting down, education systems scrambling to function solely online, and working from home in pajamas, we had to reset our entire way of life. The novelty of the situation engaged us in those initial days with endless bread baking and Netflix binging but it was soon draining. However while the rest of us struggled to survive, there were quite a few people out here thriving. These individuals kept their motivations strong as they made sense of this new world, took on challenges, and found a creative outlet to bring positivity to us all. Who are they? Oh well, you know…just the coolest top 50 South Asians of the year. From doctors who changed the path of COVID-19 treatments to comedians and influencers that made us smile, there were some phenomenal individuals doing phenomenal things. So take a look at our list of noteworthy South Asians who have made a difference this year because you can’t miss these stars.
50. SIMA TAPARIA
Location: Mumbai, India
Why Is She Cool: As disastrous as it was, American viewers ate up Indian Matchmaking on Netflix and the zingers dropped by Sima Taparia, aka Sima Aunty. Though South Asians in the diaspora internally cringed at the show as it highlighted all the problematic thinking within our culture, non-desi’s loved the drama. It was a car crash and they just couldn’t’ look away. At the center of it all was the matchmaking Sima aunty. There have been memes, re-enactments, and even Instagram filters inspired by Sima Aunty so we couldn’t just have this list without giving this icon a shout out.
What’s Next: Sima aunty’s business has been booming according to her interview with The New Yorker this summer as people in lockdown are trying their best to lock things down, probably so they don’t have to quarantine alone. Check out her site Suitable Rishta if you’re on the prowl for a significant other.
Cool Fun Fact: Did you think being a matchmaker was not profitable? Think again, matchmakers like Sima aunty can charge anywhere from a few hundred at the first meeting to thousands! We are definitely in the wrong field.
49. SALMAN TOOR
Location: New York, USA
Why Is He Cool: The art circles have been abuzz with the work of this Lahore-born artist. The works of Salman Toor can be currently viewed at his first solo museum exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The exhibition titled ‘How Will I Know’ revolves around queer brown men caught in moments of intimacy, camaraderie, and introspection. Toor’s Liberty Porcelain (2012) lead the New Now action and was sold at nine times the estimate at $505,688. His auction debut during a Christie’s New York contemporary art day sale in early December saw one part of his triptych Rooftop Ghost Party I from 2015 sold for $822,000; eight times its estimate of $100,000.
What’s Next: Toor is currently preparing works for his first show at his new gallery, Luhring Augustine, from January 14—30, 2021. Titled, “The Pleasure Pavilion,” the unique group show at the gallery’s Brooklyn location is a succession of three-week-long installations by seven Luhring Augustine artists arranged in conversation with a 19th-century Indian pleasure pavilion.
Cool Fun Fact: Toor has illustrated the upcoming novel by Indian author Amitav Ghosh. ‘Jungle Nama’, is his verse adaptation of an episode from the Forest Lady (Bon Bibi) legend of the Sundarbans and a contemporary reimagining of the illuminated manuscripts of the Indian subcontinent.
48. ATIF AQUEEL & HUMAI MUSTAFA
Location: New York, USA
Why Are They Cool: Do you really want to know what cool Pakistani-American creatives look like? Look no further than Atif Aqueel and Humai Mustafa, the husband and wife duo set to change perceptions about South Asians. In 2020 they launched HYFN, the South Asian American clothing brand and storytelling platform. They are redefining form and function in fashion with HYFN and channeling their love for being “Brown Kids with Big Imaginations” into apparel. With HYFN they are set to create a new chapter in the immigrant story. It is a fight against racism and prejudices of all forms, a safe space for all. In November, the couple directed and produced a music discovery series, Extra Spicy, showcasing artists from the South Asian diaspora. The show is created by Pop Shift and Kolkata Chai Company and promises to become a game-changer for budding South Asian artists.
What’s Next: They continue their incredible work through their photography company Happy Monday specializes in telling stories across social media through content that is visually stunning and thoughtfully created. The team just launched an awesome new jacket with straps so you can take it off without having to hang it up anywhere as it hangs like a backpack on your shoulders.
Cool Fun Fact: HYFN produced a face mask and t-shirt, with all proceeds going towards India Center Foundation’s resilience fund for artists of South Asian descent, created to battle the pandemic.
47. SHIVANI BHAGWAN & CHAYA KUMAR
Location: Los Angeles, CA, USA
Why Are They Cool: These are the go-to girls for all your Bollywood and Bhangra dance needs! Chaya Kumar & Shivani Bhagwan, the creators, and founders of BFunk have become a worldwide phenomenon through their viral YouTube dance videos from their sold-out classes in Los Angeles. 2020 saw them win their first YouTube Streamy Awards, which honors excellence in online video content and the creators behind it. They have collaborated with the King of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan, and received co-signs from other Bollywood superstars like Diljit Dosanjh, Arjun Kapoor, and esteemed choreographers Geeta Kapoor and Tricia Miranda.
What’s Next: The pandemic may have put a dampener to grand plans, but they continue to provide online classes and we hope they will be back with their tours soon.
Cool Fun Fact: The girls met for the first time during happy hour at a Mexican restaurant on a random weekday. They stuck up a conversation about Texas by fluke and ended up partners in creating one of the best Indian fusion dance companies that we see today.
46. NATASHA CHANDEL
Location: Los Angeles, CA, USA
Why Is She Cool: Natasha Chandel believes in taking a unique approach, breaking the mold, alter preconceived notions, and do it humorously. Actress, model, writer, comedian, and podcast host, she is the perfect desi girl we all want to be. She is currently a writer for the Netflix comedy ‘Mr. Iglesias,’ starring comedian Gabriel Iglesias and also has her own successful podcast titled ‘Kinda Dating’ that is one of the top 10 health podcasts on Apple. She also created a web series titled “Mumbai Chopra” where she plays the role of the fictional socialite daughter of Deepak Chopra as she maneuvers life. The progressive show dealt with a wide range of topics from equality and bullying to dating cute boys.
What’s Next: She is working on an animated series, a genre pilot, and a semi-autobiographical family comedy called “The Astrologer’s Daughter.”
Cool Fun Fact: Chandel’s dad is a Vedic Indian astrologer. Chandel was also a Bollywood dancer/instructor for the international Shiamak Davar Dance Institute.
45. PRIYA, THE COMIC CHARACTER
Why Is She Cool: Priya is India’s first female superhero character who rides on a tiger. In 2020 she embarked on a mission to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the comic and short movie “Priya’s Mask.” The best thing about Priya is that she has been created to represent every other Indian girl. Clad in a traditional salwar kameez, she tackles topics that are difficult to explain to kids and are mostly heavily stigmatized. “Priya’s Mask” was a testament to the courage of frontline healthcare workers and educates children about the virus.
What’s Next: The creator of Priya, Ram Devineni, and his team are already planning a future installment that will send a positive message about vaccines.
Cool Fun Fact: The first comic, Priya’s Shakti, was developed in response to the brutal Nirbhaya gang rape in New Delhi in 2012. It portrays Priya as a rape survivor fighting stigma and sexual violence.
44. DJ SHARAD & DJ JUICY
Location: New York, USA
Why Are They Cool: When you are the legendary “All-Stars Party” DJ, you know just how to make music even during a pandemic. DJ Sharad & DJ Juicy did just that and much more. They organized drive-through movie nights for both Bollywood and Hollywood fans providing a safe space for families amidst the scare of COVID-19. As economic turmoil brought on by the pandemic caused millions to go to sleep without having a single meal, these Co-founders started On The House – a community-driven initiative to ensure everyone eats. They were able to raise $63, 848, exceeding their original goal of $50,000 and serving over 10,000 HOT meals during the holiday season!
What’s Next: As the pandemic continues, On The House will continue sponsoring meals to those in need. Their GoFundMe campaign will remain open and they hope to expand the program into 2021. Check out their page for more details.
Cool Fun Fact: On The House partnered with minority and female-owned caterers to provide all meals, thereby helping their restaurants survive during the pandemic. Kudos to them!
43. ANIK KHAN
Location: Queens, NY, USA
Why Is He Cool: Bangladeshi-American rapper Anik Khan has been making waves and turning the head of some big names. The artist is focused on creating meaningful music that represents his hyphenated heritage and honors his Bangladeshi parents. He has been open about his struggles with immigration and how he has lost out on some international concerts and work opportunities due to his immigration status but he has not let that keep him down. Khan moved to America at 4 years old with his family, he grew up living between New York City and Leesburg, Virginia. He began making music in high school and went on to study recording arts engineering at Full Sail University in Florida. Growing up in Astoria, Queens, Khan’s upbringing and a diverse community have influenced his music which is why you can hear the influences of Spanish, Arabic, West Indian, and South Asian music in his work. He also names fellow Queens rapper Nas as his biggest influence. Khan still released new music through this pandemic including his first all Bangla track in honor of his father who fought in the Bangladesh war of liberation. Khan also worked with filmmakers Sofian Khan and Joseph Patel to release a documentary titled “Street Level” in PBS’s “In the Making” series. The film followed Khan’s immigration journey and his life.
