Hyderabad’s 21 Top Guns: Stars of the Future
Intro: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” — Paulo Coelho
Looks like all the personalities featured here, believe in this paradigm. For, they are the heroes of their own journey; daring to dream and making it come true. Breaking the figurative glass ceilings — from sports to start-ups and design, movies to music, medicine to space — they’ve pushed the envelope and how!
WOW! chose these daring-to-do and raring-to-go profiles because, as the magazine turns 21, these life stories we hope, will inspire young folks who are or will soon turn 21. As they stand at the cusp of their future and the threshold of various career trajectories, may they find within them, the spirit to follow their passion, with help from the universe. Just like our 21 Hyderabadi hotshots featured here.
- Nikhat Zareen, 26, Boxer
From winning the gold at Commonwealth Games in Birmingham to winning the Women’s World Championships in 2022, the sky is the limit for this young boxer who was awarded the Arjuna Award last year.
She likes biryani, her favorite boxing punch is the hook, banters on Twitter with Salman Khan and would like Alia Bhatt to play her in her bio-pic. Nikhat Zareen has reached that enviable stage, which was previously reserved only for cricketers, where the whole world knows her voice.
Only the fifth Indian woman to win a gold at the World Boxing Championships, Nikhat’s story started at the young age of 13, when her father took her to the sporting ground in Nizamabad; and on seeing an all-male boxing ring was told that the domain was a male’s preserve. Vowing to prove everyone wrong, she entered the ring with determination and is currently known as the golden girl of Indian boxing.
After much struggle, today she is one of the country’s biggest sporting stars and says, “When I look back at my life, I see struggles and challenges that I had to face to reach where I’m today. I’m really grateful to God who gave me strength to be strong in my bad phase and didn’t let me give up on my dreams. I’m also blessed to have supportive parents who have always been my rock.”
With so much of a buzz around her, how does the young athlete keep herself grounded? “I believe that whatever I have achieved till now is not enough. I’m still hungry, and I have my ultimate dream (an Olympic gold medal) to still achieve. I just try to keep my head down and focus on my work every day,” she confesses.
Today, Nikhat is a role model and inspiration for many. Belonging to a conservative family, she has faced many struggles and not given up. Her advice to young girls is simple and straightforward. “l will just say that in order to achieve something in life you have to work hard for it. There’s no shortcut to success. Just keep believing in yourself, no matter how big the challenge in front of you is.”
Next on her radar: The Paris Olympics next year where she is gunning for gold.
“I just try to keep my head down and focus on my work every day”
2. Harsha Durugadda, 34, Artist
Feted internationally, this young sculptor is a naturalist, a performing artist and a sustainability exponent who is making waves across the world for his cerebral creations.
“Creativity is the greatest rebellion in existence,” is a favorite quote of artist Harsha Durugadda. The year 2023 has been a seminal one for the young artist. Be it his showing at the Sculpture by the Sea, an annual sculpture event hosted in Australia or being bestowed the Emerging Artist — South Asia 2022-23 award instituted by The Arts Family (TAF) in London, the young artist has widely exhibited his work across the world.
With his work being auctioned by Sotheby’s (in 2021) and present even in the Bengaluru airport, Harsha has made it big. He is however, nonchalant about his success. He smiles, “My work isn’t figurative, it isn’t heads or people, it’s very personal. It captures tactile emotions and complex ideas into visual art which isn’t much understood, at least in India.”
Harsha captures invisible ideas and converts them into portents of creativity. His piece, Column of Sound for instance, explores the visual dynamism of audio waves while Mirage is a veneration of illusions. “I create non-functional art so it’s a happy accident that people like it. My ideas are a lot about perspective and how one sees and visualizes objects around us. It is all about resilience.”
Harsha is heavily inspired by the environment he is surrounded with. He lives on a farm near Chilkur, where it is easy to mount his sculptures which take three months to finish, and need a lot of heavy machinery to lift around.
It is his ability to feed into the beauty of everything that surrounds him which makes him a holistic artist. He adds, “Physically and mentally, sculpting is a tough ask. It takes a whole village to bring a piece, from the people helping me with the work to a gallery representing me.”
Next on his radar: Focus on museum exhibitions abroad and establish an arts organization that can enable vernacular dialogue.
“My ideas are … all about resilience”
3. Pranav Pingle, 33, Filmmaker
Be it his web series Qubool Hai? on trafficking in the Old City or his five-part documentary Occupied, that focused on Palestinians using art as tools of resistance; this is no run-of-the-mill docu-maker.
