We entered 2021 scared and uncertain about what the year would hold. Vaccines came as our savior and the world dared to open up again. Then the world sat up and realized that South Asians are literally taking over and we could not have been happier about it!
Healthcare, business, technology, arts, entertainment, philanthropy, sports, pageants, or conquering outer space – you name it, and a South Asian owned it.
So at the end of the year, we had an incredibly difficult time listing down our favorite top 50 coolest South Asians of 2021.
In every field, we had 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. SAMIR CHOPRA
Why Is He Cool: The character of Samir made his debut in “Arthur’s First Day,” a special that premiered on PBS on September 6th, 2021. The hour-long episode was created as part of season 25 before it was announced that the series would be ending. He is a Sikh friend that Buster meets in Mrs. Grimslid’s class. He is voiced by Chris River. Having representation as a Sikh character in mainstream American TV is huge, something none of the generations before could ever imagine having.
What’s Next: Well, with this being “Aurthur’s” last season, it is obviously the last we see of Samir. But we hope to see more representation of animated South Asian characters in the future so that the younger generation is proud of their diversity.
Cool Fun Fact: In the show, Samir was shown to be into performing magic card tricks, but wasn’t very good at it, as he always guessed wrong.
49. SHELLY ANAND
Why Is She Cool: Shelly Anand was honored with the NCTE Charlotte Huck Award® for Outstanding Fiction for Children for her book ‘Laxmi’s Mooch.’ It is a body-positive picture book that follows a young Indian American girl’s journey to accept her body hair and celebrate her heritage after being teased about her mustache. She hopes that kids and adults reading the book can celebrate their mooches and body hair! Her book is inspired by her own experiences growing up as a brown South Asian and having a mooch that other kids noticed.
What’s Next: Her second picture book, ‘I Love My Body Because,’ co-authored with photographer and body awareness artist Nomi Ellenson comes out in June 2022.
Cool Fun Fact: She is the co-founder of Sur Legal, an immigrant & worker rights non-profit organization based in Atlanta, Georgia.
48. PADMA LAKSHMI
Location: New York
Why Is She Cool: She released a brand new children’s book, ‘Tomatoes for Neela,’ where she takes young readers on an inter-generational journey full of delicious flavors and fun food facts that celebrates a family’s treasured recipes. Lakshmi also collaborated with Etsy to bring a little bit of her unique magic into our own kitchens! She curated a collection of elegant sculptural serving bowls, candy-colored glasses, and festive table linens that will add sophistication to any home.
What’s Next: She has vociferously spoken against the anti-abortion bills in Texas and continues to work against them. We will be seeing more of her soon on the next season of ‘Top Chef.’
Cool Fun Fact: She is the global ambassador for Keep a Child Alive, a nonprofit organization that provides healthcare, housing, and other support services to HIV/AIDS-affected communities in Africa and India since 2007.
47. RUMAAN ALAM
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Why Is He Cool: Rumaan Alam’s latest novel, “Leave the World Behind” was featured on former President Barack Obama’s esteemed 2021 summer reading list. It has been described as “eerie” and carefully crafted literary suspense that will keep you on edge with its wit, comedy, and insightful messages on race, parenthood, and more. In case the former president letting you know this novel is a must-read isn’t enough, “Leave the World Behind” was named a Best Book of the year by The Washington Post, Time, NPR, Elle, Esquire, Kirkus, Library Journal, The Chicago Public Library, The New York Public Library, BookPage, The Globe and Mail, The LA Times, USA Today, InStyle, The New Yorker, AARP, Publisher’s Lunch, LitHub * Book Marks * Electric Literature, Brooklyn Based, and The Boston Globe.
What’s Next: Netflix has announced that they have obtained the rights to a film adaptation of Alam’s novel. Rumor has it that the film will be written and directed by Sam Esmail, and will feature an ensemble cast that includes Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington in the lead.
Cool Fun Fact: Alam, along with his husband, photographer David A. Land, have created a stunning space for themselves in their cozy Brooklyn brownstone. Their home is so beautifully designed and decorated that it has been featured in numerous design magazines, including the very popular HGTV website and blogs like Design Sponge.
46. SUJATA DAY
Location: Los Angeles
Why Is She Cool: Day’s “Definition Please” received the Special Jury Award for 2021 Fresh Narrative Voice at Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. The relatable and heartwarming dramedy appeared on many critics’ notable films lists, including Nerdist, Screen Queens, Earth To Films, Candid Cinema, among others. For her work illuminating race and mental illness on film, Sujata Day was additionally profiled for NBCUniversal News Group’s Inspiring America series.
What’s Next: Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY Releasing has acquired the distribution rights of “Definition Please” in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand and will debut on Netflix on January 21st. Also, Sujata Day is back on the set of HBO’s ‘Insecure’ for its next season.
Cool Fun Fact: The “Definition Please” director herself won her class Spelling Bee in fourth grade, but in regionals, she spelled the word “radish” with two d’s instead of one and lost in the first round.
45. AASHNI ANSHUL DOSHI
Location: London, UK
Why Is She Cool: For Warner Bros’ live-action film, “Tom & Jerry,” Aashni+Co was brought on board to dress cast members Chloe Moretz, Pallavi Sharda, and Colin Jost among others for the film’s lavish, Indian wedding scene. Being a part of the iconic movie version of the heritage animation has marked another milestone in the Aashni+Co journey. The privilege of being associated with this cult animation series – one that is the reason behind so many happy smiles for decades – is a moment of pride for the Aashni+Co team. For the filmmakers, having the leading South Asian high fashion and bridal couture destination on board for this wow factor scene was imperative.
What’s Next: Reopening their store after the relief from pandemic lockdown was a big relief for them. They are currently working on another movie however due to an NDA no more information can be revealed at this stage.
Cool Fun Fact: Aashni Anshul Doshi had initially moved to London to study filmmaking at The National Film and Television School and MET Film school.