What’s Next: His latest song “Lingo” is a collaboration with producer and rapper Jay Prince. The playful track is the first in a four-part series focused on highlighting the stories of the unseen within the global diaspora so keep watch 2021 for the rest of this series!
Cool Fun Fact: Khan is a soccer fan, and is a big Arsenal fan.
42. NABELA NOOR
Location: Pennsylvania, USA
Why Is She Cool: Influencer Nabela Noor is a body-positive entrepreneur who has turned a YouTube channel with DIY and makeup tutorials into an empire built on love and generosity. The Bangladeshi-American star has expanded her YouTube channel to include daily vlogs, health information, body positivity messages, building self-confidence, home decor, desi cooking, and more. She recently launched her company Zeba which is named after her mother and promotes body positivity with its unique sizing standards. After struggling through COVID-19, she created the “Pockets of Peace” series on her page to help herself cope with anxiety and depression and having to be apart from her parents who were struggling with their own health issues. This summer she worked with Los Angeles based brand, Olive & June to launch her Summer 2020 nail polish collection titled Olive & June Love Zeba. She was also a strong advocate for Bangladeshi garment workers who were left in poverty by the big corporations when they shut down production due to the pandemic. Noor is an advisory board member of the First Aid Beauty AID initiative along with FAB founder and CEO Lilli Gordon, actress/musician Laura Marano, YouTube personality Aja Dang, and personal finance expert and founder of @CleverGirlFinance Bola Sokunbi. The initiative helped 24 students with student debt totaling $1.3 million. Not only is Noor a kind role model, but she also uses her actions to prove she’s more than just a positive meme online. She established The Noor House this past year in collaboration with the Jaago Foundation to create a scholarship for young girls in Bangladesh to provide them nourishment, free education, and resources. Noor spoke at this year’s virtual Teen Vogue Summit about “Remixing Beauty.” The summit also included stars like Lana Candor, Selena Gomez, and Tracey Ellis Ross.
What’s Next: Staying fabulous, duh. Just before the end of the year, Noor worked with curve brand Eloquii to launch their Six Days, Six Icons campaign which features 6 “tastemakers and trailblazers” who designed and styled their dream outfits, so you can buy a dress designed by Noor herself just for the plus-sized population.
Cool Fun Fact: The Noor House took home the Social Good Award at the 2020 STREAMY’s this year!
41. RITESH RAJAN
Location: Los Angeles, USA
Why Is He Cool: The handsome and versatile Ritesh Rajan has made quite the buzz from his role in the hit Freeform show “Stitchers” to the viral Netlfix show, “Russian Dolls” where he nabbed the title “hot bodega guy.” The New-York born actor’s 2020 project is one for the books though. The film is Sujata Day’s “Definition Please,” where Rajan plays a young man estranged from his family, whose bipolar disorder is going untreated in large part due to the stigma mental health issues still carry amongst the Indian diaspora. The film premiered in August 2020 at the Bentonville Film Festival and in October 2020 at the Asian American International Film Festival and garnered positive reviews. Rajan was born and raised in New York. He trained at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting and graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Rajan got his start on TV with guest roles on “Law & Order,” and “A Gifted Man.” He went on to play in many popular shows throughout his career on shows like “Young & Hungry,” “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Criminal Minds,” “Dollface,” and “Baby Daddy” Along the way he landed the role of Linus Ahluwalia on the sci-fi series “Stitchers,” and later he voiced Mowgli’s father in live-action Disney film “The Jungle Book.” Last year, he appeared on Natasha Lyonne’s acclaimed Netflix series “Russian Doll” In case he wasn’t hot enough already, Rajan is the voice of practically every little girl’s (and some little boys’) dream man, Ken! That’s right, he is the voice of Ken on “Barbie’s Dreamhouse Adventures.”
What’s Next: Today, Ritesh teaches Zumba classes in Los Angeles, California where he fuses Bhangra dance styles into his routines. Our favorite hot bodega guy still has us swooning as Ken and of course, catch “Definition, Please” if you haven’t yet.
Cool Fun Fact: Rajan is not just a talented actor but a kick-ass dancer! The handsome star was on the Bhangra dance team during his college years at NYU. He was even co-captain of the team. Did you know he even taught Barbie some Bhangra dance moves as Ken on “Barbie’s Dreamhouse Adventures?”
40. MEENA HARRIS
Location: San Francisco, CA, USA
Why Is She Cool: Indian-American Meena Harris is a lawyer, social justice activist, entrepreneur, and children’s book author. In 2020, Harris released her first children’s book from HarperCollins entitled “Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea,” which is based on the real story of her mother, Maya Harris, a lawyer, and public policy advocate, and aunt vice president Kamala Harris. Harris is a talented young woman who has empowered the marginalized minority in America with her constant creativity. Whether it is through her use of social media, her children’s books allowing representation to expand for little brown kids, or through her company Phenomenal creating content and clothing to help the unseen be seen. Ever wonder where everyone got those “Phenomenally Women” or “Phenomenally Brown” tees? Or the “Vote For Aunty” sweatshirts apparently every single brown person had during this election to support Vice President Harris? Yup. That’s her! Harris is also the founder of the Phenomenal Women Action Campaign which was named after Maya Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman.” She aimed to empower females and fight for equality, she never realized her clothing line would gain such popularity. This led to other collections such as Phenomenal Girl, Phenomenally Brown, Phenomenally Black, Phenomenally Asian, Phenomenally Indigenous, Phenomally Muslim, and much more to empower minority and often stigmatized communities.
What’s Next: She is expected to release her second book, Ambitious Girl, in January 2021. This December she also announced that she is working on launching Phenomenally Studios.
Cool Fun Fact: Harris graduated from Stanford University and later Harvard Law, she is now a mother of two and still finds time to do all of this, can you say wonder woman?
39. WALEED KHAN
Location: Birmingham, England
Why Is He Cool: Rising from the ashes of the December 16th, 2014 Army Public School attack in Pakistan, Waleed Khan, one of the survivors, became an elected member of the British Youth Parliament in 2020. Khan was merely 12 when six gunmen attacked his school in Peshawar. He was seriously injured in the attack- being shot eight times in total, six times in his head and face. On the sixth anniversary of the tragedy, Khan said, “The terrorists shot at us with guns, however, we will respond to them with a pen. Our spirits are higher than before, we are not going to retreat.”
What’s Next: Khan will represent Pakistan in the Youth Parliament of Birmingham and share his experience with his fellow students and people around the world.
Cool Fun Fact: 1,23,000 students applied for selection as members of the British Youth Parliament. Out of the total applicants, 14 were short-listed for election, and finally, Waleed Khan was elected.
38. SARWAT GILANI
Location: Karachi, Pakistan
Why Is She Cool: Pakistani model and actress Sarwat Gilani blew onto the scene this year with her role in the surprise mega-hit, “Churails” a Pakistani web series. Gilani played Sara on the show, a lawyer who gives up her career to be that perfect wife but when Sara discovers her husband cheating she joins forces with three other women to open a private investigations agency to catch cheating husbands. Thes show’s portrayal of 3-dimensional women, a range of representation from the LGBTQ community, and transgressions from Pakistani stereotypes garnered many positive reviews for the show. The web series is streamed by Zee5. Gilani has been honored by numerous outlets for her work, including making the top influencers list on Eastern Eye. Gilani is a versatile star who has starred in dramas, films, and even stage shows. She first gained recognition for her show “Aazar Ki Ayegi Baraat.” Gilani wasn’t even auditioning for the show, she was actually picking up her sister from an audition when the director noticed Gilani and asked her to audition. In her debut film, “Jawani Phir Nahi Aani” a comedy about 3 friends bored with their wives and married lives, Gilani played a pregnant Pashtun woman opposite Vasay Chaudhary. The film also had a sequel, “Jawani Phir Nahi Ani 2”, where she reprised her role as Gul opposite Vasay Chaudhry. She also made her stage directorial debut with “Kiski Topi Kiskay Sar.’ Gilani grew up in Karachi Pakistan where she grew up. She obtained her bachelor’s in communications and her Masters in filmmaking from the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture. She later married cosmetic surgeon and actor, Fahad Mirza in 2014 and they have 2 sons.
What’s Next: During this pandemic, she has been keeping busy holding arts & crafts classes with her kids and sharing ideas with other mothers. She’s also been working on a script that she may be able to start production in the coming year.
Cool Fun Fact: Gilani’s family hails from Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. She is the granddaughter of the Nawab of Manacadar, Ghulam Moinuddin Khanji.