Pranav Reddy is a pucca Hyderabadi who comes from a storied legacy. His grandfather, Captain PMM Reddy was the first pilot at Air India, his grandmother Aravinda was an interior designer in the 50’s, his father Ramesh is an interior designer who restores old buildings. He says fondly, “My entire family is heavily influenced by all things art. When one is exposed to something like this since childhood, one either becomes lazy and inept or he becomes a hustler.”
Pranav chose to be the latter. After college, he financed his love for documentary films by making ads films for a living. He juggled 20-25 ads [including ones for Flipkart and Microsoft], which sustained his documentaries on social issues like prostitution, rape victims, and leprosy. In the recent months, it is his film Occupied, that documents the lives of young Palestinians which he shot in 2018-19 which has brought him to the limelight again.
He states, “This six-year journey led me to Palestine where we took significant risks to tell a powerful story. Witnessing this project come to life was a remarkable achievement, and being one of the very few production houses in Southeast Asia to complete such a project under challenging circumstances, and receiving recognition at around 30 film festivals worldwide, has been a pivotal milestone in our journey.”
Next on his radar: Pranav’s plans involve creating more documentaries, and next year, he hopes to produce a compelling feature film in Telugu for theaters.
“Witnessing this project come to life was a remarkable achievement”
4. Faiza Hasan, Artist
Why? Winner of the first-ever ‘The Future is Born of Art Commission’ led by BMW India and India Art Fair, she is among Hyderabad’s most talented artists who is making her mark internationally.
“I am interested in personal history, particularly objects of personal history and the manner in which they remain entangled with the more prominent occurrences of their time,” shares artist Faiza Hasan.
Little wonder that the young artist’s works display an intricate sensitivity, delving into new kinds of media while experimenting with form and functionality. Her expansive, rigorous research-oriented approach, and the subtleties that she brings in her work, showcase the depth and daring which she applies to her craft.
Faiza studied at College of Fine Arts, JNTU, Hyderabad (where she won a gold medal) while picking up the nuances of her craft. She participated in the KHOJ International Peers residency in 2015, and was invited by Bordeaux Metropole as an artist-in-residence in 2016.
Until 2021, Faiza worked as a program manager at the Kochi Biennale Foundation, Fort Kochi, where she worked closely with the Foundation’s education initiatives and programs.
She received the Amol Vadehra Art Grant (instituted by FICA) for 2020, and says, “My work draws from what I have come to recognize as a sort of personal archive — one that has culminated over the years and exists as both, digital documentation and as material and objects amassed over time.”
Focusing largely on charcoal drawings, with an emerging interest in digital mediums of drawing, Faiza’s drawings often function as visual records that are layered and connoted, treading a space that exists between the personal, official and public.
An avid reader while not working, Faiza has spread her wings and how!
Next on her radar: Complete ongoing projects (that she won’t yet divulge), while continuing to aspire towards work that is meaningful and build a practice that is consistent.
“My work draws from what I have come to recognize as a sort of personal archive”
5. Satyanarayana Gola, 40, Photographer
Specializing in street photography and documenting oral traditions of Telangana, his lens captures the soul of his subjects.
Be it the Medaram jatara, the vanishing lifestyle of the Chenchu tribals or the sights and sounds of the Old City, Satyanarayana Gola finds the magic in the mundane. His passion, however lies in street photography. “Street photography is all about that moment. There is no plan or prediction here, it’s all perspective and capturing what happens in that millisecond,” he shares.
As a photographer, Satyanarayana loves to walk in the city. From Dhoolpet to Charminar, he captures the identity and spirit of the scenes unfolding around him while he is on the move. He adds, “Photography is a visual language and it should provide a window into a different world to the person viewing it.”
Having been mentored by the Pulitzer and Emmy award-winning Barbara Davidson during the Indian Photo Festival 2014 has led an indelible mark on him. “I learnt what is it that constitutes a good image from her. It should be thought provoking for people who see it. If you show a beach, show how the environment has changed it — then the image is transformed into a picture that has the power to bring about awareness.”
Documentation is another of Satyanarayana’s passions — be it tribal culture or the changes that a city is bound to undergo over time, his images have a fleeting and ethereal quality to them making them timeless.
Next on his radar: Photo book on Telangana Tribals (the Chenchus and the Gonds) as well as on the Old City.
“Street photography is all about that moment”
6. TV Aishwarya, 33, Rehabilitation Counsellor – LV Prasad Eye Institute
Battling visual impairment, this young change maker is an inspiration to many and has been a TEDx Hyderabad speaker as well as a recipient of the Honorary Award at the Insights Art competition organized by the American Printing House for the Blind in 2021 and 2022.
Diagnosed with a brain tumor while in the third year of her Bachelor’s in Mass Communication, the ordeal robbed Aishwarya of her dream, and forced her to relinquish her goal of becoming a filmmaker as she grappled with a life-and-death struggle.
