Konkona’s cool confidence was breached for a moment: "Gosh, aren’t they seriously young? Kids these days can give you a complex."
Let’s face it. Virtually anyone who will matter in the next few years is now below 25. What’s stunning, though, is that on top of the list of smart young people are nameless, faceless individuals, not some silver-spooned celeb kids. Not necessarily nerds or techno-coolies either, but doctors, engineers and B-school grads plugged into the global economy.
Anandraj Sengupta, 24, an IIT grad now at GE’s John F. Welch Technology Centre in Bangalore, where he has filed for two patents, is the most well-known face of this swelling group. For those totally out of the loop, he made it to the BusinessWeek cover recently.
Outlook bets on some others. Danush, Veer Das, Sanaa Bhamri and Milap Zaveri and a dozen more.
Which may lead you to wonder why you may not have heard of some of them. But that precisely has been the point of our endeavour. To present those who have just arrived and, in some cases, are almost there.
What were they like? The first thing that strikes you about our zippies, apart from their considerable talents, is their acute sense of priorities. Of course, there is the obsessive love for their work and their quiet—but supreme—confidence. But there’s no manic obsession for making money. Most are wise beyond their years and, therefore, perceptive and engaging. Another breathtaking feature: when they don’t find information to satisfy their curiosity, they don’t read a book, they just write one (Ankit Fadia, Saatvik, Samit).
Think they’re from another planet? This confession of an alien temptress in a short story written by Samit Basu is roughly what they think of us grown-ups: "To be brutally frank, you humans are simply not capable of thinking beyond politics, sex and violence on your own. It’s not your fault. You simply are not evolved enough."
Danush 21, Actor, Chennai
Why: probably the next Rajnikant of Tamil films. His Break: when the young male lead of a film directed by his brother backed out, he was pushed into his place. Thulluvatho Ilamai (Spirit of Youth), a story of adolescents coming to terms with their sexuality, turned out to be the biggest hit of the year. Next hits: Kaadal Kondein (I Found Love) and Thiruda Thirudi (Thief, She-thief). Studies: doing his second year BCA through correspondence. USP: looks ordinary, even vulnerable, but that works at the box office and real life. Raves the producer of Kaadal Kondein: "Even today, you can see in his account books entries like, Peanuts-Rs 5.00, Cold Drinks-Rs 10.00. This is because he himself has been through hard times." Coming Soon: KK in Hindi. On KK: "For the second half, where Vinod reveals his ‘psychotic’ side, I observed a cheetah in action, on National Geographic Channel. That’s where I picked up my body language from."
Sanaa Bhamri, 15, Tennis Ace, Delhi
Why: sister Ankita (17) and she are already known as the Williams sisters of Indian tennis. Headstart: "I played for India when I was 12 and have done it five or six times thereafter." High points: played Wimbledon juniors’ doubles and French Open (semis) with Sania Mirza last year. Studies: Standard XI at Delhi Public School, Mathura Road, got 82 per cent at her class 10 boards. "I play five hours of tennis everyday and study 15 or 20 days ahead of my exams." Focus: "To turn professional and play for India at the highest levels of the game." Chilled out about: travelling alone, hotel rooms and big games. Favourites: Martina Hingis and Kim Clijsters. Has picked up: "lots of pals on the tennis circuit" and a neat expat accent.
Tathagat Tulsi, 16, Budding Quantum Physicist, Bangalore
Why: our very own Doogie Houser, MD. The child prodigy is on course to secure his doctorate at the Indian Institute of Science (IISC), Bangalore. Has entered revered journals such as Nature and Physical Review to prove that he is an original thinker in science. Early Signs: at 6, Tulsi’s parents recognised he was a wizard with numbers, juggling five-digit calculations. The scrawny youngster with Bihari genes in him graduated at 10 and became the youngest in the world to complete his Master of Science at 12. He was the youngest student ever to secure admission to the prestigious IISC. Effect on Him: unfazed. "They see me as a student of PhD, not as a kid. It might take a year before I get my doctorate (quantum computation, a mix of quantum mechanics and computer sciences)". Goal: to turn professor by 18. Records spur him on. "Colin Maclaurin of Scotland became a professor at 19 in the 18th Century. I am ambitious, I like challenges," he says. What it Means: loads of hard work—an average of 12 hours a day.