37. DANISH DHAMANI, AASIM SANI & PARITOSH GUPTA
Location: Philadelphia, PA, USA
Why Are They Cool: Danish Dhamani is a young mechanical engineering student at Drexel University who is a Pakistani native that grew up in East Africa. Dhamani had trouble speaking in classroom presentations and at job interviews when he moved to America. He soon realized that in order to gain the success he wants in his field he’d have to work on his communication skills. One of Dhamani’s first steps for self-improvement was to form his own informal Toastmasters club at the university but he rapidly realized he needed an efficient method of practicing and reinforcing the skills he learned at the club. Dhamani teamed up with fellow classmates Aasim Sani and Paritosh Gupta to create the speech coaching app ORAI in 2017. Since its inception, the three friends have created a remarkable piece of AI, and Orai raised $2.3 million in seed funding in 2019 and already has more than 5,000 active users. The monthly users record themselves speaking and receive feedback such as how many times they say “um.” These brilliant creators already have corporate clients which include Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Comcast, and IBM, and individuals who pay $10 per month. Dhamani says Orai is not just an ‘um’ counter anymore and that they’re selling confidence in public speaking through this app.
What’s Next: If Dhamani, Sani, and Gupta strategies move as planned, the company will be profitable in 2021. According to Dhamani, Orai now has 150,000 users in 60 countries, with many of those users being Toastmasters members.
Cool Fun Fact: The Drexel University alumni are featured in Forbes’ 30 under 30 class of 2021
36. SUSHMITA SEN
Location: Mumbai, India
Why Is She Cool: 2020 saw the return of beauty queen and actress Sushmita Sen in the Disney+Hotstar crime drama, “Aarya.” The award-winning actress hasn’t been seen in a Bollywood film since “No Problem” though she did have a guest appearance in the comedy “F.A.L.T.U.” She did star in her first Bengali film, “Nirbaak” in 2015, but “Aarya” was her return to Hindi films in almost 10 years. Her debut performance in a web series took the audience by storm. Seeing her take on this role proved that her previous films did not do this star justice, her talent is beyond measure. Critics and fans equated her performance to that of the legend Don Vito Corleone from “The Godfather.” We cannot help but applaud and surely cannot imagine anybody else in that role!
What’s Next: Sen and the show’s director, Ram Madhvani, announced that Aarya would be returning for season 2, we can’t wait!
Cool Fun Fact: On her elder daughter Renee’s 16th birthday, Susmita Sen had offered her the option to find out about her biological parents. Her daughter refused. But we just can’t help but appreciate the thoughtfulness behind this act.
35. NIMESH PATEL
Location: New Jersey, USA
Why Is He Cool: Indian American comedian Nimesh Patel blasted into focus in 2020 was when he released the full video of the night he was kicked off stage during a routine show at Columbia University in 2018. Support has been pouring in for Patel for the way he handled the situation when he was told by one of the students, “I just don’t think you’re entitled to certain jokes you’re making.” The whole controversy had gone viral in 2018 and returned this year when Patel advocated for himself by releasing the full video in response to an article he felt was untruthful. Aside from all that, Patel is quite an accomplished comedian. He was discovered by Chris Rock while doing stand up at Greenpoint and joined Rock’s team for writing the2016 Oscars. He also worked with fellow brown comedian Hasan Minhaj writing for Minhaj’s 2017 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner performance. Patel worked with Asian-American comedian Awkafina and created a pilot show for MTV 2. He also became the first Indian-American writer to join the legendary team of “Saturday Night Live” and was a producer for “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.” He’s toured the country performing and even bagged himself an Emmy nomination as a writer on SNL.
What’s Next: Nimesh Patel has joined the team of writers for the second season of ‘A Little Late with Lilly Singh’ and we sure expect some great stuff from him!
Cool Fun Fact: Just like every other brown kid, Patel too started off as a pre-med student while he was attending New York University. Clearly, that didn’t pan out for him as comedy took off, but we’re sure he still managed to keep his brown parents proud with his degree in finance from the Stern School of Business.
34. PADMA LAKSHMI
Location: New York, USA
Why Is She Cool: Padma Parvati Lakshmi Vaidyanathan, better known as Padma Lakshmi is an author, activist, model, and television host. Lakshmi launched her Hulu show “Taste the Nation” this year which has debuted with amazing reviews. Lakshmi traveled the nation taking in the food and culture of immigrant populations that have assimilated into American culture so seamlessly that we forget that the all-American hot dog and burgers are actually German in origin and that Chipotle burrito bowl you love for lunch is from Mexico. Aside from this kick-ass show, Lakshmi was also nominated for an Emmy for her hit cooking show, Top Chef. Let’s not forget she brought all the sexy back for her 50th birthday this year by rocking a bikini. She has always been an advocate for equality and vocal in the fight against racism. Lakshmi has used her influence to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, the #MeToo movement, and more recently for the farmers in India and the Georgia elections. Born into a middle-class Tamil family, Lakshmi’s parents divorced when she was only two years old, and then her mother being the strong independent woman she is, moved across the world with baby Lakshmi to start a new life. Lakshmi spent some time living in New York City before she and her mom moved to La Puente, California. She struggled with her identity, as well as racism and bullying as a teen that led to “internalized self-loathing.” Though this too was an obstacle she overcame along with numerous health issues. Lakshmi’s not just a phenomenal career woman, but a loving mother who is working to raise a badass independent bold young daughter who, like many in her generation, will grow up knowing tolerance, love, and empathy for all.
What’s Next: The Top Chef host is getting ready to publish her first children’s book! She already has numerous successful cookbooks under her belt, but this is a first. Lakshmi was inspired by her daughter, Krishna to create the children’s picture book titled “Tomatoes For Neela.” Set to release in 2021, the book tells an intergenerational story about a little girl who helps prepare her family’s savory tomato sauce.
Cool Fun Fact: Lakshmi’s is the first Indian model to build a career in fashion capitals like Paris, Milan, and New York and also the first one to admit being a novelty. Lakshmi was able to pay off her college loans by working as a model and actress. She has modeled for designers such as Emanuel Ungaro, Giorgio Armani, Gianni Versace, Ralph Lauren, and Alberta Ferretti, and appeared in ad campaigns for Roberto Cavalli and Versus. She was actually the favorite model of the photographer Helmut Newton, whose photographs of her often highlighted the large scar on her right arm that she got as a kid from a tragic car accident.
33. SHRENIK JAIN & RAVI SHAH
Location: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Why Are They Cool: Former Johns Hopkins classmates Shrenik Jain and Ravi Shah founded Sunrise Health, a program anonymously connecting people to peer support groups to manage mental health concerns. Along with some guidance from Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Geetha Jayaram, Jain and Shah co-founded their company in 2016. Jain was inspired by his experience as a first responder, a role he’s had since he was only 16 years old. Watching patients dying from overdose and suicide as well as the overwhelming mental health difficulties of his fellow first responders with issues such as PTSD pushed him to do something to change the situation. With a combination of their knowledge of computer science and their passion for mental health, the team has created a new way for people to get the help they need easier and a lot less scary. Sunrise Health works with existing healthcare systems, clinicians who offer the service to their patients are immediately notified, should unapproved interactions happen on the platform. After Sunrise Health, the duo founded Marigold Health, an AI-based app that enables 24/7 peer support groups for people with mental health and substance use disorder. Marigold is not meant to replace behavioral health providers, but to partner with them and help provide support. Researchers are currently conducting an NIH-funded study to evaluate the potential role of Marigold in helping patients with opioid addiction, which makes this app a literal goldmine.
What’s Next: The goal is to continue to develop Marigold and evolve it through testing with organizations like the National Institutes of Health. Shah and Jain want to utilize this program to help reach individuals with limited access to mental health or who are hesitant to reach out. They also want to enable social workers, case managers, and therapists to easily engage patients and manage more cases.
Cool Fun Fact: They are also in the Forbes 30 under 30 in Healthcare 2021, fighting COVID, mental illness, and health inequities.
32. NABEEL ALAMGIR
Location: New York, USA
Why Is He Cool: Nabeel Alamgir’s story is the stuff of what the American Dream is made of. Immigrating to the United States as a teenager from Bangladesh, Alamgir began as a busboy at Bareburger, a New York-based better-burger chain. By the time he was 25, he became the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) there. In 2019 he launched Lunchbox Technologies which provides multi-unit restaurants with an online ordering system and marketing engine. In 2020 Lunchbox raised $20M to help restaurants build their own ordering experiences which will help them make more money while also maintaining a direct relationship with their most loyal customers.
What’s Next: Alamgir is hoping to move to a self-serve model, which would make Lunchbox accessible to small, independent restaurants, and not just the chains and restaurant groups like Bareburger, Clean Juice, and Fuku with which it currently works.
Cool Fun Fact: Nabeel Alamgir learned English from watching Martin Scorsese films and was named in Forbes 30 under 30 for Enterprise Technology.