She recalls, “While I recuperated from the many side-effects, I lost my eyesight as a result. It was a very difficult time as I saw all my batchmates graduate and achieve their dreams, while I had to reconcile to a life that was totally different from what I had in mind.”
For three years, Aishwarya struggled at home but slowly got trained and started freelancing as a content writer. In 2013, she got a job at LV Prasad and says, “My primary role is to help people with visual impairment. Apart from that, I work on awareness videos and co-ordination.”
Aishwarya is an inspiration who rose above the challenges life threw at her to fulfil her dreams — be it her audio movie, I am Possible which she scripted and directed or her passion for 3D painting for which she conducts workshops nationally to help others with visual impairments.
What motivates her? She answers, “Everything starts with an idea, so it is important to follow up and focus on ideas. Also, we can achieve anything in our life only if we focus on the positives.” Her advice to others is to live life fully and help each other.
While she isn’t working, she loves spending time with her three-and-half-year dog, Courage.
Next on her radar: I have no plans anymore for the future. I live in the present and give each day my best.
“Everything starts with an idea”
7. Who? Triparna Banerjee, 38, Filmmaker
The filmmaker’s latest project, as writer and impact producer, From the Shadows is being celebrated at festivals and she has also won a prestigious grant from the New York based Chicken & Egg Pictures earlier this year, which is a program designed to support filmmakers as they develop and launch strategic impact campaigns.
Having grown up in the coal belt of eastern India, Triparna Banerjee moved to Hyderabad nine years ago and calls it her home. The filmmaker believes in creating change via her work. Little wonder that her documentary From the Shadows highlights two women, an artist and an activist, who are working to raise awareness about the issue of sex trafficking in India.
“I’ve always only wanted to do this,” she smiles and adds, “Even when I was studying in Delhi and was active in the theater circuit, I wanted to create an impact with my work.”
In 2007, her feature film Frozen (she was the associate producer), won the National Award; the movie features stories from Ladakh. From The Shadows is a story from her heart. “Child trafficking is a serious issue and this film highlights it. I firmly believe that cinema, with its vast impact on people’s mind can make a change for the better and this is my attempt to do the same.”
Her directorial debut, Riding on the Moon Boat, was one of two Indian features selected for the Asian Project Market (APM) at the prestigious Busan International Film Festival in South Korea, 2021. Adapted from Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s short story Mahesh, it tells the story of a teenage girl and her father.
Always on the hunt for stories, the modus operandi of the filmmaker is simple. She states, “I like to bring stories from the margins into the centerstage. Many serious issues are pushed to the fringes, but I am intent on sharing them.”
When she isn’t scouting for stories catch Triparna working with children across film schools conducting workshops on creative writing and photography.
Next on her radar: A short film in the psychological/horror genre.
“I wanted to create an impact with my work”
8. Mohammed Siraj, 29, Cricketer
This Hyderabad bowler has been one of the biggest assets of the Indian cricket team in the recent past. His rags to riches story, of course adds to the fairytale.
Siraj’s father, Mohammed Ghaus had always dreamt of his son donning the Indian whites and winning a Test match for the country. But as fate would have it, he passed away just before his son represented India against Australia in 2021. The young cricketer even missed his father’s funeral to ensure that he played for his country.
Coming from a humble background, Siraj has gradually ascended the ranks with each match and established his position in the Indian cricket team through his consistent performances. Furthermore, he has also emerged as Royal Challengers Bangalore’s premier bowler in the Indian Premier League.
Siraj’s journey to top level was more inspiring than his tight bowling. Siraj, the son of a rickshaw driver had his fair share of struggles before reaching the current level. Until 2015, he used to play tennis ball tournaments for helping his modest family. And, it was only in 2015 when he first bowled with a season ball.
Next on his radar: IPL and multiple tournaments for India.
Coming from a humble background, Siraj has gradually ascended the ranks
9. Saagar Tulshan, 31, Architect
Because the young architect is building an enviable profile in residential and commercial projects across India. Also, because his unique focus on functional aesthetics makes him an exciting young talent to watch out. He is a partner at KUN Studio and runs multiple ventures in the tech and F&B space.
When Saagar was working on his recent project (Veiled Building) in Patna, he had to create a design that was multi-dimensional — the front of the building facing a bustling retail street but the rear overlooked an ancient temple pond. The young architect created a design that was a harmonious blend of the environment and its design requirement, connecting the two worlds.