44. KISHWAR CHOWDHURY
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Why Is She Cool: With dreams of sharing Bengali cuisine with the world, she wowed the judges and fellow contestants with her lip-smacking creations, techniques, and knowledge about Bengali food in MasterChef Australia season 13, and became the second runner-up in the competition. The highlight of her run in the competition was when she made ‘panta bhat’ also known as the “poor man’s rice” as it is made with day-old rice.
What’s Next: Chowdhury hopes to create a cookbook for her children with the recipes of her Bangladeshi-Australian heritage like her Hariyali Chicken with an Australian twist. She hopes to pass down her culture and love of food to her children through these recipes that she’s learned from her own mother and grandmother.
Cool Fun Fact: She has collaborated with Cargo Crew to release their limited edition Kishwar Chowdhury x Cargo Crew gift packs, featuring Kishwar’s exclusive Rose Spice Tea blend.
43. DR. SWAIMAN SINGH
Location: Punjab, India
Why Is He Cool: 34-year-old Dr. Swaiman Singh boarded a flight to India in December 2020 from New Jersey for a short visit to help a close family friend from his ancestral village in Punjab, who had suffered a stroke at one of the sites in New Delhi where farmers had been protesting for months. But once he arrived on the scene, he saw cases of heart attacks, cardiac arrests, diarrhea, vomiting, depression, and fear. He put his medical practice on hold and stayed back in India to help the farmers at the protest site. He is a true philanthropist and continues to work for the benefit of those who really need help.
What’s Next: He founded the 5 Rivers Heart Association and is continuing his work on the ground in India by conducting free medical camps, educating the youth, building houses for those in need, and much more.
Cool Fun Fact: Just before he reached India, his career was taking off, with just a few months left in a three-year cardiology fellowship at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and another prestigious opportunity lined up after that.
42. SHREYA PATEL
Location: Toronto, Canada
Why Is She Cool: Indo-Canadian actress Shreya Patel, who has been working to change the cinematic narrative with her films, was honored as one of ‘Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women of 2021’ by Women’s Executive Network under the Arts, Sports, and Entertainment category sponsored by Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. She was named a winner of the ‘Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award’, the only national awards program that celebrates the achievements of inspiring Canadian immigrants. The city of Toronto also awarded her an honorable mention during their Access, Equity, and Human Rights Awards for her work to advance equity in the city.
What’s Next: Shreya Patel is currently busy with her mockumentary-style series ‘Layla is Relevant’, which will shine a light on how social media can be detrimental to one’s mental health as Gen Z seeks validation online versus looking within.
Cool Fun Fact: She shone a light on the disparities between emerging countries and developed countries during COVID-19 through her film, ‘Unity – #LOVESPREADS Faster Than Virus’.
41. SURAJ KANDUKURI
Location: New York, USA
Why Is He Cool: ‘Brown People We Know’ by Suraj Kandukuri is an interview podcast exploring non-traditional paths and shared experiences within the South Asian American diaspora. Winner of Lions Share’s 2021 Lion Awards for podcast of the year, his goal is to shatter stereotypes about South Asians in America and to reduce social pressure from within the community to take up a certain path. He was featured by Forbes in their list of ‘Five Asian American Podcasts That Are Busting The Model Minority Myth’ and has been an excellent tool to connect members of the diaspora.
What’s Next: Fresh new episodes, please! With Suraj Kandukuri we continue to learn how our community combines elements of South Asian and American cultures, everything from Shah Rukh Khan to Hot Dogs, creating a unique “third culture.”
Cool Fun Fact: Suraj Kandukuri was inspired by Hasan Minhaj to start ‘Brown People We Know’ as a way to increase representation.
40. SIMI SHAH
Location: New York, USA
Why Is She Cool: Her podcast ‘South Asian Trailblazers’ dives deep into the professional journeys of South Asian leaders and innovators across industries. Her guests have included inspiring trailblazers such as US Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, NYT Food Journalist Priya Krishna, and Twitter CISO Rinki Sethi. She was featured by Forbes in their list of ‘Five Asian American Podcasts That Are Busting The Model Minority Myth’. She has a goal to amplify and center the success stories to inspire generations of South Asians. She also leads ‘Shop South Asian’ a resource network for South Asian entrepreneurs connecting people to South Asian-owned businesses.
What’s Next: She believes in getting more stories out of South Asians who are constantly leading and achieving across industries with her skills as a community builder and content creator through her podcast and other efforts.
Cool Fun Fact: She currently serves as the Chief of Staff to Indra Nooyi, the former Chairman, and CEO of PepsiCo.
39. ANNIKA SHARMA & NEHAL TENANY
Location: New York, USA
Why Are They Cool: Annika Sharma and Nehal Tenany host ‘The Woke Desi’ a podcast created by and for brown women and men. The podcast features a range of topics from light-hearted social issues like dating and marriage in the desi community, to heavier topics like infertility, the LGBTQ community, and abuse told with guests in a story-telling and educational format. They were featured by Forbes in their list of ‘Five Asian American Podcasts That Are Busting The Model Minority Myth’.
What’s Next: They plan to have more passionate topics and stories on The Woke Desi in the upcoming seasons.
Cool Fun Fact: Before they could settle on the name ‘The Woke Desi.’ the list of names included ‘Shhh…Don’t Tell Aunty’, ‘Do You Speak Indian?’, ‘Six In the City’.
38. S. MITRA KALITA
Location: Queens, New York
Why Is She Cool: She created Epicenter NYC, a weekly newsletter to get the black and brown community through the pandemic. It does not only publish articles on the website but offers access to public folders and documentation that the community may need and collect, share and act on news and information. Epicenter helped more than 5,000 people (and likely countless more) navigate the vaccine registration system.
What’s Next: As per Mitra, the pandemic has made everyone an agent of change and 2022 will be all about community-centered strategies which she will be exploring more.
Cool Fun Fact: URL Media has received funding from Archewell, the nonprofit arm of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (aka Prince Harry and Meghan Markle).
37. ANAIK SINGH
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Why Is He Cool: 9-year-old Anaik Singh created a free library for patients. During the pandemic, he realized that the pandemic also brought with it loneliness. COVID patients in hospitals and those quarantined at home could not meet people or interact as before, so he thought a great way to help them was to get them books that they could read and distract themselves. Thus, ‘Anaik’s Loving Library’ was born. His dedication won him the Phoenix Business Journal’s 2021 Philanthropic Hero Award.