31. ZOHRAN KWAME MAMDANI
Location: New York, USA
Why Is He Cool: The 29-year-old, Zohran Kwame Mamdani, was born in Kampala (Uganda) but his family moved to New York City when he was seven-year-old. He graduated from Bowdoin College, and currently works as a housing counselor, and aids immigrant families facing eviction to retain their homes. When 29-year-old Zohran Kwame Mamdani kicked off a political campaign in New York City last year, he received a laundry list of unsolicited pointers. “From uncles,” he clarifies. “Some aunties, but mostly uncles.” Looks like all that unasked for advice also came with love and prayers as Mamdani actually ran unopposed to represent New York’s 36th Assembly District in Astoria. He won with 72 percent votes! Tweeting the news of his victory, he wrote that, It’s official that we have won and now he’ll be going to Albany to join the fight, to tax the rich, heal the sick, house the poor & build a socialist New York.
What’s Next: Mamdani called upon his fellow New Yorkers to join him in the socialist movement of the multiracial working class. He is urging people, especially his own South Asian community to join @nycDSA and participate in the movement.
Cool Fun Fact: Mamdani has some pretty cool parents, his mom is the legendary filmmaker Mira Nair known for films like “The Namesake” and “Monsoon Wedding,” and his father is the Ugandan academician Mahmood Mamdani.
30. JENIFER RAJKUMAR
Location: New York, USA
Why Is She Cool: The 38-year-old Jenifer Rajkumar is the first South Asian American member of the New York State Assembly, it’s about time, no? The Stanford-educated lawyer and an immigrant rights advocate will represent New York City’s 38th Assembly District, which includes Woodhaven, Ridgewood, Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, and Glendale, and won with 66 percent of votes. Rajkumar. Rajkumar earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2004 and her J.D. from Stanford Law School in 2008. Her career experience includes working as a lawyer as well as an adjunct professor at CUNY. She’s also served in the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) as New York State’s Director of Immigration Affairs & Special Counsel.
What’s Next: Rajkumar (Dem.) is all set to take her place as a member-elect of the New York State Assembly, when she assumes office on January 6th, 2021.
Cool Fun Fact: Overachiever that she is, Rajkumar made the New York Super Lawyers List in 2015 and 2016. She has also been awarded the Bella Abzug Award by the New York County Democratic Party, the Queens Tribune “Glass Ceiling Award” and later was selected as a “Rising Star” by the Queens Courier.
29. IMAN VELLANI
Location: Markham, Ontario, Canada
Why Is She Cool: Brown girl representation is hitting a brand new high as we finally get to bring to life our first South Asian Muslim superhero, Ms. Marvel via Iman Vellani. The young star will be portraying the role of Kamala Khan in the upcoming Ms. Marvel television series on Disney+. Vellani bagged the role in September and the show will be releasing late 2021. Vellani is of Pakistani descent, just like her character Kamala Khan. Vellani is a young actress from Markha, Ontario who recently graduated from Unionville High School in the Regional Municipality of York in Ontario Canada. She was previously selected as a member of the TIFF Next Wave Committee at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, a committee of 11 who highlight under-represented voices.
What’s Next: Along with starring in her own television show, Vellani will also be reprising her role within the Marvel cinematic universe. The young actress was set to work with Brie Larson on “Captain Marvel 2,” which is set to release in 2021, but with the pandemic slowing things down, let’s hope we still get this film in 2021.
Cool Fun Fact: Vellani is not the only South Asian and Muslim on the set of “Ms. Marvel.” Award-winning filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy will be directing some episodes as well as Indian-American director Meera Menon and the project is helmed by the directors of “Bad Boys for Life” Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah.
28. KUMAIL NANJIANI
Location: Los Angeles, USA
Why Is He Cool: Seems like we just can’t get enough of this man! While Kumail Nanjiani made waves in 2020 showing off his sculpted body, that is not the only reason he is on our list. He has truly been the voice of immigrants throughout this year. From supporting Kamala Harris to appealing people to vote, he became a vocal champion of all things democratic. As one of the executive producers of ‘Little America,’ which premiered on AppleTV+ in January 2020, Nanjiani brought to the forefront the funny, romantic, heartfelt, inspiring, and unexpected lives of immigrants in America, at a time when their stories were more relevant than ever.
What’s Next: Nanjiani will be seen playing Kingo Sunen, who is a master swordsman and a Bollywood star and producer in the much-awaited Marvel Cinematic Universe film “Eternals,” which is set to be released in November 2021.
Cool Fun Fact: For his look in “Eternals,” he showed his gym trainer a picture of Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan playing a superhero in the movie “Krrish” and said he wanted to look like him.
27. TRISHA PRABHU
Location: Naperville, Illinois, USA
Why Is She Cool: This first-generation Indian immigrant is tackling the world of cyberbullying with her latest creation. Trisha Prabhu is the creator of ReThink, a patented program that detects and stops cyberbullying before it happens to tackle the negativity online that is deeply affecting the next generation. Prabhu’s app replaces the user’s default keyboard with a custom-built keyboard that detects offensive messages. The app also comes in six different languages. The revolutionary ReThink app has already garnered quite a lot of attention bringing partnerships with groups like Scholastic and the U. S. State Department! It’s also been featured on TED, TEDx, Wired, La Ciudad de Las Ideas, SAP, and Girls Who Code. She’s also presented the app across the country at universities and schools. The 20-year-old Harvard student has been working on her app for quite some time and she has been honored for her work along the way. Her ingenuity has gained her accolades like being the 2014 Google Science Fair Global Finalist, 2016 WebMD Health Hero of the Year Prodigy Award, the Anti-Bullying Champion Award by the International Princess Diana Award, the 2016 MIT INSPIRE Aristotle Award, and many more. She was even invited by President Obama to showcase the ReThink app at the White House Science Fair. She was also the first freshman to take home Harvard University’s President’s Global Innovation Challenge & Harvard College’s i3 entrepreneurial Challenge.
What’s Next: Prabhu is currently working on using her time to inspire others, especially other women. She volunteers her time with SoGal Boston, a chapter of the SoGal movement, and with Girls Who Code.
Cool Fun Fact: If you thought her long list of awards and being invited by the president to the white house wasn’t cool enough, did you know Prabhu was elected the first female YMCA Youth and Government youth governor in 28 years! This year Prabhu was featured on Forbes’ 30 under 30 for her amazing new app!
26. HUMZA HAQ
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Why Is She Cool: Hamza Haq, a Pakistani-Canadian actor is the star of NBC’s “Transplant,” the first show with a Pakistani lead on mainstream television. The series centers around Bashir “Bash” Hamed, a doctor from Syria who came to Canada as a refugee during the Syrian Civil War. Dr. Hamed is now rebuilding his career as a medical resident in the emergency department at York Memorial Hospital in Toronto while trying to raise his 12-year-old sister. Aside from the release of season one of “Transplant,” he also had a supporting role in Philippe Falardeau’s upcoming film “My Salinger Year” this year. In his year-end review of television in 2020, critic John Doyle of The Globe and Mail named Haq as having given one of the year’s best performances in Canadian television. The industry trade magazine Playback also named Haq as the breakout star of 2020.
What’s Next: Haq’s goal is to work on projects that he connects with and those that tell the stories of people of color. He is looking forward to filming a script he wrote about a group of immigrants that was selected for a development project for emerging filmmakers.
Cool Fun Fact: This isn’t the first time you’ve seen Haq on the small screen, he’s had some roles here and there, including Priyanka Chopra’s “Quantico.” The actor also made an appearance in Russel Peters’ limited series “The Indian Detective.” Along with roles on various shows, Haq was also the host for the children’s television series “Look Kool.”
25. ARVIND KRISHNA
Location: New York, USA
Why Is He Cool: Arvind Krishna started off this pandemic right as he went from CEO to Chairman of the tech giant International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) in April 2020. He began his career in 1990 at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Centre. In 2015 he was promoted as the Senior Vice President of IBM Research group and later he was also appointed as the Senior Vice President of IBM’s Cloud and Cognitive Software department. Born in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India, Krishna came to the US to pursue his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign in 1990, and today he is counted among the most influential Indian CEOs of a major United States tech company.
What’s Next: Krishna is focused on transforming IBM into a hybrid cloud management vendor by leveraging Red Hat, a multinational software company engaged in providing open-source software products to the enterprise community, that IBM acquired in 2018. If the company succeeds, IBM will become a formidable competitor to Microsoft and Amazon in the public cloud space.
Cool Fun Fact: In 2016, Wired Magazine had selected Krishna as “one of 25 geniuses who are creating the future of business” for his foundational work on blockchain.