That remains the USP of Saagar’s work. Inspired by the work of stalwarts BV Doshi and Charles Correa, he blends diverse styles to create a holistic architectural palette. He says, “I don’t have a particular style. I respond to the needs, limitations and possibilities of the project.” That he does — in a house KUN Studio designed in Gandipet, he viewed the eight neem and mango trees on site as an asset rather than a hindrance and created the house as an anti-footprint, that saw a house designed in sync with the trees.
Saagar worked for three years at the leading architectural firm Venkataramanan Associates in Bengaluru, where he had the opportunity to coordinate and design the Church Street Redevelopment Project, a trail blazing project of urban design and pedestrianization. Then, as an architect for WeWork, he designed and delivered the 150k square feet co-working building for WeWork’s first location in Pune. He started his own design firm, KUN Studio (Kun means manifesting what is imagined into reality) in 2019 and continues to build a cross-disciplinary and human centric approach to design.
His current interest? “I recently came back from the Indian Regional Burning Man where I designed and built the burning man structure, and that was a fantastic experience, I am looking forward to doing more art installations and pavilions,” he states.
When not working on architecture, he likes to explore and build ventures in art, technology, and F&B experiences. Saagar likes running (at Durgam Cheruvu), climbing (at Khajaguda) and cycling (at Tank Bund). Just like a pucca Hyderabadi!
Next on his radar: To contribute to the potential of Hyderabad’s growth and development, and to create better streets and public spaces in the city.
“I respond to the needs, limitations and possibilities of the project”
10. Natasha Ramachandran, 33, Model
This 2018 cover girl of WOW! Hyderabad has truly made it. An international supermodel who walked for some of the best luxury brands in the world — Zimmermann, Michael Kors, Estee Lauder, Sephora and Bergdorf Goodman.
Having spent time in Paris, Tokyo, Mumbai, London, and now living in New York City, Natasha has cultivated a global identity and a look that is unapologetically herself. Popular for her exotic looks and pixie haircut on the international ramp, she first tasted success in Hyderabad when she was still in high school.
The RSI May Queen had participated in the contest “just for fun” because her classmates were giving it a shot. Even post the win, she had no plans of being a model and went on to study fashion designing at NIFT, Hyderabad. After her graduation from NIFT, she auditioned for Lakme Fashion Week 2012 because her parents thought she had a personality for modelling and never really looked back!
Few Indians models have truly made it internationally and Natasha, with her unique personality and distinct flair for glamor has broken the glass ceiling for Asian women. The model who swears by “minimal, uncluttered and comfortable,” trends (that she shares with her 22000 strong Instagram family) personally prefers an androgynous and monochromatic style while popping in bright colors as contrasts to make it fun.
Fond of traveling, the lanky lass calls animals her first love.
Next on her radar: Continuing to be a flag bearer for Indian models!
Natasha has broken the glass ceiling for Asian women
11. Ajay Bulusu, 35, Co-Founder@ NextBillion.ai
When NextBillion.ai, a Hyderabad-based AI enterprise platform raised Rs 163 crore of fresh capital last May, they demonstrated potential and turned heads in the start-up sphere. Co-founded by the very Hyderabadi techie Ajay Bulusu in 2020, this hyperlocal solutions company is based on the realization that one map doesn’t fit all. “We’ve all experienced our food being delivered late or cold, ride-hailing apps giving us wrong ETAs or packages being delivered to the wrong addresses. The idea behind Nextbillion.ai came when we realized that one map doesn’t fit all and the future of location lies in decentralization,” he says.
Having done his schooling in Hyderabad, he went on to earn a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering degree from the University of Leeds, UK. The hotshot techie who straddles Singapore and Hyderabad says that NextBillion.ai is ushering in what he believes to be the future of maps.
NextBillion.ai’s India office is located in Hyderabad and their technology is already being utilized to make the city a better place to live! “We worked with a government agency responsible for waste collection from over 1,50,000 households and commercial buildings across Hyderabad. Their existing routing system proved inefficient, causing undesirable effects like excessive time taken to collect waste, raised fuel costs and negative environmental impact. After implementing NextBillion.ai’s technology, the agency saw a 30 percent reduction in miles driven and 15 percent lower fuel costs,” says Ajay. NextBillion.ai’s technology is already one of the small cogs in the grand machine that keeps the city going, he quips.
They also executed a pilot program to facilitate the rapid response of ambulances to medical emergencies across Hyderabad. With geofence alerts (notifications that let you know when someone enters or leaves a specific area) automated dispatch (uses machine learning to automatically coordinate the movement of people, goods, and services) and custom maps that reflect accurate location data, live traffic information and special routing permissions for emergency vehicles, their solutions are being used in every sphere.
Next on his radar: A fully managed mapping platform made from the ground up specifically for enterprises while aspiring to make NextBillion.ai platform something akin to Linux, but for maps.