What’s Next: In 2022, his initiative is going to help the pediatric burn unit where he will be collecting kid’s books for the children admitted there.
Cool Fun Fact: Anaik Singh was featured on ‘The Ellen Show’ talking about his ‘Loving Library’ and was presented with $15000 to help his initiative.
36. DJ SHARAD
Location: New York, USA
Why Is He Cool: 2021 saw DJ Sharad join the world’s most elite DJ crew, The Heavy Hitter DJs. He is the first-ever South Asian to become a part of Heavy Hitters and he truly deserves it. DJ Sharad is a household name within New York’s South Asian entertainment community. His legendary “All-Star” Parties in the ’90s and early 2000s brought thousands of twenty-somethings together to dance to his classic DJ sets consisting of Hip Hop, Dancehall, Classics, currents, and of course his signature blend of Urban Desi style of music.
What’s Next: DJ Sharad is here to push the culture and keep moving forward. He has been inspired by a new generation of artists, producers, creators, and visionaries from around the globe who are making incredible music influenced by the subcontinent. He will continue to be the bridge between the Desi and Hip Hop community and will continue to push boundaries.
Cool Fun Fact: During the pandemic, DJ Sharad along with his team started On The House – a community-driven initiative to ensure everyone eats.
35. MELANIE CHANDRA & SURINA JINDAL
Location: Los Angeles / New York
Why Are They Cool: Actors and real-life best friends Surina Jindal and Melanie Chandra starred in Comedy Central’s “Hot Mess Holiday” ringing in the holiday season of 2021. This was the first time for a full-fledged Diwali-themed feature film to hit Hollywood and we South Asians couldn’t be happier! It’s the perfect way to show Americans what Diwali truly means to us along with hitting all right notes of representation.
What’s Next: Their short film got made into a movie – so we really wish to see this becoming a series with Surina and Mel treating us with much-needed desi style rom-com for friends.
Cool Fun Fact: Kal Penn came on board as an executive producer and made sure “Hot Mess Holiday” gets all the spotlight it truly deserves.
34. HASAN MINHAJ
Location: New York, USA
Why Is He Cool: While Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon were busy fighting for power, Hasan Minhaj’s face became one of the first faces you saw as a new cast member on Season 2 of Apple TV’s Emmy Award-winning series, ‘The Morning Show.’ Minhaj first exploded onto the scene when he became a correspondent for one of the most illustrious news satire shows, ‘The Daily Show’ in 2014. For four years, Minhaj worked on field segments, sketches, and in-studio bits lampooning the news and illuminating grave injustices in the world. In 2018, Netflix ordered Minhaj’s solo late-night show, ‘Patriot Act,’ which ran until cancellation in 2020.
What’s Next: He is currently in the thick of a national tour for his brand new one-man show, ‘The King’s Jester,’ that stretches into spring of 2022. It is running to packed houses all over the US.
Cool Fun Fact: He is also a part of the Pillars Artist Fellowship program initiated by Riz Ahmed for changing the narrative of Muslims in Films.
33. ZAHID QURAISHI
Location: New Jersey, USA
Why Is He Cool: The US Senate approved the historic nomination of Pakistani-American Zahid Quraishi to the District Court in New Jersey, making him the first Muslim federal judge in the country’s history. Judge Zahid Quraishi’s confirmation is a hallmark in this new era of progress for American Muslims, breaking barriers by filling roles that have not been historically filled by Muslims. As Dr. Ijaz Ahmad, chairman of the American Pakistani Public Affairs Committee said, “He is a model for the outstanding contributions that Pakistani and Muslim Americans make to this country every day.”
What’s Next: Judge Quraishi has his work cut out for him with the US District Court of New Jersey being one of the busiest in the country, with 46,000 cases pending before it and with judges facing individual caseloads more than triple the national average.
Cool Fun Fact: He served two tours in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004 and 2006.
32. VIBHAV MITTAL
Location: California, County of Orange
Why Is He Cool: 39-year-old Vibhav Mittal was appointed as the first Judge of South Asian descent to the Superior Court of California, County of Orange. He has served as a federal prosecutor before and has won the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s Best Under 40 Award. Mittal has served as a Law Clerk for Amul R. Thapar, the first US federal judge of South Asian descent, at the US District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky from 2009 to 2010.
What’s Next: As the first native-born American in his family and the son of Indian immigrants, Mittal has also dedicated efforts to serving the Asian American Pacific Islander community and will continue to do the same during his tenure.
Cool Fun Fact: During his ten-year tenure as a federal prosecutor, he tried 13 criminal trials to verdict, including a groundbreaking public-corruption matter where a state court clerk took over $400,000 in bribes to resolve over 1,000 cases pending in traffic court.
31. PRIYANKA CHOPRA
Location: New York / Mumbai
Why Is She Cool: Priyanka Chopra starred in “The Matrix Resurrections,” published a memoir “Unfinished”, which reached The New York Times Best Seller list, and starred in and produced “The White Tiger” which was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay nomination at the 93rd Academy Awards. She was also announced as Bvlgari’s global brand ambassador. What more does a woman really need to do to be cool? She also hosted a grand Diwali party which became the talk of Hollywood.
What’s Next: Chopra will next lead the romantic drama “Text for You” opposite Sam Heughan and Celine Dion. She will star alongside Richard Madden in Amazon Prime Video’s thriller series “Citadel,” and as the spiritual guru Ma Anand Sheela in Barry Levinson’s “Sheela,” a film she will produce for Amazon Studios. She has also committed to star alongside Mindy Kaling in a comedy about an Indian-American wedding and will portray the lawyer Vanita Gupta in Gordan’s courtroom drama Tulia, an adaptation of a non-fiction book “Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption” (2005) based on the 1999 racial injustice case that took place in the city of the same name. She is also set to star in Farhan Akhtar’s directorial “Jee Le Zaraa” alongside Katrina Kaif and Alia Bhatt, which is set to release in 2023.