24. DR. VIVEK MURTHY
Location: Washington, DC, USA
Why Is He Cool: After being ousted by President Trump, Dr. Vivek Murthy will reprise his role as surgeon general under the Joe Biden administration after serving under former President Barack Obama. He currently co-chairs the COVID-19 Advisory Board of the president-elect. He was the 19th surgeon general under the Obama administration from December 2014 to April 2017. The Indian-American leader is considered to have become a political target under the Trump administration and is generally disliked by the Republicans because he characterizes gun violence in the US as a public health crisis.
What’s Next: Having lead the national response to the Ebola and Zika viruses and the opioid crisis, among other health challenges during the Obama administration, Murthy will play a crucial role in how the new president handles the COVID-19 situation.
Cool Fun Fact: While he was still a medical undergrad at Harvard in 1995, he co-founded VISIONS Worldwide, a nonprofit group dedicated to educating people in India and the United States on AIDS and HIV issues. Clearly saving the world one health crisis at a time was Murthy’s game plan from the start!
23. MAITREYI RAMAKRISHNAN
Location: Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Why Is She Cool: Young Maitreyi Ramakrishnan ruled 2020 with her role of Devi in Mindy Kaling’s hit Netflix show, “Never Have I Ever…” Devi is a young Indian-American girl struggling to deal with the sudden death of her father, the only parent who understood her and managing the tumultuous intricacies of high school. The show hit a chord with not just South Asians but all children from all immigrant backgrounds. In 2019 “Today” named her as one of eighteen “Groundbreakers”, a list of girls who were breaking down barriers and changing the world. Her performance in the show received positive reviews, with a lot of people saying it was a “breakout performance.” Not only did Ramakrishnana launched to stardom with this killer debut and this young queen has absorbed it all with such grace, wisdom, and power. She is turning out to be a wonderful role model who is kind, respectful, and bold. Ramakrishnan was raised in Mississauga, Canada is of Tamil descent from Sri Lanka. She began acting in school plays in 10th grade and in her last year at Meadowvale Secondary School, she made the decision to pursue an acting career. Luckily she bagged the role of Devi less than a year after. Ramakrishnan actually created her audition tape for the show at a local library, using her mother’s camera, eventually being asked to send four more videos, before having a screen test in Los Angeles and being offered the role. She even deferred her acceptance to the theatre program at York University in Toronto, which she had initially planned to attend the fall after she graduated high school, so she could shoot “Never Have I Ever” in Los Angeles. This year she’s been staying safe at home through this pandemic as she makes hilarious Tik Toks, engages fans through virtual events, takes on the media and gracing the pages of magazines, and working on endorsements such as KVD’s Vegan beauty line, Plan Canada’s Gift of Hope program, and Sage Wellness. Ramakrishnan even took part in a live performance of The Twelfth Night streamed on YouTube with the money raised split as donations to the EIF (entertainment industry foundation) to fund arts education as we return to school and to Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago.
What’s Next: In 2020, she narrated the Children’s Programming portion of the 8th Canadian Screen Awards. Now the actress is staying safe at home during the pandemic as she reads scripts for new projects to take on.
Cool Fun Fact: Did you know Ramakrishnan and her family actually moved to Canada as refugees due to the civil war in Sri Lanka. has said that she identifies as Tamil Canadian and not Sri Lankan due to the war’s impact on Sri Lankan Tamil civilians.
22. RABA KHAN
Location: Dhaka, Bangladesh
Why Is She Cool: Bangladesh has its first female comedian in the form of stunning YouTuber, Raba Khan. The young star is absolutely hilarious with her impersonations, lip-synching to old commercials, tackling serious topics like stereotypes, and rants about Bengali girl problems. The young starlet has effortlessly built a brand with not just her comedy but her own clothing line, modeling, acting in television dramas, taking on endorsements, and releasing a book! Unfortunately, her publishers pulled her book off the market after one week, but in the time it was available, it became a best seller. Khan is a skilled singer as well and works as a Radio host on Bangladesh’s Radio ABC. Khan is also a Youth Ambassador for UNICEF advocating for children’s rights.
What’s Next: Khan continues to grace us with her hilarious videos on social media with her most recent video being “Types of Brides.” She’s also working on commercials, photoshoots, and endorsements in the coming future. What we’re most excited about is the recent launch of her official merch! Let’s hope 2021 brings more laughs and cute gear from Khan.
Cool Fun Fact: Khan also bagged the honor of being on Forbes’ 30 under 30 Asia list, not just that she’s actually one of the youngest stars on the list. She was also the highest-ranking Bangladeshi on Eastern Eye’s list of top South Asians.
21. HAFSAH FAIZAL
Location: Dallas, TX, USA
Why Is She Cool: Hafsah Faizal is the first niqabi to make the New York Times bestseller list! She rocked the young adult literary world with her fantasy novel set in ancient Arabia, “We Hunt the Flame,” which debuted to phenomenal reviews and the #5 spot on the NYT bestsellers list just a few weeks after its release. Faizal is also an honoree on the 2020 Forbes’ 30 under 30 lists and has been featured on TIME Magazine for her work. The author of Sri-Lankan and Arab descent is also the founder of IceyDesigns, which creates websites for authors and sells book-inspired candles, notebooks, and more. She often speaks of her background and religion stating that she wants to show other girls like herself that they don’t need to change who they are to make big moves, rock on Hafsah!
What’s Next: Faizal is currently working on the sequel to her hit novel. The book titled, “We Free the Stars,” is all set to release in January 2021.
Cool Fun Fact: As a young girl Faizal was homeschooled and her trips to the library are the first time she fell in love with books. It was her love for reading that led her to launch IceyBooks at the age of 17, where she blogged her reviews of books.
20. ANMOL NARANG
Location: Georgia, USA
Why Is She Cool: Anmol Kaur Narang is a second-generation Indian-American woman holding the rank of second lieutenant in the US Army. This powerful young lady has made history by being the first observant Sikh woman cadet to have graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point! Not a small feat, this trailblazer is truly an inspiration. The 23-year-old was born in Roswell, Georgia to parents who had permanently migrated from Punjab to the USA in the early ’90s. After completing her first year of undergrad at the Georgia Institute of Technology, she then moved on to West Point Military Academy, where she completed her degree majoring in Nuclear Engineering. She subsequently attained the post of the second lieutenant in the US Army. Narang is hopeful that her efforts to represent her religion and community will encourage and also inspire Americans to learn more about Sikhism, the 5th extensively practiced religion in the world.
What’s Next: Break out the sushi and Japanese Google translator because our girl is going to Japan! Narang will be taking over her first posting in Okinawa, Japan in January 2021. Before assuming her posting at Okinawa, Japan, she will have to undergo a Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma.
Cool Fun Fact: In an interview with The New York Times, Narang told that her paternal grandfather had served in the Indian army. She further said that military duty was in her blood, and she had always aspired to become military personnel. While in high school, she visited the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Hawaii along with her parents, where, for the first time, she learned about the tragic event of the Pearl Harbour bombings. This trip boosted her inspiration to serve in the United States Army, subsequently, the same day she mailed her application for the entrance at the United States Military Academy (also known as West Point).
19. FATIMA LEE GARSI
Location: North York, Canada
Why Is She Cool: Fatima Lee Garsi is one badass Muslimah who is empowering all women through her work at Sister Fit, North America’s first-ever gym designed for women, especially for Muslim women, and offers self-defense classes for women. Garsi is the founder and Head Coach of Sister Fit and Connect Fitness and Martial Arts. Sister Fit allows Muslim women a safe and private space to wear whatever they want and work out freely. They offer classes like boxing, Muay Thai, and self-defense. She is also a full-time personal trainer and offers services from her studio in North York, Canada. Garsi started Sister Fit because she wanted to fill a gap in the fitness industry which has no safe space for Muslim women, and in doing so she was able to reconnect with her Muslim faith through something she would always love doing. Her coaching style is consistently enigmatic, keeping her students’ eyebrows furrowed is one of Garsis’ favorite pastimes. She likes to keep her students on their toes, holding them to a higher standard and dedicatedly providing quality instruction that is challenging but also suited to individual needs.
What’s Next: Garsi has loving placed her hopes, dreams, and faith on the line with Sister Fit which she hopes to use as the tool to encourage women to prioritize themselves. #SelfLove. As Garsi says, “when women are strong, communities are strong.” Garsi feels that this is her purpose in life and continues to work on projects to engage the Muslim community further. Through COVID-19 she’s even altered her teaching methods to offer Zoom classes and extra precautions at the gym to remain safe.
Cool Fun Fact: Garsi is such a workaholic that now whenever she doesn’t practice or when she becomes unfit, her posture weakens and life feels very heavy. Besides Garsi’s love of fitness and the many certifications she has in various self-defense forms, she is also a Certified Restorative Justice Facilitator!