“One map doesn’t fit all and the future of location lies in decentralization”
12. Dr Abhinay Bollineni, 36, Executive Director and CEO, KIMS
Discussing the merits of installing the DaVinci Robotic Systems with his team of doctors, keeping his board members not just well informed but also happy; and finally finding time to binge-watch his favorite show on OTTs — are all in a day’s work for Dr Abhinay Bollineni. The dynamic Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director at Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences Ltd (KIMS), he joined the hospital in 2014 as a young doctor and paved the way to expand the KIMS Group into nine cities across AP and Telangana. He became the CEO in 2019 and played a leadership role in expanding the KIMS’ network over the last seven years, including the launch of KIMS Kondapur and the acquisitions of the group’s hospitals in Ongole, Vizag, Anantapur and Kurnool.
“We were the first to bring DaVinci Robotic systems in South India. Also, the first in Hyderabad to get ECMO life support way back in 2013. On the clinical front, we pioneered organ transplantation programs. In fact, the Heart and Lung Transplant Center at KIMS started in 2019 now does the highest number of transplants in India. Recently, we placed an order for the latest radiation therapy systems from Elekta, Sweden, for all our 12 units which is around $38 million,” he talks about the rapid strides the hospital took in the last ten years. “Happy patients. Happy outcomes is my mantra,” he says.
Dr Abhinay considers himself blessed to have a strong foundation in place by the time he joined the hospital group in 2013. Growing the KIMS brand from five units to 12, bringing in new clinical and non-clinical talent on board and enhancing patient experience through digital initiatives have been his achievements.
Does the CEO of such a humungous entity ever relax? “Besides watching shows on OTTs, I am a foodie and therefore I need to keep an eye out for my calories. I believe in burning more calories than you eat. This way, I am really not very picky about what I eat as long as it is non-veg,” he adds.
Next on his radar: Opening new units at Nashik, Mumbai and Bengaluru.
“Happy patients. Happy outcomes is my mantra”
13. Bharath Daka, 29, Co-Founder and COO of Skyroot Aerospace
Last year this time, Bharath and his partner, Pawan Chandana, were the poster boys of the Indian start-up world after they successfully launched Vikram-S, India’s and South Asia’s first private rocket to space, which has become a landmark event for the nation. The Hyderabad-based Skyroot is today the largest funded space-tech start-up in India. The company raised USD 27.5 million in pre-Series C funding this year.
Bharath recalls that his adolescence was a long series of happy days enriched with street food and single-ticket cinema theaters in Dilsukhnagar. An IIT-Madras alumnus with a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a Master’s degree in microelectronics, he worked at ISRO and built hardware and firmware for multiple key onboard computer modules that implement the launch vehicle’s functions. During his tenure in ISRO, he worked as a Flight Computer Engineer at VSSC and has built hardware and firmware for multiple key onboard computer modules that implement the launch vehicle’s functions. Bharath has also worked in the semiconductor industry with expertise in Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) used in all space and defence applications.
They wanted to offer “affordable on-demand and reliable space launch solutions from India to the world from the private sector.”
Thus, was born Skyroot in 2018. “The market has so much potential that the government wants to participate to meet the demand; ISRO need not be burdened with the launch of commercial vehicles and can focus on interplanetary expeditions for humanity,” says Bharath. The experience and the vision to be a game-changer made him and his partner, Pawan Chandana, successfully launch Vikram-S, India’s and South Asia’s first private rocket to space last November.
Next on his radar: An orbital launch — where they launch a rocket as big as a seven-story building that can carry a few satellites to orbit and begin commercial operations — in 2024!
“The market has so much potential”
14. Vishwak Sen, 28, Actor and Director
He’s the quintessential Dilsukhnagar boy who grew up to win the hearts of every cinemagoer with his sheer talent and grit. Actor and director Vishwak Sen debuted in 2017 and has been on a roll ever since. Whether it was playing Vivek, the tempestuous short film director in the 2018 bromance Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi or the mutton market gang leader in his directorial debut Falaknuma Das, Vishwak has managed to climb up the echelons of the filmdom swiftly on his own steam. Not an accidental accident, Vishwak has been dreaming of becoming an actor since he was eight. A trained dancer and gymnast, he also went for formal acting classes in Mumbai. Born as Dinesh Naidu, his dad’s numerology advice made him rechristen himself as Vishwak Sen. “I can dissolve my identity as well for the sake of cinema,” he says. Incidentally, his screen name Vishwak turned out to be a lucky gamble.