Cool Fun Fact: 2021 saw Priyanka Chopra single-handedly steal the show with her appearance on Jonas Brothers Family Roast.
30. YOHANI DILOKA DE SILVA
Location: Colombo, Sri Lanka
Why Is She Cool: Sri Lankan singer and songwriter Yohani Diloka de Silva became a viral sensation when her Sinhalese superhit song “Manike Mage Hithe” along with rapper Satheeshan hit the internet. This song hit the news when it caught Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s fancy with him tweeting about his obsession with the song along with a video edited by his granddaughter Navya Naveli, who’d superimposed the Sinhala song over Bachchan’s song-dance sequence ‘Jahan Teri Ye Nazar Hai.’ The song caught the attention of actors like Madhuri Dixit, Parineeti Chopra, and Tiger Shroff who all posted videos to the track. She also made her Bollywood debut with the female version of the title track of “Shiddat”.
What’s Next: Her Sinhalese album is coming out in July 2022 and she is also working on Hindi, Tamil, Hindi, Urdu, and English music.
Cool Fun Fact: Amitabh Bacchan even spoke about it on his Hindi television quiz show ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ when Yohani appeared in a question.
29. NIKHIL SRIVASTAVA
Why Is He Cool: It’s been a glorious decade for Indians making international headlines, and Nikhil Srivastava joined in by solving the Kadison-Singer problem that had risen in 1959 and had stayed unsolved since then. Srivastava was jointly selected for the inaugural Ciprian Foias Prize in Operator Theory by the American Mathematical Society (AMS). He also jointly won the 2021 Michael and Sheila Held Prize along with two others for solving long-standing questions on the Kadison-Singer problem and on Ramanujan graphs.
What’s Next: Well, solving more complex math problems for sure! The solution to Kadison and Singer’s problem has applications in many fields, like engineering, maths, and quantum physics. While receiving the award Srivastava said, “that their participation was the finale of an incredible narrative that they hope may encourage similar solutions for challenging issues in the future.”
Cool Fun Fact: He received a Ph.D. in computer science from Yale University in 2010. His dissertation was called “Spectral Sparsification and Restricted Invertibility”.
28. AZMERI HAQUE BADHON
Location: Dhaka, Bangladesh
Why Is She Cool: Azmeri Haque Badhon made global headlines when her film “Rehana Maryam Noor,” became the first Bangladeshi feature film to be selected in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section and got a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival 2021. The moving film directed by Abdullah Mohammad Saad told the story of a young single mother who is an assistant professor in a private medical college. She battles society by standing up against a male colleague making sexual advances toward students. Badhon connected with the role strongly as she too was in medical college and is also a young single mother raising a daughter, and of course, fighting the patriarchy.
What’s Next: She is all set to make her Bollywood debut in filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj’s film ”Khufiya” on Netflix, a spy thriller inspired by true events and based on the popular espionage novel ”Escape to Nowhere” by Amar Bhushan.
Cool Fun Fact: She won “Best Actress” in the 14th Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) for “Rehana Maryam Noor.”
27. DEEPICA MUTYALA
Location: Houston, Texas
Why Is She Cool: In October 2021 Live Tinted became the first South Asian-owned brand at Ulta Beauty. As part of Ulta Beauty’s ‘Sparked’ program, the brand will be featured in prominent endcaps and Sparked programming to enhance visibility. The brand is being featured in the retailer’s Conscious Beauty lineup. All of Live Tinted’s products are now being sold on Ulta Beauty’s website. Live Tinted also entered physical retail for the first time with this launch. After becoming a YouTube sensation, Mutyala launched Live Tinted in 2019 with her award-winning Huestick, a 4-in-1 multi-stick color corrector to balance discoloration and dark spots. It has now won Allure’s Best of Beauty Award for Best Multiuse Stick for the 2nd year in a row.
What’s Next: She said it in her Instagram post, “I’m feeling stronger and more confident than ever in who I am. I’m comfortable with admitting that I’m honestly just figuring life out as I go, and I’m looking forward to continued growth in 2022.”
Cool Fun Fact: Her 2021 Diwali dinner hosted by Mindy Kaling made global news when Deepica Mutyala joined hands with Meena Harris and filled the room with trailblazing South Asian women who are charting new paths across media, arts, and entertainment.
26. RAVI KUMAR DAHIYA
Location: Haryana, India
Why Is He Cool: The 23-year old wrestler Ravi Kumar Dahiya rose to fame after he joined India’s Olympic medal-winners club with a silver medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He is the second-ever Indian wrestler to win an Olympic silver. Before the Olympics, he had won a bronze medal at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships in the 57 kg weight category. Hailing from India’s wrestling powerhouse Haryana, which has produced some of the finest wrestlers, it was natural for Dahiya to take up wrestling at a very young age.
What’s Next: He is preparing for the next Olympics in Paris in 2024 and hopes to win gold!
Cool Fun Fact: He also has two Asian Championship gold medals under his belt, winning them back to back in 2020 and 2021.
25. MIRABAI CHANU
Location: Manipur, India
Why Is She Cool: Mirabai Chanu raised the bar as she went on to win the silver medal in the weightlifting – 49 kg category at the Tokyo Olympics. The iron lady attempted 115 kg for a second time and raised it perfectly. Finally, she attempted for 117 kg but failed. As a result, she settled for a silver medal. She became the first South Asian, first Indian, and the first woman to secure a medal in Olympics 2020 (held in 2021 due to the pandemic). After being trolled for failing at the Rio Olympics (2016) she came back strong and hit back at all those who doubted her.
What’s Next: Chanu continues to train and will be participating in other weightlifting competitions like the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games next year. She has become an icon in India where more kids are now showing interest in weightlifting.
Cool Fun Fact: Mirabai Chanu is named after her sister’s best friend.When her sister had to leave school due to the family’s financial condition she had promised her best friend that she would name her younger sister to remember her.