18. RABIA SHAHZAD
Location: Karachi, Pakistan
Why Is She Cool: Rabia Shahzad is an accomplished Pakistani professional weightlifter who is the only female weightlifter in Karachi! She won gold at the Glasgow Open Classic Weightlifting Championship 2020 and she brought home gold and silver medals at the Australian weightlifting Championship. That’s not all, she also received a silver award at the Singapore National Open Weightlifting Championship 2019. The accomplishment is mind-boggling for the 20-year-old as she was with no mentor or supervisor. Aside from being an award-winning weightlifter, Shahzad is currently studying at the Institute of business administration, Karachi. Shahzad comes from a family of athletes, her sister is the top Badminton player in Pakistan with wins at a national level. Her father is also a sports fanatic who has been rowing for many years, a sport moving a boat using oars. Sounds like the talent is the genes!
What’s Next: Shahzad’s only goal in the near future is to continue to train and prepare for the 2024 Olympics. Though she recognizes that it is a tough journey and she will need tons of support from her team, family, and fans, she is not losing hope just yet.
Cool Fun Fact: Shahzad is an all-around star, before focusing on weightlifting she participated in swimming, wrestling, and long-distance running. She competed in 5000 meters and 10000-meter racing. In 2016 she represented her University IBA, Karachi in an athletics competition in a 5000 meters race in which she got a gold medal, and in 10000 meters race she got a silver medal. The competitors who participated in this competition were called from all over the world.
17. MIRA, THE ROYAL DETECTIVE
Location: Disney Junior
Why Is She Cool: Growing up in the diaspora, South Asian kids never had a character or child star to relate to but things changed this year with the international launch of Disney’s “Mera the Royal Detective!” Mira is a precocious young detective who impresses the queen and bags the role of royal detective. Along with the young princes and her friends she solves mysteries across the fictional kingdom of Jalpur in India. Mira has become the young idol all of us longed for as a kid and the representation kids today are lucky to have on a mainstream channel. Mira, voiced by Leela Ladnier, is joined by an all-star cast of phenomenal brown power. Mira’s best friends Mikku and Chikku the mongooses are voiced by the legend Kal Penn and the “Pitch Perfect” hottie Utkarsh Ambudkar. Queen Shanti is voiced by the queen herself, Frieda Pinto. Mira’s cousin Pink is voiced by Hannah Simone, her Auntie Pushpa is voiced by Jameela Jamil, and the young princes Neel and Veer are voiced by Kamran Lucas and Karan Brar respectively. The show also includes Aasif Mandvi, Maulik Pancholi, Karan Soni, Roshni Edwards, Adi Ash, Sarayu Blu, Danny Pudi, Sarita Choudhury, Aparna Nacherla, Avantika Vandanapu, Julian Zane, Audyssie James, Parvesh Cheena, and Sonal Shah. Basically, every noteworthy desi within the industry has made an appearance in this epic show
What’s Next: What’s next for Mira? Oh, you know… just saving the kingdom of Jalpur by solving more cases!
Cool Fun Fact: Disney has gone all out with Mira The Royal Detective we are loving the epic cast and importance of this representation. Aside from an all brown cast of practically every noteworthy South Asian actor in Hollywood, the show is choreographed by Nakul Dev Mahajan! Mahajan is an acclaimed Bollywood choreographer and he was on “So You Think You Can Dance.” You can also catch Mira at Walt Disney Resorts, this year they even celebrated Diwali.
16. SYED RAHMAN
Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Why Is He Cool: Syed Rahman, more commonly known as Saif, is the co-founder of Modern Wall Art along with his father. The Illinois creative has been designing 3D décor and making stainless steel art and furniture for over 10 years. What once began as an Etsy and eBay page has blossomed into a bull blown successful company with an art gallery, the first Islamic art gallery in Skokie, Illinois in fact. Did you know his Ayat-Al-Kursi piece is in the downtown Chicago history museum? How dope is that! He’s also worked with the jewelry company Nominal to develop a line of Islam inspired jewelry and clothing for men and women. However, the coolest part about Rahman isn’t even his stunning artwork, it’s his huge capacity for goodness. This young man and his father have been angels at work this year. In February they helped build a women’s center and possibly the first mosque for women in Afghanistan. In March, he ran a food drive for Afghanistan, provided aid to the Delhi riots, and held a mask drive for doctors at the height of the pandemic. In April they donated 10,000 from sales to build wells, they also had a packaged food drive for Palestine, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In May they raised $5000 to build water wells. In June, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement they donated sales from their “We Can’t Breathe” BLM shirt to charity and raised money for baby Adiba’s family to be able to afford a disability car to care for her. In August after the Lebanon blast, Rahman and his team provided aid to the blast victims and worked to build water wells in Yemen. In September and October Rahman worked on building water wells in Bangladesh and provided aid to flood victims in Hyderabad, India. Rahman has always said that he “believes in barakah (blessings)” and he is in it to chase barakah, not the money, his actions rightly reflects that his words are not hollow.
What’s Next: Rahman and the team have just launched a Modern Wall Art app to meet your shopping needs! The app gives you early sale notifications, access to new launches, and more. Aside from the app, Rahman is also working towards raising money for Finding Refugee’s Duniya Community Center in Athens, Greece. With Greece’s lockdown being extended into January, the center that houses many refugees from countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Iran, Palestine, and Congo are in need. Join the cause and donate here: https://www.launchgood.com/campaign/emergency_support_for_duniya_house_during_covid19_lockdown_in_greece#!/
Cool Fun Fact: Did you know this all started because Rahman bought a new home? He couldn’t find artwork with an Islamic touch that he loved so he just made one himself. After the tons of compliments, he received from his guests and requests led to the start of Modern Wall Art. He employs skilled workers who create handmade pieces from scratch, these pieces aren’t cookie-cutter copies made on a machine and you can tell from the stunning work it’s a real labor of love.
15. SUMBUL SIDDIQUI
Location: Massachusetts, USA
Why Is She Cool: Pakistani-American Sumbul Siddiqui is on her way to shaking things up in Massachusetts. Siddiqui was selected by her fellow City Councilors to be mayor of Cambridge, making her the first Muslim mayor in Massachusetts. She was barely 2-years old when she moved from Karachi, Pakistan to the US. A graduate of CRLS, Brown University, and Northwestern, Siddiqui is an attorney. She’s always showed an interest in politics, Siddiqui even co-founded the Cambridge Youth Council while attending CRLS, an organization that allowed students to engage with the city government and policymaking.
What’s Next: Mayor Siddiqui is currently working on her game plan for how the city will roll out the COVID-19 vaccine and trying to determine locations that can be used as vaccination sites. The new mayor has been hard at work with her team to identify ways to keep their city safe.
Cool Fun Fact: Siddiqui was previously on the board of the Cambridge School Volunteers and was a member of Cambridge’s Human Services Commission and she produces a podcast with Alanna Mallon.
14. RIZ AHMED
Location: London, England
Why Is He Cool: British Asian actor, rapper, and activist Riz Ahmed has been making moves even in a pandemic. Ahmed released his second album titled “The Long Goodbye” early this year. The highly praised concept album focused on the history of the United Kingdom’s relationship with South Asians and Britsh Asians equating it to the metaphor of an abusive relationship. Ahmed takes on racism, xenophobia, and more with his lyrical genius and the music video that plays like a film. It hit hard with all immigrants of all backgrounds who constantly feel like they have to prove their “Britishness” every time. The Emmy award-winning actor was featured on Spotify’s Times Square billboard. During Ramadan, he used his influence to encourage Muslims to practice at home during the pandemic. He hosted some hilarious and inspirational chats via Zoom titled “The Long Lockdown” throughout this pandemic speaking to talented South Asians across the globe such as Hasan Minhaj, Guz Khan, Rupi Kaur, and Dr. Kamran Ahmed. He discussed everything from struggling to fit in as a kid to the dangers of the pandemic. He also performed on Instagram live with fellow British Asian Jay Sean. Ahmed co-wrote and starred in the film “Mogul Mowgli” which is about a British Pakistani rapper named Zed in New York City who returns home when he gets an autoimmune disease. The film premiered to great reviews at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival. Ahmed also had his first article published as a contributing editor for British Vogue. His latest release is “Sound of Metal” about a drummer who goes deaf. The film has already garnered phenomenal reviews and there is tons of buzz that Ahmed is a strong contender for the Best Actor award for his portrayal.
What’s Next: Ahmed was set to perform live shows of his album “The Last Goodbye” at the renowned Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) but due to the pandemic the shows have been postponed to 2021. The show promises to be an experience that engages all the senses with music, storytelling, and archival footage.
Cool Fun Fact: Badass that he is, in 2006 Ahmed’s track “Post 9/11 Blues” was banned from British airplay for being “politically sensitive.” Are you even surprised?