Not many know that Vishwak is a video editing whiz who decided to turn a director too after he enjoyed pruning boring scenes in otherwise engaging movies to make them slick and entertaining. “I’ve always followed my heart, even if it means getting into trouble for shooting my movie in the heritage buildings of the Osmania University Arts College. Falaknuma Das showcased my beloved city in a new light and I wanted to immortalize the beauty of this Nizami edifice as a tribute to my city,” he says. A Hyderabadi at heart, his onscreen proposal asking his girlfriend ‘chai banana aata, hamare ghar aake banana padta’ scene is still something the youth love and connect to.
Das seems to be Vishwak’s lucky charm as 2023 was also a pleasant year for him with the release of Das ki Damki which he directed and acted in. One of the few Telugu actors who can shapeshift from an actor on screen to a successful director behind the screen, Vishwak says that his love for cinema makes him embrace every opportunity that comes along. The passionate actor also donned the avatar of a family talent show host to display the “Josh Machine” side of him in Telugu OTT platform AHA’s Family Dhamaka during Dusshera this year.
Next on his radar: Three/four movies — Gangs of Godavari — for release and a possible Bollywood debut in the offing.
“I can dissolve my identity as well for the sake of cinema”
15. Prem Kumar Vislawath, 28, Founder & Chief Innovator — Marut Drones
The viral photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi listening to young Prem Kumar Vislawath from Hyderabad in rapt attention as the latter spoke about his revolutionary drone technology speaks of the kind of cutting-edge work Prem has done. His start-up leverages drone technology by launching India’s first-ever drone designed to address global challenges across sectors like healthcare services, reforestation, and last-mile medical delivery. Every Indian was left spellbound after seeing those petite, winged contraptions fly around scattering seeds to do the work of hundreds of farmers in a fraction of the time it takes for them to plant seeds. It was like a sci-fi moment in India to watch farming get up levelled because of the drones.
An alumnus of IIT, Guwahati, Prem believes in management guru Peter Drucker’s motto: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Last year, Marut Drones showcased its Agri Multi Utility Drone Agricopter at the PM Kisan Sammelan 2022 receiving accolades and recognition from all across the country. The company successfully developed AG 365 — Agricopter, an agriculture-specific multi-utility drone capable of performing a myriad of activities such as direct seeding, spraying, pollination, input fertilizers, thermal fogging, crop monitoring, and inputs delivery. In the last three years, Marut has operated across 1,50,000 acres, serving numerous farmers in eight states and has established a Drone Training Academy in Hyderabad.
Beyond agriculture, Marut Drones has initiated the Hara Bahara afforestation campaign to plant one billion seed balls by 2030. They have already planted one crore trees in seven states in 2022, impacting 250 forests and empowering 15,000 women from 200 communities.
Next on his radar: In 2024, the focus is on healthcare logistics by providing efficient and reliable drone-based solutions for medical deliveries using their Hepicopter; ensuring timely access to critical supplies and services, especially in remote or disaster-affected areas. Also combating the spread of mosquito-borne diseases by deploying the drone — MARUT ZAP — in targeted interventions and surveillance, ultimately contributing to healthier communities.
His start-up leverages drone technology across sectors like healthcare, reforestation, and last-mile medical delivery
16. Rahul Sipliganj, 34, Singer
What more can one ask for? An Oscar-winning song with Naatu Naatu, a live performance at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, Los Angeles, as 18.7 million people watched the Academy Awards ceremony, a selfie with Rihanna, a blockbuster single — Nee Ayya — in November. And an international live performance in Australia in November in Melbourne.
Singer Rahul Sipliganj, the pucca Hyderabadi artist has had a blockbuster year in more ways than an artist can ever imagine. This Dhoolpet boy, called Nalla Bangaram or black gold (owing to his debut movie Ranga Marthanda this year), has been on a roll with explosive success on all fronts. However, the singer who says he’s “proud to say imma pop artist,” has never stopped sticking to his core — of being an independent singer.
Rahul confesses to having flunked in school, but his parents saw a spark in him as an artist even when he was a teenager and encouraged him to take up singing as a profession. He recalls how he was often ticked off as ‘Which orchestra do you sing for’ when he was actually trying to make his own music and carve out a niche for himself. Not one to give up, Rahul kept to his work to eventually catch global attention for his song Naatu Naatu in the blockbuster film, director SS Rajamouli’s RRR. Incidentally, he sang the song in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam.
While the singer often referred to as “chicha” affectionately by his friends as he often addresses everyone in this very Hyderabadi style, has been a playback singer since 2009, he always has hit the mark with a rendition of songs with a Telangana touch. Whether it was Peddha Puli (a blockbuster song in the native folk style in Chal Mohan Ranga) or the Bonalu song in iSmart Shankar, he has always stayed close to his Telangana roots. As the state got ready to cast its vote last month, Rahul’s songs for BRS party leader Harish Rao, had been trending. From an Oscar-winning song to songs that win hearts, Rahul continues to be on a roll.