24. VIVEK MURTHY
Location: Washington DC, USA
Why Is He Cool: Dr. Vivek Murthy is an American physician and a vice admiral in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps who has served as the 19th and 21st surgeon general of the United States under President Obama and President Biden. Murthy is the first surgeon general of Indian descent, and, during his first term as surgeon general, he was the youngest active duty flag officer in federal uniformed service. Murthy co-chaired President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board from November 2020 to January 2021, alongside former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David A. Kessler and Yale public health professor Marcella Nunez-Smith.
What’s Next: As the surgeon general, Murthy leads a force of 6,700 public health officers, with the mission of delivering exceptional care to medically underserved populations both within the United States and abroad. He is a passionate believer in the power of public health to change lives and communities and has devoted his career to tackling some of the nation’s most urgent health issues, including addiction, the lack of safe and walkable communities, and the loneliness epidemic.
Cool Fun Fact: During his time at Yale, Murthy helped start “The Healer’s Art” – a four-week long elective in which medical students discuss critical topics such as what it means to serve as a healer, how to cope with losing a patient, and how to prevent physician burnout. This course, available at only Yale and UCSF at the time, is now offered by over 70 medical schools across the United States.
23. MISHA JAPANWALA
Location: New York, USA
Why Is She Cool: In June 2021 Misha Japanwala designed breastplates for Cardi B’s music video ‘Rumours’ making her as famous as the American rapper. Known for her signature body casts with scalloped edges that are molded to the curves and arches of each body they envelop, Japanwala’s wearable art is a form of rebellion against Pakistan’s patriarchal society she grew up in. She was listed in the Forbes 2021 class of 30 under 30 Asia in the Arts section for addressing issues such as domestic violence and honor killings in Pakistan.
What’s Next: Japanwala takes on commissions for custom client work, but her next goal is to be able to fund the production of more full collections. She’s found a niche for her castings, illustrations, and jewelry—an indulgent and rebellious celebration of the female form.
Cool Fun Fact: Cardi B broke the internet with an iconic birth announcement of her second child on Instagram wearing a white breastplate especially molded to memorialize her pregnant body designed by Misha Japanwala.
22. SRUTHY SITHARA
Location: Kerala, India
Why Is She Cool: India now has its first Miss Trans Global Universe 2021. Leveling up the representation game, this online event was designed to boost confidence among the transgender community. She beat her co-contestants from the Philippines and Canada to win the spot. From being a boy who dreamt to be a model or actor, her transformation from Praveen to Sruthy was not an easy journey. But she always had her family’s support to fall back on.
What’s Next: Sruthy wants to use her success to make life better for fellow trans persons. She is set to prove that they are ‘no less than men or women’. “We are equal, we have our own caliber and we have our own traits,” she said in an interview with The Week.
Cool Fun Fact: Sruthy Sithara has been making waves as part of the transgender cell at the Social Justice Department of the Kerala Government and through her online campaign ‘The Kaleidoscope’ to normalize queer relationships.
Location: Saskatchewan, Canada
Why Is He Cool: Tesher’s ‘Jalebi Baby’ was the 8th most-searched-for song globally in 2021. That an Indian sweet would be made world-famous by a song was not something people had imagined in their wildest dreams. Tesher proved everyone wrong by doing just that. ‘Jalebi Baby’ caught the eye of one of the top artists in Hollywood, Jason Derulo, and the next thing we knew, Derulo collaborated with Tesher with the remix that set the industry off and propelled Tesher’s career to new heights.
What’s Next: This new “Bollywood, Hollywood duo” could potentially be hinting at more collaborations in the future given the way the song exploded.
Cool Fun Fact: ‘Jalebi Baby’ became one of Shazam’s highest-charting tracks in about 25 countries in 2021 and ranks 133 on its global top 200 tracks.
20. PRIYA AHLUWALIA
Location: London, UK
Why Is She Cool: The 2021 Queen Elizabeth II Award for Fashion Design was awarded to Priya Ahluwalia. The young fashion designer, who is following in the footsteps of Richard Quinn, Bethany Williams, and Rosh Mahtani, has been praised for her efforts to change the industry for the better under her namesake label. Ahluwalia creates sustainably-minded menswear collections, which are made from dead stock and repurposed locally-sourced vintage materials, while she combines elements and influences from her Nigerian and Indian heritage, making her designs truly unique – and has used her growing platform to become an agent of change, bringing awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement.
What’s Next: She recently dropped her debut womenswear collection and it’s already creating a buzz in the fashion world. Priya Ahluwalia is sure to make more noise in 2022 keeping up with her motto of constantly wanting to celebrate how diversity and syncretism between cultures can create something beautiful.
Cool Fun Fact: The British Fashion Council honored her as the ‘Environmental Leader of Change’ at the Fashion Awards 2021.
19. MAITREYI RAMAKRISHNAN
Location: Ontario, Canada
Why Is She Cool: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan has been making waves since starring as the hilariously relatable Devi on Mindy Kaling’s Netflix series “Never Have I Ever,” and she also earned a much-deserved spot on this year’s Time 100 Next list. The second annual list spotlights “individuals who are shaping the future and defining the next generation of leadership,” so it’s no surprise the 19-year-old star was on it. The show has already won back-to-back People’s Choice Award for the Best Comedy Show for 2020 and 2021 and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan has become the face of representation for GenZ.
What’s Next: 2022 is already off to a great start for her with the release of “Turning Red” in March. She is the voice of the lead character.
Cool Fun Fact: She celebrates her birthday as “Merry Maitreyimas,” which has become a social media trend for the last few years now.
18. NIRMAL PURJA
Location: Hampshire, England
Why Is He Cool: Though he had completed the mean feat of climbing all 14 eight-thousand meter summits in seven months in 2019, the 2021 Netflix documentary “14 Peaks – Nothing is Impossible” made Nepal-born Nirmal Purja a global icon. The previous record for this feat was completed in seven years. He holds the world record title of the fastest ascent of all fourteen eight-thousander mountains, with a record time of six months and six days (supplemental oxygen aid), the fastest ascent of Mount Everest, Lhotse, and Makalu, in 48 hours, and the first winter ascent of K2 (completed in 2021).
