A COUNTDOWN OF GLOBAL STARS WHO BROKE BOUNDARIES, DID GREAT WORK AND MADE A POSITIVE IMPACT THIS YEAR
by ASJAD NAZIR
WHILE some celebrities hibernated during the past 12 months, there were others around the world who faced the Covid-19 storm head on like unstoppable warriors and rose up from the pandemic ashes to battle their way ahead towards brilliance.
Eastern Eye decided to celebrate the Asian stars who shone the brightest around the world with a first-of-its-kind list of the top 50 Asian celebrities of 2020. The list is based on those who did good work, made a positive impact, broke boundaries, shattered glass ceilings, gave hope, did philanthropic deeds or were just inspiring in their own unique way.
Before commencing the countdown, a special mention for late actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who generated a tidal wave of love after his tragic passing and is someone who won’t be forgotten.
50. Anoushka Shankar: The sitar maestro continued to redefine music with her stunning album Love Letters, which was nominated for a Grammy award. She made up for live shows being cancelled due to Covid-19 by featuring on interesting projects, including the Dalai Lama’s debut album. She also campaigned for gender equality in music and delivered a winning virtual Proms performance.
49. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: The only director in the list once again used her platform to raise awareness about social issues, nurture new talent and gain international attention for her work. A big highlight was stunning animated short Sitara: Let Girls Dream, which premiered earlier this year. The Oscar winner was also signed up to direct superhero series Ms Marvel.
48. Vikrant Massey: The Covid-19 pandemic may have shut down the cinema industry globally, but that didn’t stop hot-right-now actor Vikrant Massey from having four major film releases. He showed off his incredible range with winning performances and demonstrated why he is so massively in demand right now.
47. Helly Shah: The young actress has been on an impressive roll in recent years and become a powerful role model. While others self-isolated, she was brave enough to take on the challenging lead role in Ishq Mein Marjawan 2 and has excelled in the globally popular drama serial, which has already clocked up over 130 episodes.
46. Hussain Manawer: The British poet continued transforming cultural and creative landscapes with his words. His voice appeared on many major mainstream platforms throughout the year and empowered a new generation of poets, now following in his giant footsteps. His highs included a thought-provoking collaboration with boxing world champion Tyson Fury and an acting debut in acclaimed film Mogul Mowgli.
45. Anushka Sharma: The A-list star made up for no film releases as an actress by bulldozing her way into the male-dominated producer domain. This year she scored big successes as a producer with web series Paatal Lok and horror film Bulbbul. She remained one half of, arguably, India’s most influential power couple and spoke up for social causes.
44. Iman Vellani: Born in Canada to immigrant parents from Pakistan, the 18-year-old generated global headlines after being cast as Kamala Khan in hotly anticipated series Ms Marvel. The game-changing casting of her as a Muslim teenage superhero was met with an incredible response globally and has already made her the one to watch in 2021.
43. Amaal Mallik: The only Bollywood music director in the list had another year delivering impressive hits in varied genres and continued gaining himself the kind of fan base normally reserved for frontline pop stars. With each song he continued to bring something new, which is helping to redefine Indian music and show he is the future.
42. Dhvani Bhanushali: The 22-year-old singing sensation became the youngest Indian to cross a billion views on YouTube and one of the fastest ever to do it. The crown princess of commercial music in India mixed up film songs with solo singles and duets in what turned out to be another extraordinary year for her.
41. Guz Khan: The hard-working British star had another busy year with big projects, including season three of his series Man Like Mobeen, which earned him a BAFTA nomination. He popped up in multiple mainstream TV projects, lit up adverts and delivered explosive stand-up comedy sets. Khan also used his platform for positive change and smashed open more doors for Asians.
40. Nia Sharma: The strikingly beautiful star showed there is a lot more to her than a pretty face and a knock-out figure. She lit up the small screen in various projects, which included winning reality TV show Fear Factor: Khatron Ke Khiladi – Made in India. She also consolidated her position as a fierce female icon.
39. Ali Zafar: The Pakistani singer, actor, musician and humanitarian saved the Pakistani cricket league this year by giving them a better anthem than they had. He also promoted new talent with his record label. More meaningful was the immense humanitarian work the actor did for those who were suffering during Covid-19. His actions inspired others and consolidated his star credentials.