Next on his radar: More world tours with his team of 17 artists and more blockbuster playback songs in his kitty.
He always has hit the mark with a rendition of songs with a Telangana touch
17. Vijay Varma, 37, Actor
It is not until this versatile actor switches over to Hyderabadi Hindi that many will know he hails from the city. A familiar face in Bollywood movies with some unforgettable roles in OTT series and movies, actor Vijay Varma is a Marwari boy from Hyderabad, who has been in the big league with movies featuring the A-listers. After an impactful role in actor Ranveer Singh’s Gully Boy, a quirky role in Darlings, Mirzapur, and in Dahaad on Amazon Prime this year, Vijay is making as much news for his performances as his romance with actor Tamannaah Bhatia. Just last week, their fans were pulling his leg when he posted cool photos of him on social media and fans credited Tamannah for them.
While he continues to enjoy the gentle trolling, Varma stays committed to his craft — on screen as an actor. Star-struck from his teenage days, he joined a two-year acting course in 2004 at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. He borrowed the fee amount from his friends. It was tough sustaining in theater in Mumbai until he landed a role in a short film in 2008. While Vijay’s filmography with versatile characters — with a mix of commercial and offbeat movies — he shot to fame with Gully Boy. However, he admits that doing the role of Saysa, an unhinged criminal who speaks Hyderabadi in Imtiaz Ali’s web series She on Netflix has caught the attention of several directors and has started fetching him exciting roles, even if it is with shades of grey. He says that once he stopped judging characters and embracing his roles, work got more exciting. This year, the actor also has admitted to his relationship with Tamannaah and the paparazzi can’t stop clicking the couple as they twin in coordinated designer outfits and walking the red carpet. Just when you start reading about his love story, he surprises you with some exciting roles
Next on his radar: Afghaani Snow, Murder Mubarak and Suriya 43.
Once he stopped judging characters and embracing his roles, work got more exciting
18. Preeti Kongara, 19, Sailor
Guess who’s waiting to go on a sailing expedition with this gritty teenaged sailor from Hyderabad? Billionaire businessman Anand Mahindra tweeted earlier this year saying: “Maybe when Preeti has the time, I’d love to meet her and go sailing on my catamaran so she can coach me!”
He was talking about Preeti Kongara, who made news by becoming the first female sailor from Telangana to cut into the Asian Games in October in the 470 mixed-class category. Preeti finished sixth at the Asian Games 2023 held in China and she continues to keep at it. She would have remained an anonymous teenager studying commerce in Marredpally and living a quiet life with her single mother Vijaya who works as housekeeping staff for a company in Hyderabad, but the hunger to succeed caught the eye of the selectors of the Nanhi Kali program that shapes girls from underprivileged backgrounds to dream big and chase their goals.
Preeti is a busy girl these days as she juggles her online classes with her intense coaching in Mumbai. Sailing requires agility and strength and she has been working out for three hours in the gym with one hour of recovery time followed by four hours of sailing on the seas in Mumbai. Currently, she’s training under a domestic coach to take part in the Yachting Association of India’s SAIL India 2024 to be held between January 13-20 in Mumbai. Her mentor Suheim Sheikh of the Yacht Club of Hyderabad says, “Preeti inspires everyone with her grit and that will take her far in her life, and on the waters.” Given that sailing has been part of Hyderabad and Hussain Sagar for more than a century, Preeti is perhaps at the right time and the right place.
What’s on her radar: The Hyeres France in the Last Change Regatta in April 2024 and possibly Paris Olympics, 2024.
Preeti juggles her online classes with her intense coaching in Mumbai
19. Devidutta Dash, 39, Founder & CEO — Lemme Be
This enterprising entrepreneur combined three things that put her in the enviable space she is today. First, her experience, rather the trauma of periods; second— design thinking; third — the intuition of an entrepreneur. Today, her three-year-old start-up called Lemme Be, an inclusive period care brand, has garnered funding from Hyderabad Angels, AUM Ventures Abu Dhabi, and Multiply Ventures Bengaluru and is making rapid strides in the start-up sphere.
An Odisha girl married to a Hyderabadi, Devidutta says even the name of her brand Lemme Be, reflects the generation the products are aimed at. The start-up focuses on bringing uniquely designed period care products and content to handhold every young menstruator through her period journey. Feminine hygiene was always on her mind as almost every girl or woman goes through her own period trauma and is often left with unanswered questions. “I wanted to fill in the gap. Not just period products, but I wanted to build the complete ecosystem around periods. From biodegradable tampons, menstrual cups, sanitary pads to maternity pads, leakproof underwear to concepts about sexual wellness or UTI and PCOS, we have them all under one roof,” says Devi.