What’s Next: His book “Beyond Possible” was recently released in the USA and we are sure he will continue to break more mountaineering records.
Cool Fun Fact: “I was told my plan was impossible,” Nirmal Purja has stated in many interviews, “So I decided to name it Project Possible.”
17. SHALINA KUMAR
Location: Michigan, USA
Why Is She Cool: Judge Shalina Kumar became the first Indian American judge to be confirmed by the United States Senate as a District Court Judge in the Eastern District of Michigan. She has previously served on the Oakland County Sixth Circuit Court and was appointed as the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court by the Michigan Supreme Court in January 2018. Before taking on the bench, Kumar was a civil litigator in private practice from 1997 to 2007. She graduated from the University of Michigan in 1993 and the University of Detroit-Mercy School of Law in 1996.
What’s Next: With her experience as a presiding judge of the Adult Treatment Court, the Chairperson of the Oakland County Criminal Assignment Committee, the bench liaison to the Oakland County Bar Association Circuit Court Committee, a member of the Michigan State Bar Professionalism Committee, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Michigan Judges’ Association, she is expected to have a successful tenure in her current position.
Cool Fun Fact: President Joe Biden had named Kumar as a nominee in June 2021.
16. ANJALI SUD
Location: New York, USA
Why Is She Cool: It’s rare to see a female CEO ring the NASDAQ stock opening market bell. It’s rarer still when she is of Indian origin and does it minutes after cradling a 2.5-year-old baby in her arms. Anjali Sud did just that and more to become one of the most powerful women in business in 2021. She was the driving force to turn Vimeo into an independent publicly-traded company. In 2017, at only 34 years old, she was named CEO of Vimeo, the world’s largest online ad-free video platform. In her first 90 days on the job, she led Vimeo’s transition from a primarily entertainment platform to a software-as-a-service business for content creators. The company pulled in nearly $200 million in revenue in 2019 and the rest as they say is history.
What’s Next: Keeping a tab on regulations, maintaining the company’s value, and taking steps to make Vimeo bigger and better are all things that will be keeping Anjali Sud very busy in the next few years.
Cool Fun Fact: Talking about the impossibility of work-life balance in an interview with Money Control she said, “On Sundays, I hand my son to my husband and go on a 2 hour just “me” walk around the city and just get me time to think through everything and that has been crucial for my sanity during the pandemic.”
15. TAJAMUL ISLAM
Location: Kashmir, India
Why Is She Cool: 13-year-old Tajamul Islam created history by becoming the first Kashmiri girl to win a gold medal for India in the competition. The young champion wore the national flag on her shoulders after winning the championship in Egypt. She has won several accolades earlier, including earning the 2015 National Kickboxing Championship at New Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium, winning gold in the sub-junior category, 2016 World Championship with gold, and so forth.
What’s Next: Aiming to represent India in the Olympics someday, Tajamul Islam is working hard to participate and win more medals by unearthing every opportunity to represent the country.
Cool Fun Fact: Besides kickboxing, Islam also holds expertise in wushu and is also doing well in taekwondo.
14. ABHIMANYU MISHRA
Location: New Jersey, USA
Why Is He Cool: Standing tall on our list is this 12-year-old Indian American boy who has become the youngest chess grandmaster in history. According to Chess.com, Abhimanyu Mishra, who is 12 years and 4 months old, acquired the record after winning his June 30th game against 15-year-old Leon Luke Mendonca. He broke the previous record that was standing for 19 years. Only five players in history have managed to get the title before their 13th birthday.
What’s Next: He has just started on a journey and aims to break more records and someday play with the world’s greatest chess players.
Cool Fun Fact: Abhimanyu Mishra started playing chess when he was merely 2 years and 8 months old.
13. JUSTIN NARAYAN
Location: Perth, Australia
Why Is He Cool: Taking home the ultimate trophy and a large sum of prize money, Justin Narayan made Indians proud after becoming the second Indian origin winner on MasterChef Australia 13. The chef not only represented the country but also served a variety of delectable traditional cuisines to the judges and viewers. The enthusiastic chef started cooking at the young age of 13 and was heavily influenced by Indian and Fijian cuisines which reflected in his journey on the show. Narayan’s dishes like Chicken Tacos, Charcoal Chicken with Toum, Pickle Salad, and Indian Chicken Curry bowled over judges.
What’s Next: According to Firstpost, the 27-year-old chef wants to run a food truck or restaurant while serving Indian dishes prominently on his menu. Narayan said that he would also like to include the dishes that he grew up eating. Adding to the list of things he wants to do, Narayan also wishes to donate an amount from his earnings to fight against poverty in India.
Cool Fun Fact: Narayan had dabbled with acting in the role of a “Mr. Singh” in a short movie “Rash Decision” in 2018.
12. BILAL BAIG
Location: Mississauga, Ontario
Why Are They Cool: Bilal Baig made history with the CBC series ‘Sort Of’ as they became the first non-binary, South Asian, Muslim actor, to star in a Canadian prime-time TV series. It also made Baig the first queer, trans, South Asian Muslim person to lead a primetime TV show, not just as its lead character, but also as a creator, writer, showrunner, and executive producer. ‘Sort Of’ is a coming-of-age dramedy series that follows Sabi Mehboob, a gender-fluid 25-year-old who is trying to balance being the youngest child of an immigrant Pakistani family, a bartender at an LGBTQ+ bookstore/bar, and a nanny to a downtown hipster family.
What’s Next: As they said to In Magazine in an interview, “I’ve got some plays that I’ve been writing for a few years I’d like to return to. But I also love procrastination. Beyond that, I’m keeping it pretty low-key and prioritizing rest and slowing down as much as possible!”
Cool Fun Fact: Baig’s first play “Acha Bacha” had its world premiere in February 2018 at Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto, and has since been translated in French where it was workshopped at Le CEAD in Montreal, after a ten-day translation residency in Tadoussac, Quebec in June 2018.