Samit Basu, 23, India’s First-ever Sci-fi Writer, New Delhi
Why: writer of The Simoqin Prophecies (out in January ’04), India’s first-ever sci-fi fantasy in English. Characters: scantily-clad centauresses, flying carpets, pink trolls, belly dancers and homicidal rabbits.Style: witty, steeped in allusions to Greek and Indian epics, spy novels, fairy tales and superhero comics.Defining Moment: reading The Lord of The Rings at 12. "Was swept away and turned into a nerd." Not a melancholic in college, though. Always writing scripts. His Awakening: "During a dull class at IIM, Ahmedabad, where I decided to kick it, go home and write my book." Present Pursuit: covering lifestyle and celebrity beats for The Telegraph. Working on a sequel, the offer came along with the advance. Forecast: "All brain drain will stop in a few years."
Kaushiki Chakrabarty, 23, Hindustani Classical Vocalist, Calcutta
Why: has a career in Hindustani classical vocal in an era of remixes. Big Day: "A concert at Delhi’s Habitat Centre where I could see the who’s who of the classical music scene in the front row and then an ovation from them." Big Daddy: Pt Ajay Chakrabarty, her dad. Started Singing: as a toddler. "My mother created the love for music in me." The Big Push: joined the itc Sangeet Research Academy and soon became a "scholar". Lucky: to be born into music and then be trained by the Late Gyan Prakash Ghosh. Studies: philosophy, the second love of her life, scored 68 per cent at graduation. Now doing her masters. Public Face: concerts, lec-dems, playbacks for music directors Aman and Ayan Ali Bangash and Illayaraja. Secretly Worships: Kishore, Lata, Asha.
Veer Das, 24, Stand-up Comic Artiste, New Delhi
Why: our only known stand-up comedian. Career: 32 shows in eight months. Beginnings: went to Knox College, Chicago, to study economics. Took one acting class and found his real calling. Feet Wetting: Chicago clubs on Wednesday nights along with 25 other comedians. "I got two-and-a-half to three minutes to begin with, but soon got weekends and 25-minute slots." Shows: naughty, raw and sexy. "If you have had sex just once in your life, you’ll connect with me." Playfield: upper-crust shows in the metros. Favourite targets: Dubya, P3P and politicians. Influences: Woody Allen, Steve Martin. Serious departure: forthcoming play where he’s a suicidal, alcoholic writer. Wants to: complete PhD, teach theatre.
Muzakkir Sharieff, 20, Aviation Designer, Bangalore
Why: built a light combat aircraft weighing 100 kg powered by his father’s Bajaj scooter engine and supported by his mother’s meagre pension. He called it called Passion for Success (PFS-I). All this, out of his humble home in uptown Bangalore. Rewards: offered a job as trainee in the helicopter division of HAL. The design for a missile, too, could evolve out of his efforts. Experience: making little missiles out of jotter pens when he was 10. How: collected scrap from a junkyard and money from his mother. Has spent Rs 10,000 so far on his plane, even using a couple of old chairs to support the wings. "I want to fly my passion. I want to be a scientist like Abdul Kalam." Further rewards: hal has also offered to fund his education. In addition, Hyderabad-based Mannan Institute of Science and Technology has offered him an engineering seat with full scholarship and hostel facilities.
Nidhi Razdan, 26, TV Anchor, New Delhi
Why: shaping up to be a top-line television anchor and reporter. Track: LSR College, IIMC and internship with AP television, NDTV, senior PTI journalist’s daughter. Big Break: "I was suddenly asked to do the Breakfast Show on Star News when the regular anchor failed to turn up. Shortly after that, the show came to me." The Grind: "My day started at 4.30 am for the 7.30 am show. If you arrived late, you ad-libbed." Greatest High: spot reporting, doing political stories rather than anchoring. "I got an opportunity to make a film, all by myself, on Tibet." Frequently Asked to: "Sit in for Rajdeep (Sardesai) and Barkha (Dutt) for their shows when they are not around." Cautious About: not getting "fed" news; getting the news first but getting it right.
Milap Zaveri, 24, Screenplay Writer, Mumbai
Why: Hindi cinema’s new Salim-Javed, in one person. Family Business: jewellery. His Business: gems (screenplay and dialogue) for Bollywood. Writer of Sanjay Gupta’s Kaante where the gunshots were drowned by his pungent humour, abrasive jokes and in-your-face gutterspeak. His Next Quick Success: Jhankaar Beats. His Diary: Gupta’s Plan and Musafir, Samir Karnik’s Ash-Vivek starrer Kyon Ho Gaya Na and Indra Kumar’s Masti, a "wild comedy" starring Ajay Devgan and Vivek Oberoi. Working on story, screenplay and dialogue for Ramesh Sippy’s new film. His Style: "Brevity is cool. It’s better to say things in two lines than in seven." Surprise Assignment: dialogues for Pritish Nandy’s reappraisal of Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. "I’ve decided to retain the basic pillars of the Guru Dutt film, you can’t fool around with that." Unabashed Admirer of: Karan Johar, David Dhawan and SRK. Next Milestone: Guess? To turn a director.