Her own experience of painful periods and spending a half day at her school trying to hide her period stains is the motivation for some of the products.
How does she fight the big corporate companies that are already dominating the period market? Are they priced differently? “It’s the difference between using a fancy, slippery unnatural fabric versus a soft, 100 percent cotton organic fabric on your body. Comfort above everything else”, she says.
November is a special month for Lemme Be. “Finally, we can breathe easy as we managed to break even. I am hoping we will have more scope to add more to the company from now,” she adds. The company which raised Rs 13.5 crore in funding last year is all set to go global.
Next on her radar: Many more period health products and a dedicated podcast for Gen Z about sexual education. Also, expansion into the US, Australia and Dubai.
“I wanted to build the complete ecosystem around periods”
20. Sree Leela, 22, Actor
She debuted in 2019. And then came the pandemic-induced hiatus for the film industry. Yet, in barely four years of her entering the film industry, the youngster has raked in nine releases and has three more big tickets the next year. Sree Leela, the young actor seems to be the current toast of Tollywood.
In her recent release — Bhagavanth Kesari — with veteran actor Balayya, she managed to stand out as Vijji Papa, a young girl who is full of fire. With a mix of small and big-budget movies, with co-stars ranging from young, upcoming actors such as Vaishnavv Tej in Adikeshava to veteran superstars such as Pavan Kalyan in Ustad Bhagath Singh and Mahesh Babu in Guturukaaram, she has been straddling the best of both worlds in the cinema world of South India.
With a ‘Go big or go home,’ attitude, she is hungry to succeed in every arena. Her list of co-stars sounds like a wish list for every actor in Telugu. Even as other girls in the industry struggled to find a role or two, she was simultaneously shooting for eight movies at various production phases. After having worked in Kannada and Telugu, she’s listening to Malayalam scripts, apparently. Even as she signs half a dozen cinemas, she puts in 20 hours a week at the medical college and hospital where she is in the last leg of her MBBS. “Learning performing arts such as Bharatanatyam or practicing yoga every day helps me stay focused, energetic and calm,” she says.
Interestingly, she was dissuaded by well-wishers to not play the role of a daughter (with no romantic interest with the lead actor), but she went on to sign the Balayya movie as she felt that shining in this movie would help her prove her mettle. With Bhagavanth Kesari joining the 100-crore club within a week of its release, she is being considered as a talent to reckon with but also one with a golden leg. With the movie getting released in Hindi across the country, this could just be her chance to step into Bollywood.
Next on her radar: Guturukaaram with Mahesh Babu, Ustad Bhagath Singh with Pavan Kalyan and one untitled movie with Vijay Deverakonda.
With a ‘Go big or go home,’ attitude, she is hungry to succeed in every arena
21. Sandeep Reddy Vanga, 40, Director
Barely 24 hours after this two-film director dropped the trailer of Animal, he set the internet on fire with Bollywood buffs busy Googling past interviews of the maverick director who warned the filmgoers that he is going to come back with a movie that will shake us up.
Violence is a genre in films and this film-obsessed director says he doesn’t judge it but leverages it to give us an adrenaline rush. Sandeep Reddy Vanga, with his trademark beard and the Samurai look with a man bun, is trending now as he threatens to unleash a beast on the celluloid. The Warangal native who pursued physiotherapy in college, later a course in filmmaking in Sydney, Australia. That is where he decided he would come back and make movies. The initial euphoria faded after he faced the harsh reality of closed doors and slammed phones. Even after six years of going around the industry for a producer and actor, when he was about to give up, he met his muse in actor Vijay Devarakonda and cast him in and as Arjun Reddy.
In a TEDx talk, Sandeep talks about how an office space he rented in Amruta Valley had the worst vastu dosham ever and everyone from the security guard to the astrologer told him to change the office, but he never did. Of course, he went on to make the biggest blockbuster of 2017. The movie went through multiple struggles to release, but when it did, it catapulted Sandeep into a different league for its bold and raw content. Everyone thought it was a fluke until the movie’s remake in Hindi, Kabir Singh, went on to become an even bigger blockbuster in Bollywood. Will he be third time lucky with the Anil Kapoor, Ranbir Kapoor and Rashmika starrer Animal? Going by the way the cinema trailer has already gone viral, let’s see if the real content will hit us as badly as Sandeep promised it would. With Sandeep at the helm of affairs, nothing can be predicted.
Next on his radar: Spirit and possibly Animal 2.
Violence is a genre in films and he … leverages it to give us an adrenaline rush