13. RAJA CHARI
Location: Houston, Texas
Why Is He Cool: While we are scrambling to get our lives sorted on planet earth, NASA’s Indian-American astronaut, Raja Chari, is all set to fly to the moon! Chari joined the team of 18 astronauts selected for NASA’s ambitious Artemis Project, which will pave the way for the next lunar mission, the first since the 1970s. The project aims to take the giant leap of sending the first woman and the next man to walk on the moon’s surface in 2024. Chari’s father had immigrated to the US from Hyderabad, India. He was raised in Iowa and served as a colonel in the US Air Force before qualifying as an astronaut in January 2020.
What’s Next: His first-ever space foray will be as the Commander of the SpaceX Crew-3 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) by NASA and the European Space Agency scheduled to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida sometime in the fall of 2021.
Cool Fun Fact: While he was a Colonel in the US Air Force he has accumulated more than 2,000 hours of flight time in the F-35, F-15, F-16, and F-18 including F-15E combat missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom and deployments in support of the Korean peninsula. Is there anything he can’t do?
12. MANASI JOSHI
Location: Mumbai, India
Why Is She Cool: In 2011, Manasi Joshi was on her way to her software engineering job when she was crushed by a truck traveling the wrong direction in Mumbai, India. Due to the nearby small hospital being ill-equipped, she did not get proper care until 9 hours after being crushed and she then spent 45 days in the hospital having surgery every five to 10 days on her leg. Unfortunately, she eventually had to have her leg amputated but this rockstar has not let this hold her back. Through all this pain Joshi learned to channel her energy into her favorite activity, badminton. Today this diva is the para-badminton World Champion and she was named as one of the ‘Next Generation Leaders’ by TIME Magazine! This year Joshi got the ultimate prize, her own Barbie! On the International Day of the Girl Child, Barbie celebrated Joshi with a one-of-a-kind doll modeled to her likeness as a part of the Barbie SHEROES family. Joshi’s story of perseverance is moving and inspirational to say the least, as they say, ain’t nobody like my desi girl!
What’s Next: Joshi continues to rigorously train for the next Paralympics, this year was supposed to be in Tokyo but due to the pandemic, it looks like we’ll have to wait a while to see Joshi in action again.
Cool Fun Fact: With her father being an academic, he encouraged education on his children which is why Joshi actually pursued computer science and becoming a software engineer.
11. SONU SOOD
Location: Mumbai, India
Why Is He Cool: Sonu Sood, the Bollywood actor that has all the girls swooning with one flex of his biceps, is more than just a sexy bod guys, he’s also got a heart of gold. Isn’t he just perfect? We definitely think so. This Punjabi born engineer made his entry into films with Tamil films in 1999 and he worked his way to Bollywood action hero in later years. This year, Sood caught the attention of the world with not his looks and acting but his humanitarian efforts to help the people of his nation during the pandemic. During a nationwide lockdown in May 2020, thousands of migrant workers were left stranded, Sood helped these workers to reach their homes by arranging buses, special trains, and chartered flights for them. A few months later in July, he arranged chartered flights to bring home over 1,500 Indian students stranded in Kyrgyzstan, flying them from Bishkek to Varanasi. That same month a video of a farmer’s daughters plowing the fields like bulls with a yoke on their shoulders went viral, the father of two immediately sent the family a tractor to ease their burden. For his birthday in July, Sood launched a website and app named Pravasi Rojgar to help migrant workers find work during the pandemic. In August, Sood arranged flights for 101 medical students stranded in Moscow due to the lockdown. With most of the students being from Tamil Nadu, he arranged a flight from Moscow to Chennai for their swift and safe return.
What’s Next: Sood will be releasing a book this December titled “I Am No Messiah” written with journalist and author Meena K Iyer. “The past three and half months have been a kind of a life-changing experience for me, living with the migrants for sixteen to eighteen hours a day and sharing the pain. When I go to see them off as they begin their journey back home, my heart is filled with joy and relief,” Sood told Indian Express. “Seeing the smiles on their faces, the tears of happiness in their eyes has been the most special experience of my life, and I pledged that I’ll keep on working to send them back to their homes until the last migrant reaches his village, to his loved ones.” It is being published by Penguin Random House.
Cool Fun Fact: Sood is often known for playing villains in films, but he reports that he has been getting “hero” roles as of late thanks to his newfound title as the nation’s real-life superhero. A Telangana village has even built a temple in Sood’s honor! He’s also made PETA India’s hottest vegetarian 2020 list alongside Shraddha Kapoor.
10. RAHUL DUBEY
Location: Washington DC, USA
Why Is He Cool: Known as the Swann St. Hero, Rahul Dubey made a splash this year by taking action when his fellow citizens needed him most. After the tragic death of George Floyd, the nation erupted in peaceful protests. During one such protest in Washington, DC there was a curfew with police pepper-spraying protesters and blocking them in. During the pandemonium on Swann St. right outside Dubey’s house, he reports he heard “skulls cracking” and couldn’t stand by and do nothing. He flung his door open and shouted at the protesters to get in, he housed almost 70 protestors overnight until the curfew lifted at 6 am and they could go back to their respective homes. At this time the police tried to enter the home by pretending to be protestors and tried to pepper spray his house. The protestors were coughing, crying, pouring milk into each other’s eyes to reduce the pain of being pepper-sprayed. Dubey’s neighbors even arrived at one point to deliver pizza for everyone as police would intercept the delivery. Dubey’s fast thinking saved lives and it’s no surprise that he was named one of TIME magazine’s Heroes of 2020.
What’s Next: Dubey has wanted to effect change and make a difference through his work and actions especially living in Washington, DC. “Washington is the mecca for change, and look what is happening,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Change is happening, not just here in Washington but throughout the world.”
Cool Fun Fact: The Detroit native is a health care entrepreneur, and according to his friends, his actions on that fateful night were not unlike him. They all praised the TIME hero stating that they are not surprised by his actions and so proud. Dubey stated he’s still in contact with some of the protestors who found shelter at his home.
9. SANDEEP MATHRANI
Location: New York, USA
Why Is He Cool: Many of us have reaped the benefits of affordable workspace thanks to WeWork, but as of late the company has been struggling. Enter Sandeep Mathrani, a real estate executive who is expected to turn things around as the new CEO of WeWork. Mathrani has been a trailblazer, working his way up in the real estate business conquering one company at a time. In 2010 he was the CEO of General Grown Properties, one of the largest mall owners in America. He is credited with bringing the company out of bankruptcy. He later went on to be CEO of GGP Inc’s parent company, Brookfield Property Partners, and now WeWork.
What’s Next: Mathrani has already hit the ground running changing up the company’s mission, cutting costs, and excising a destructive company culture to revive WeWork to a profitable stage with longevity in the industry.
Cool Fun Fact: Mike Bloomberg calls Mathrani the “corporate turnaround artist” for his talent of bringing a dying company out into profits. Though Mathrani just says it’s good luck!
8. VIKAS KHANNA
Location: New York, USA
Why Is He Cool: Chef Vikas Khanna has been killing the game since day one. This hard-working, humble, and lovable chef, reality show judge, restauranteur, philanthropist, filmmaker, and cookbook writer has been working extra hard through this pandemic. Khanna was just honored with the prestigious Asia Game Changer Award for 2020 for his humanitarian efforts. Khanna has fed millions through this pandemic in India through his massive food distribution drive called “Feed India” all while working from home in New York City. Khanna is also the only Indian to be honored out of the 6 outstanding candidates honored this year. He also won the Mother Teresa Memorial Award 2020 for his work. His film, “The Last Color” which stars award-winning actress Neena Gupta, also made it to the final list for the 2020 Oscars in the Best Film category. Khanna has had a long hard journey to his success facing homelessness living in a shelter in New York, to discrimination in the kitchen as a South Asian. His success is well deserved.
What’s Next: Though “The Last Color” has been screened at multiple film festivals to great reviews, it has not been released to the general public and has been held up since Holi. Hopefully, the film will be releasing soon along with the three books he’s written and a secret project dedicated to his parents that Khanna has been hinting at for some time. He will be releasing the details on January 10th, 2021.
Cool Fun Fact: While waiting for “The Last Color” to release to the public it seems that Khanna was stress working! During this pandemic, Khanna has also opened a restaurant, wrote three books, signed two really big projects, and finished two documentaries. He has also launched his own collection of dinnerware and tableware!
7. SONIA SYNGAL
Location: San Francisco, CA, USA
Why Is She Cool: This year our top 10 includes some phenomenal girl power, (let’s face it, things are better when a woman’s in power, right?) American-Canadian of Indian descent, Sonia Syngal just became CEO of America’s largest apparel retailer! Syngal was born in India, she moved to Canada as a child with her family and later to the United States. The 49-year-old trailblazer has made a name for herself in her respective industry, a white-male dominated world, by obtaining the title of CEO at GAP Inc. Syngal is the first CEO of Indian origin the company has had. Before taking over the entire GAP corporation, she was CEO of Old Navy, she’s also held roles in companies such as Sun Microsystems and Ford Motor Co.