Konkanasen Sharma, 25, Actress, Calcutta
Why: hugely talented actress of English/crossover films. Lineage: mother, Aparna Sen; father, Mukul Sharma. First Big Break: Rituparno Ghosh’s Titli. The Big Deal: her Meenakshi Iyer in Mr and Mrs Iyer got her the National Award. Rituparno Ghosh certifies: "She totally grasps her brief, I have never had to hold her hands." Confession: "Plans never work out" and "Saif Ali Khan is too nice looking". Look Out For: Madhur Bhandarkar’s Page 3, where she plays a journo on the society beat. And LA-based filmmaker Shonali Bose’s English film Amu for which she got speech-trained in the US. Next release: Manu Rawal’s English film Imandar. Reads: Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Calvin and Hobbes. Listens to: Grateful Dead, U2, Bob Dylan, Jack Johnson.
Kaushik Shankar, 18, Theatre Artiste, Bangalore
Why: already, at his age, a theatre director and actor. How: dropped out of engineering and opted for fine arts and music, leaving IISC-based parents in shock. "The third world war broke out at home when I announced my decision. Now, of course, they are encouraging me to carry on". Best Known for: The Blue Room, Sex, Lies & Videotape and Dinner With Friends as well as a retro music concert. Dream Project: The Laramie Project, about the October 1998 incident at Laramie, Wyoming (US), where a 21-year-old university student was tied to a fence and beaten to death because he was gay. "Laramie became the hate-crime capital in the States. It’ll probably be the first play in Bangalore to have special effects. Eight characters will play 64 roles." Academics: student of Christ College, Bangalore, doing his BA in Communicative English. Next Best Thing: invited to appear for audition early next year for Masters in Fine Arts at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), London.
Ankit Fadia, 18, Computer Whiz, Stanford, US
Why: writer of The Guide to Ethical Hacking and other books on the subject. How: at the age of 11, got a comp, played games. Discovered interest in hacking at 13, found no useful reading material, "started my own website and then my books". Written three books on computer security, conducted more than 100 seminars, consultant to blue chips. Work Focus: independent intelligence consultant to companies, government agencies across the globe. Helped the US government decode Al Qaeda messages. Working part-time with huge software companies, chief technology officer of a Singapore firm, and a visiting professor to the Singapore Management University. Studies: DPS, R.K. Puram, Delhi. Now doing a computer science degree at Stanford University. Will Start: a teaching course on computer security at his university from Spring. "My training institute will start from March in Pune."
Saatvik Agarwal, 14, Nascent Astronaut, Gurgaon
Why: spotted by Planetary Society, America’s largest space interest group set up by Carl Sagan. The Big Deal: "As a student astronaut, I will travel to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, NASA’s centre for robotic exploration of the cosmos in January with 15 others." Obsessions: space (maintains an award-winning website on it) and comps (has used one since he was four). Languages Known: Hindi, English, German, html. Favourite Pastime: reading fantasy novels, retro rock, cricket. "He has a PhD on The Lord of the Rings" his father jokes. Often Wonders: why he must learn about weather conditions for growing wheat. Confident About: academic goals and a career in space/computers. Iffy About: Actually being in space. "Do you think I can make it with my glasses?" he asks his mother.
Tania Sachdev, 15, Chess Champ, New Delhi
Why: won the Asian Junior Chess Championship in Sri Lanka in ’02. Selected for World Open Championships. Headstart: began playing at 7, got serious at 12. Studies: commerce (without maths) in Modern School, Vasant Vihar. "I love maths but I’m terrible at it." Big Splash: five titles at the British Championships in 1993. Regimen: practice for eight hours and "not chat on the phone for years". Pals: Pune chess whiz Isha Karwade and Andhra’s P. Hari Krishna. Can’t Stand: "Politics, it’s fake." Question to Outlook: "Have you heard of Azerbaijan? I played there." Plan B: "Am an infomaniac, want to be like Barkha Dutt when I grow up." Focus Now: the Women’s Grand Master title.
Shreya Ghoshal, 19, Playback Singer, Mumbai
Why: the voice of Paro in Devdas, broke into the music scene with TVS Sa Re Ga Ma. Stroke of Luck: "Sanjay Leela Bhansaliji had seen me one-and-a-half years earlier before I was offered Paro’s songs. But he remembered my voice." What made it possible: talent, determination and father’s decision to move to Mumbai for Shreya. The Big Awards: Filmfare for Dola re dola... and the National Award for Bairi piya. Typical Day: riyaz, rehearsals and studying for college exams. Focus: "To sing with perfection and dedication, and everything else—money, fame etc—follows."