11. SHAHANA HANIF
Location: Brooklyn, NYC
Why Is She Cool: Daughter of Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants, Shahana Hanif will be the first Muslim woman elected to the New York City Council and the first woman Council Member for the 39th District. Hanif’s activism is well-known in the community, as well as all over Brooklyn and New York City. For her work fighting against domestic violence, she was profiled in the New York Times following her work to help a young Bangladeshi woman escape from an abusive forced marriage to safety in a culturally-aware shelter.
What’s Next: Shahana Hanif’s socialist-feminist platform includes a proposal for a feminist Green New Deal, a vision for reproductive justice, and a commitment to protecting survivors of domestic abuse.
Cool Fun Fact: At age 17, Hanif was diagnosed with lupus. Hanif has cited her experience with the chronic illness, which forced her to navigate the healthcare system for years despite having inadequate health insurance, as her first window into disability justice and community organizing.
10. DR. SWATI MOHAN
Location: Pasadena, California
Why Is She Cool: When NASA’s Perseverance rover gently touched down on the surface of Mars after seven months in space, it was Indian-American Dr. Swati Mohan, who first confirmed that the rover had survived a particularly tricky plunge into the Martian atmosphere. As the Guidance and Controls Operations Lead on the Mars mission, she successfully spearheaded the development of attitude control and the landing system for the rover and was among the team of scientists behind the historic mission. A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, paving the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.
What’s Next: As operations lead, she is the primary point of communication between the Guidance, Navigation, and Controls (GN&C) subsystem and the rest of the project. Dr. Mohan is responsible for the training of the GN&C team, scheduling the mission control staffing for GN&C, as well as the policies/procedures the GN&C uses in the mission control room.
Cool Fun Fact: Dr. Swati Mohan has also worked on projects Cassini (a mission to Saturn) and GRAIL (a pair of formation flown spacecraft to the Moon).
9. RIZ AHMED
Location: London, UK
Why Is He Cool: 2021 saw Riz Ahmed flip the script on the portrayal of Muslims in films. He created the Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion to help professionals understand how to support Muslim stories and storytellers. It included the Muslim Visibility Challenge for leaders of the industry to take action, utilize resources and contacts to support on all levels from casting to script screening. In February 2021, Ahmed was nominated and won in the best debut screenwriter category for the film “Mogul Mowgli” at the delayed British Independent Film Awards 2020. In November 2021, Ahmed was announced as a recipient of the Richard Harris Award, which is given to an actor or actress who has “contributed significantly to British films throughout their career”. He also made Oscar history by becoming the first-ever Muslim actor to be nominated in the leading role category for the movie “Sound of Metal.”
What’s Next: He is still in the middle of promoting his latest movie “Encounter” and collecting accolades for his awesome work in the last year. We saw Riz on the covers of all magazines of note and seems like the world just cannot get enough of him. Well, we certainly can’t!
Cool Fun Fact: Believe it or not Riz Ahmed met his wife Fatima Farheen Mirza in a coffee shop jostling over the same laptop plug point!
8. HARNAAZ SANDHU
Location: Punjab, India
Why Is She Cool: The 21-year-old from Punjab, representing India at the 70th Miss Universe 2021, held in Eilat, Israel, brought home the crown, 21 years after Lara Dutta won the title in 2000. Harnaaz Sandhu yelled ‘Chak de Phatte! Chak de India!’ on world stage and her voice resounded across the globe as teary-eyed pageant lovers watched in awe.
What’s Next: The 21-year-old diva is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Public Administration. After a year of fulfilling her duties as Miss Universe 2021, we are sure we will be seeing her in Bollywood.
Cool Fun Fact: Harnaaz Sandhu loves mimicking animal sounds and sportingly mimicked a cat on the Miss Universe stage.
7. LEENA NAIR
Location: London, UK
Why Is She Cool: French luxury fashion house Chanel named Leena Nair, who previously served as Unilever’s top HR executive, as its new global CEO. With this, Nair joined a growing list of Indian-origin executives who have taken up top roles in some of the world’s biggest companies in recent years. Nair will be joining the company at the end of January 2022 and will be based in London. Chanel’s unusual decision to hire a fashion industry outsider as its new chief executive is being seen as part of its growing efforts to show a more inclusive approach.
What’s Next: Nair’s main focus will be to help revive the designer label that is undergoing a rapid internal transformation to grapple with a pandemic-induced slump.
Cool Fun Fact: Leena Nair is the second woman of Indian origin after Pepsico’s former chief Indra Nooyi — who is also coincidentally her mentor — to take over as global CEO of a company.
6. PARAG AGRAWAL
Location: San Francisco, CA
Why Is He Cool: Twitter’s new CEO Parag Agrawal, at 37 years of age, became the youngest CEO leading an S&P 500 company, only slightly younger than Meta Platform Inc CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Agrawal, a graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay’s 2005 batch, replaced Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who stepped down from the executive role. His appointment highlighted the vast number of Indian-origin CEOs dominating Silicon Valley. This made global news as Indian-origin people account for just about 1% of the US population and 6% of Silicon Valley’s workforce.
What’s Next: Since December 2019, Parag Agrawal has also been working on Project Bluesky, an independent team of open source architects, engineers, and designers to combat abusive and misleading information on Twitter. As the CEO, he aims to take this a step further.
Cool Fun Fact: He was a gold medalist in the International Physics Olympiad of 2001 held in Turkey.
5. SIRISHA BANDLA
Location: Washington DC, USA
Why Is She Cool: The girl who went to space! Sirisha Bandla became the second Indian-born woman and the third Indian-American woman to fly into space when she joined British billionaire Richard Branson on Virgin Galactic’s first fully-crewed successful suborbital test flight from the US state of New Mexico on July 11th. They reached an altitude of about 88 kilometers over the New Mexico desert – enough to see the curvature of the Earth. The crew experienced a few minutes of weightlessness before making a gliding descent back to Earth. The primary objective for Unity 22 was to serve as a test flight for future commercial passenger flights to space by Virgin Galactic.
What’s Next: As Sirisha Bandla continues her work as the Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations of Virgin Galactic, she hopes to be a mentor to women in the field of space research.