What’s Next: Syngal hopes to expand her company further internationally creating partnerships for Old Navy in Mexico and franchises across the world.
Cool Fun Fact: In 2018 she was also named in the 50 Most Powerful Moms by Working Mother Magazine and Most Influential Woman in Business of 2018 by the San Francisco Business Times. Though she worked in engineering and technology, Syngal states fashion has been a passion since she was a kid when she used to design and make clothes herself.
6. BILKIS DADI
Location: Delhi, India
Why Is She Cool: Bilkis Dadi is the badass grandma we all hope to be when we grow up. This 82-year-old South Asian icon was at the forefront of the Shaheen Bagh protests in Delhi where hundreds of women sat in protests against the Citizen Amendment Act which could block Muslims from obtaining citizenship in India. The CAA protests lasted over three months and Bilkis Dadi became the voice of the marginalized Muslim community in India. She told TIME journalist, Rana Ayyub, “I will sit here till blood stops flowing in my veins so the children of this country and the world breathe the air of justice and equality.” She was and still is a beacon of strength, hope, and light.
What’s Next: More recently she also spoke out against the farm reforms creating chaos in India, as the daughter of a farmer she was upset but unfortunately was not able to make the protests herself this time around.
Cool Fun Fact: This year she was recognized by not only TIME Magazine on their TIME 100 list of 100 most influential people but also by BBC as their 100 inspirational and influential women around the world for 2020.
5. MALA ADIGA
Location: Washington DC, USA
Why Is She Cool: Indian-American, Mala Adiga has been selected to be Dr. Jill Biden’s Policy Director this year. The accomplished young woman has quite the resume and is a skilled lawyer. Adiga studied at Grinnell College and then went on to get her Master’s degree at The University of Minnesota School of Public Health and finally obtained her law degree at the University of Chicago Law School. At the start of her career the Illinois native was a litigator at Kirkland & Ellis, LLP in Chicago, she also clerked for the US District Court Judge Philip Simon and was Counsel to the Associate Attorney General in the Department of Justice. She went on to become the director of higher education and military families at the Biden Foundation and during the Obama administration, she also served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Academic Programs at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Adiga has also taken on the role of Chief of Staff for the Secretary of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues and she has served as Senior Advisor to the Ambassador-at-Large. That’s not all, she was also the Director for Human Rights on the National Security Staff.
What’s Next: We can’t wait to see what she takes on alongside Dr. Biden during her reign as First Lady.
Cool Fun Fact: Adiga hails from a renowned family with talented individuals. Her father was a surgeon who practiced in America and her mother studied medicine as well in Tamil Nadu, India. Adiga belongs to the family of K Suryanarayana Adiga, founder of the former undivided Dakshina Kannada district’s private sector bank, Karnataka Bank Ltd. Her appointment was celebrated in India by her family and small town in Karnataka.
4. GITANJALI RAO
Location: Lone Tree, Colorado
Why Is She Cool: This tiny packet, bada dhamaka star is a brilliant inventor, author, scientist, and STEM promoter. The Indian-American scientist launched to stardom when she won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge in 2017. She won praise for her creation of a device she named Tethys which used carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead in water. At the time Rao used her innovation in response to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. She then went to collaborate with scientists in the water industry to get her device on the market. Since then the Colorado native has been using her powers for good with creations that helped others. In 2019 she made it to the Forbes 30 under 30 lists and this year she’s also on TIME magazine’s top young innovators of 2020. Her latest project is a phone app and web tool named Kindly that uses artificial intelligence to detect possible early signs of cyberbullying. “The goal is not to punish. As a teenager, I know teenagers tend to lash out sometimes,” Rao says in her TIME interview. “Instead, it gives you the chance to rethink what you’re saying so that you know what to do next time around.” Aside from the Kindly app, she also runs “innovation sessions” where she teaches her process of observing, brainstorm, research, build and communicate to help young innovators bring their ideas to life. She’s partnered with rural schools, girls in STEM organizations, museums all across the world, and bigger organizations like Shanghai International Youth Science and Technology group and the Royal Academy of Engineering in London to run innovation workshops.
What’s Next: Currently, Rao is working on an easy way to help detect bio-contaminants in water such as parasites. “I’m hoping for this to be something that’s inexpensive and accurate so that people in third-world countries can identify what’s in their water,” Rao explains in her TIME Magazine interview. She’s also working with bio-contaminants based on gene-based therapy solutions. She hopes to develop a product that helps to diagnose prescription-opioid addiction at an early stage based on protein production of the mu-opioid receptor gene.
Cool Fun Fact: Gitanjali Rao is Time magazine’s first-ever Kid of the year, a title created in collaboration with Nickelodeon. Rao has also hit her goal of mentoring 30,000 students.
3. RAVINDRA GUPTA
Location: London, England, and Durban, South Africa
Why Is He Cool: Dr. Ravindra Gupta may have discovered a cure for HIV! Gupta’s work in infectious diseases has led to the second person so have been functionally cured of HIV. Gupta led a team to treat an HIV positive man with advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma, in treating cancer they were able to cure his HIV as well. The patient initially only known as “the London patient” has revealed himself to the public as Adam Castillejo and reports he is perfectly healthy! Gupta’s work focuses on HIV drug resistance protease/integrase inhibitors and implications for the global scale-up of antiretroviral therapy. They also dissect the biology of macrophage-virus interactions given myeloid cells are parasitized by HIV and are a difficult-to-treat reservoir. Gupta is an immensely talented South Asian who obtained his medical degree from Cambridge University and has a Masters in Public Health from Harvard School of Public Health and a clinical degree from Oxford University. He also trained in infectious diseases in Oxford and The Hospital for Tropical Diseases.
What’s Next: In recognition of his achievements, he was honored with a position as Professor of Clinical Microbiology and Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow in Clinical Science at The University of Cambridge. He also runs the Gupta Lab at the University College London (UCL) which has a counterpart in Africa at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa. So these days, alongside his research you can catch a class with the talented Dr. Gupta.
Cool Fun Fact: Dr. Ravindra Gupta was honored this year as TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, and rightfully so.
2. DR. PRAKRITI GABA
Location: New York, NY
Why Is She Cool: With this year being consumed by COVID-19, we can’t top this list without recognizing the phenomenal minds who have been keeping us safe and endlessly working on the frontlines to help find answers. Dr. Prakriti Gaba is one such physician and researcher at New York-Presbyterian Hospital who has made great efforts to understand and find a solution to COVID-19. Gaba advocated for changes that increased the speed and efficiency of clinical trials which would potentially lead to COVID-19 treatments. The Harvard Medical School Cardiology Fellow was the first author in a study published in the Nature Reviews Cardiology detailing methods to not only transform the clinical trial process but to incorporate remote consent and monitoring programs, as well as more diverse patient recruitment.
What’s Next: Gaba continues not only her work in research but as a physician on the frontlines. She proudly showed off her vaccine shot recently on social media and continues to educate others about COVID precautions and the importance of wearing a mask and staying socially distant.
Cool Fun Fact: Gaba was also featured on On Forbes 30 under 30 lists in Healthcare.
1. KAMALA HARRIS
Location: Washington DC, USA
Why Is She Cool: At the top of this year’s list is none other than Vice President-elect Kamala Harris! With her monumental win alongside President-elect Joe Biden, Harris has changed the face of the nation. She is the first female, Black, and South Asian vice president. This is also the highest position in government a South Asian has held in America. Whether you agree with Harris’ policies and political positions or not, you can definitely appreciate the gravity of her win indicating a change in not just the nation but the world. This isn’t the only time Harris has broken barriers, prior to her vice presidential win, Harris was the one of 10 African American to ever serve as the US Senator and the second female African American to serve after Illinois senator Carol Moseley Braun. Out of 9 senators of Asian descent, Harris is also the only Indian-American to serve. The Howard University alum also served as California’s Attorney General from 2011 to 2017. Harris has proved to be politically independent fighting for causes she believes in like overturning laws against same-sex marriage in her home state of California, focused on immigration reform, criminal-justice reform, working to increase the minimum wage, protecting women’s reproductive rights, and leading social-justice reforms.
What’s Next: Uniting a divided country, working through a pandemic, and improve the global image of America on the world’s stage is not going to be an easy task for this VP. Harris’ next stop is taking her place alongside President Joe Biden for the next 4 years to bring some normalcy to the nation.
Cool Fun Fact: Did you know Harris comes from a whole family of fabulous people? With a father who was a Stanford University professor, a mother who was a cancer research scientist, and a sister who is a renowned public policy advocate, over-achieving is in her blood. Harris’ niece, Meena Harris is also a lawyer, children’s book writer, and activist just like her aunt. We are proud to have Harris bring a little brown girl magic to the White House, here’s to hoping her legacy of empowering women and minorities continues during her vice presidency.