• Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Column

Why FT picked Alia Bhatt for its influential women’s list

The Indian actress was named along with Beyoncé and Margot Robbie

Alia Bhatt (Photo by SUJIT JAISWAL / AFP) (Photo by SUJIT JAISWAL/AFP via Getty Images)

By: AMIT ROY

THE Bollywood actress, Alia Bhatt, is the sole Indian to be selected by the Financial Times (FT) among its “25 most influential women of 2023” chosen from across the world.

The paper’s selection is a little like Eastern Eye’s Power List (the next one will be published on March 5, 2024) except that it is restricted to women.

The FT’s editor, Roula Khalaf, said this year’s edition “is plentiful with women who have received prestigious accolades, but even these awards fail to fully capture the multi-faceted nature of their work”.

Khalaf adds: “Influence – the power to persuade, advocate for change and imagine better ways of doing things – takes many forms.

“Nowhere is this more clear than in the magazine’s annual Women of the Year issue, a list of the world’s most influential women written about by other powerful women on the international stage.

“This special project was assembled, over several months, in consultation with hundreds of FT journalists across dozens of bureaux, our readers and industry leaders. The end result is a list filled with women who have received prestigious accolades, but even Nobel Prizes, Pulitzers, Grammys and World Cups fail to fully capture the multi-faceted nature of their work.”

Along with Bhatt, the other women on the unranked list include: Margot Robbie (actress), Beyoncé (musician who has been profiled by Oprah Winfrey), Barbara Kingsolver (author), Phoebe Philo (designer), Lola Shoneyin (writer), aespa (K-pop group), Mira Murati (CTO, OpenAI), Makiko Ono (Japanese CEO), Fran Drescher (Hollywood actress/ union president), Lisa Dyson (biotech entrepreneur), Carol Tomé (CEO, UPS), Karin Keller-Sutter (Switzerland’s finance minister), Marie-Claire Daveu (chief sustainability officer, fashion industry), Marina Silva (environment minister, Brazil), Ursula von der Leyen (president, European Commission), Mary Barra (CEO, General Motors), Janet Truncale (CEO elect, EY), Narges Mohammadi (Iranian activist), Coco Gauff (tennis player/activist), Jenni Hermoso (Spanish footballer), Elizabeth Maruma Mrema (UN environmental diplomat), Chen Chien-Jou (Taiwan whistleblower), Katalin Karikó (2023 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine), and Olena Zelenska (Ukraine’s First Lady).

Bhatt’s profile was written by Shubhra Gupta, a film critic and author of 50 Films That Changed Bollywood, 1995-2015, who said: “When I saw Alia Bhatt in her 2012 debut, Student of the Year, a popcorn high-school drama, she appeared no different from the cookie-cutter singing-dancing actors favoured by Bollywood. But with a conscious course correction, Bhatt started to carve out a distinctive path.

“In her last few outings, all blockbusters, she has become a critics’ favourite for tackling challenging roles with acuity. In Gangubai Kathiawadi, she starred as a sex worker turned activist. RRR became the third highestgrossing film in Indian history with its portrayal of two revolutionaries fighting British Raj rule. She’s also used her star-power to greenlight difficult-tofund projects such as the 2022 Netflix film Darlings, which explored domestic abuse. At 30, she has turned producer, starred as the villain in a Hollywood actioner, and onboarded the mighty Yash Raj Films’ spy universe as a super-agent, becoming the first female actor to join this powerful all-boys club. When Bhatt is on screen, she holds your attention.”

Bhatt’s inclusion has to be seen in the context of some of the other entries.

Winfrey, billed as “a global media leader, producer and philanthropist”, but not as the person who interviewed Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, about alleged racism in the royal family, has this to say about Beyoncé: “No matter what you’ve heard or read about the phenomenon that is Beyoncé, no description can capture the true essence of experiencing the velocity of her talent in person. Every moment of her Renaissance World Tour I was in jaw-dropping awe. Days after, I found myself asking, “What was that?” and tearing up trying to explain the concert to others.

“It was a truly transcendent experience, all brought into being through her elevated creativity and leadership. It was a marvel to witness someone fully embodying their power and glory.”

On aespa, the profile was written by Yoojin Choi, cocurator of Hallyu! The Korean Wave exhibition at the V&A: “Growing up in the late 1990s in South Korea, I would spend hours listening to SES, part of the first generation of Korean pop music. When I moved to the UK, my classmates barely knew Korea existed. Little did I expect that by 2023, K-pop would have blazed into the mainstream, becoming one of the most popular musical genres in the world.

“In the two years since they released their first album, aespa have set and then broken a series of records for K-pop girl groups, becoming the first to pass one million first-week sales with three consecutive albums…..With their experimentally layered instrumentation and fiery vocals accompanied by their sci-fi punk AI avatar counterparts (the ‘ae’ in aespa refers to ‘avatar’ and ‘experience’), aespa have pushed the boundaries of K-pop.”

Murati’s profile has been written by Marissa Mayer, the co-founder and chief executive officer of AI start-up Sunshine: “Mira Murati, the chief technology officer of OpenAI, is at the helm of this moment’s profound digital transformation. Born in Albania, Mira now lives at the white-hot epicentre of artificial intelligence’s rapid evolution. OpenAI’s groundbreaking products, ChatGPT and Dall-E, have captured the world’s imagination and will fundamentally change how we work, learn and express ourselves creatively. Mira’s visionary leadership extends well beyond the science and research of large language models into designing how to incorporate AI into our daily lives, as well as how to develop AI responsibly with regard to safety and regulation.

“Incredibly thoughtful in envisioning human-AI interactions, Mira actively advocates for open, public testing – encouraging us to seize this unique moment in time, where we have agency over how the technology will reshape us and we shape it. As a notable rarity – a woman helming a tech company – Mira’s story and leadership are every bit as inspiring as the future-defining technology she oversees.”

 Eastern Eye readers might want to know about Ursula von der Leyen, who has upset Brexiteers in Britain, prime minister Rishi Sunak included, by admitting last week that European leaders had “goofed up” over the departure of Britain from the European Union and suggesting the younger generation could “fix” it.

Janet Yellen, the US treasury secretary, says in her profile: “Ursula von der Leyen has navigated the dayto-day demands of leading the European Commission with remarkable skill and grace and has broken barriers as its first female president. And she has done so during a period of unprecedented global challenges.

“I’ve seen first-hand how she brought member states together to take novel and innovative measures to counter the economic impact of Covid-19 and help drive Europe’s recovery.

Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt (Photo by SUJIT JAISWAL/AFP via Getty Images)

“She has been instrumental in our collective response to Russia’s unjust war on Ukraine, from powerful sanctions on Russia to robust European economic and security assistance for Ukraine, including her proposal for a new €50bn Ukraine Facility. “She has been a trusted partner to the US and to me, personally, as the US and Europe pursue priorities from diversifying our critical supply chains to responsibly managing our respective economic relationships with the People’s Republic of China.

“At a time when decisive, principled action is sorely needed, Europe, the US and the world are fortunate to have in president von der Leyen a leader whose clarity of vision is exceeded only by her strength of will in advancing it.

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