Cool Fun Fact: She sure loves the American pizza but her comfort food is her mom’s chicken curry and lentil curry.
4. NEERAJ CHOPRA
Location: Panipat, India
Why Is He Cool: Neeraj Chopra became the first-ever Indian to win an Olympic track and field medal after finishing top in the men’s javelin throw event in Tokyo on August 7, 2021. This was also India’s first gold medal at the latest edition of the Olympic games, and only the second-ever in an individual sport. The 23-year-old became an instant celebrity, household name, and inspiration for bringing to the limelight a sport that wasn’t boxing, hockey, or cricket. He also broke the glamour glass ceiling by being the first male athlete to adorn the cover of Vogue India as the ‘Man of the Year,’ and also the first non-cricketing athlete to put the nation in a tizzy through his very commendable acting skills.
What’s Next: Neeraj Chopra is preparing himself for the 2022 World Championships, Asian Games, and Commonwealth Games.
Cool Fun Fact: After local children teased him about his childhood obesity, Chopra’s father enrolled him in a gymnasium at Madlauda; he was later enrolled in a gym in Panipat. While playing at Shivaji stadium in Panipat, he saw some javelin throwers and began participating himself.
3. SADIA KHANOM
Location: Cheshire, UK
Why Is She Cool: British-Bangladeshi scientist, Sadia Khanom, 26, developed “Voltique”, a spray that attracts and kills all pathogens (viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other microbes) on any surface it is applied to for 14 days. The NHS, NASA, and various independent peer-reviewed labs have all successfully trialed Voltique – which will now be taken on by several governments and blue-chip companies. Hospitals in the UK said the spray is 100% effective in killing coronavirus and has the potential to save organizations 70% of their cleaning product bills. The spray can be used in medical facilities, hotels, motels, restaurants, aircraft, and nuclear stations. Khanom has already received orders for £10 million worth of Voltique from as many as 13 countries around the world.
What’s Next: Khanom is on her way to pursue a Ph.D. in Alzheimer’s Research and Neurodegeneration and hopes Voltique will help her fund her research.
Cool Fun Fact: Khanom did all her experiments and research in her father’s restaurant, Cafe India in Chester, UK.
2. KAMALA HARRIS
Location: Washinton DC, USA
Why Is She Cool: After taking office on January 20th, 2021, Harris was frequently called upon to cast tiebreaking votes as the Democrats and Republicans continued to ruthlessly fight in the Senate. In February and March, Harris’s tie-breaking votes in her role as President of the Senate were crucial in passing the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 also called the COVID-19 Stimulus Package proposed by President Joe Biden. Over the year Harris has been made the face of issues that deal directly with people, making her one of the most popular figures of the current government.
What’s Next: Harris continues to work on the issues related to migration to the US and handling unprecedented numbers of immigrants from the southern borders. It has been a tumultuous task but she sure does seem up for it!
Cool Fun Fact: On November 19, 2021, Kamala Harris became the President of the USA for 85 minutes (while President Biden underwent a colonoscopy), the first time for a woman in American history.
1. ADAR POONAWALLA
Location: Pune, India
Why Is He Cool: At the top of our list is the person who was the most in-demand on the planet last year – Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of his family-owned company, Serum Institute of India (SII) – the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines. As the pandemic raged on, SII produced over 1 billion doses that were distributed to low- and middle-income countries via the COVAX mechanism – a partnership between the World Health Organization (WHO) and two international groups – the Gavi vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) – which aims to send vaccines to developing countries. Demand for preference to the COVID vaccine even forced Poonawalla to leave India for a few days with his family to keep them safe. But his work continued with full zeal.
What’s Next: To bolster its COVID-19 vaccine output even further, SII will bring into production other vaccines under license. These include COVOVAX, from US-based company Novavax, which has already received its first Emergency Use Authorisations (EUAs) from regulators in various countries.
Cool Fun Fact: Adar Poonawalla was the first in India to own a customized Batmobile.
OUR FAVORITE INFLUENCERS OF 2021
Social media has impacted people in various ways. “Influencers” as we now know them, have taken on the responsibility of literally “influencing” their followers. While the range of content varies from fashion to music, love, life, and more, these are three Influencers that stood out for us. Their content didn’t project a less than perfect life, instead, they were raw, in other words ‘human.’ The kind that not only has good days but bad days as well.
In no specific order, ‘Thank You’ to these women who shared a bit of humanity and made us a part of their trials and tribulations.
1. SHRUTI BABU
She gave us the day-to-day details of her little girl Gia who was in the hospital after getting severely burned. When Shruti cried, we cried, when there was even a small recovery, we celebrated. Even during this traumatic time, Shruti made sure to take care of the nurses/staff, by raising money and donating it to the hospital. A cancer survivor herself Shruti filled our hearts. Thank you, Shruti for making such good use of social media. We wish Gia and the whole family the best.
Stage IV triple-positive breast cancer FIGHTER. If you look at Nasreen’s page you can tell she has an amazing sense of style, not to mention she is beautiful and easy on the eyes. Her followers were in shock when Nasreen announced having cancer, but kudos to her for using her platform to show that despite it all, she is just like everyone else. From hair loss prevention to chemo, Nasreen has shared it all, and for us that makes her more beautiful than ever, both inside and out. Nasreen you are a fighter and we aspire to be as strong. Wishing you a speedy recovery and many years of a healthy and prosperous life.
3. MARYAM ISHTIAQ
Model, wife, super mom, activist, she is an “Influencer” in the true sense. Like Nasreen, Maryam also has a picture-perfect page, and like Nasreen, there is a deeper story that she shares as well. Openly talking about her miscarriage, postpartum depression, sleepless nights, she has given more than a glimpse into the reality of motherhood. This, of course, didn’t come without a price as she was trolled for being a bad mother and we honestly couldn’t disagree more. Maryam has also used her platform to voice the autocracies against Palestine and dropped brand endorsements that supported the oppressors. Hats off to her for taking such a bold step. Maryam, you are a true boss lady as you are an inspiration for all women – beauty, brains, and a heart of gold!