38. Rupi Kaur: The acclaimed poet’s third book home body jumped onto best seller lists around the world and showed just why she is an important literary voice. Like her previous two books, the inspiring young writer showed less can definitely be more and continued opening doors for a new generation of thinkers.
37. Steel Banglez: The British beatmaker is on a different level to other South Asian music producers working internationally, in terms of his ability to create something new. The pandemic prevented him from releasing his hotly anticipated monster album, but that didn’t stop him from winning collaborations, giving new talent a platform and getting a MOBO award nomination for Best Producer.
36. Saloni Gaur: The hottest new comedy talent of 2020 had a stunning rise. Her unique brand of Hindi language comedy saw her social media following surge and this led to a sketch series on a streaming site. The cool comedy genius became a trailblazer for a younger generation connected to their Indian roots and won herself celebrity fans.
35. Hrithik Roshan: According to deasilex, he is one of the most handsome men in the world. Twelve months ago, the actor would likely have topped the list after a dream 2019, but he has kept a relatively low profile professionally. He did sign up with a Hollywood agency in 2020, made large cash donations to charity and campaigned for Covid-19 safety. The Bollywood heartthrob also remained connected to fans and kept their spirits high during a difficult year.
34. Hasan Minhaj: The comedian turned TV personality continued to breathe fire with his popular show Patriot Act and became a strong voice for positive change. He also had a recurring role in drama serial The Morning Show and networks lining up to work with him when global hit Patriot Act was abruptly cancelled.
33. Tiger Shroff: The hot cinematic property turned up the temperature again in 2020 and showed that he perhaps is now the most all-rounded talented young star in Bollywood. He had another successful film, but also added to his amazing skillset by showing off his singing and signed many more high-profile movies.
32. Masaba Gupta: The only frontline fashion designer in the list was already successful for her striking outfits, but now has added to that with a stunning streaming site acting debut with Masaba Masaba. The game-changing and glass ceiling shattering comedy-drama won universal acclaim and showed just why Masaba is one of the most exciting Indian talents right now.
31. Avni Doshi: The only novelist in the list is an American writer, who currently resides in Dubai. She announced herself to the world with stunning debut novel Burnt Sugar, which was shortlisted for the prestigious 2020 Booker prize and was unlucky not to win. The acclaimed novel introduced the world to an important literary voice, which is only set to get louder.
30. Rhea Sharma: The Yeh Rishtey Hain Pyaar Ke star saw her fan following skyrocket in 2020, largely due to taking on challenging story tracks that shed light on important social issues. The young actress has become hot property on television and a positive role model for a new generation. Expect very big things from her in coming years.
29. Himesh Patel: The British actor followed up a star-making 2019 with another stunning year, which continued his global rise. He delivered acclaimed performances in TV series The Luminaries and Avenue 5, along with making a winning appearance in the year’s biggest Hollywood release Tenet. He also signed more major film and TV projects.
28. Bilal Abbas Khan: The fastest rising acting star in Pakistan continued reaching new heights in 2020. The unstoppable actor started the year with HUM TV series Pyar Ke Sadqay and ended it with ZEE5 sleeper hit Aik Jhooti Love Story. With some more high-profile projects on the way, Khan looks like the future of Pakistani film and television.
27. Raba Khan: The highest placed Bangladeshi has become a huge icon and the country’s first famous female comic. The 22-year-old comedy queen from Dhaka entertained millions with her online videos, had a best-selling book and her own fashion line. The social media influencer is also a UNICEF Youth Advocate, ActionAid Ambassador and was listed in the Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list.
26. Shivangi Joshi & Mohsin Khan: It is impossible to separate the two young Indian icons, who have jointly been responsible for turning Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai into one of the biggest modern-day television success stories. They were one of the first shows to resume shooting under Covid-19 restrictions and have entertained audiences during a difficult time.
25. Asim Riaz: The model turned TV personality may have been runner-up on popular reality show Bigg Boss 13, but that didn’t stop him from becoming a youth icon and celebrity with the fastest growing new fanbase. He lit up music videos that have clocked up tens of millions of views and set himself up for a huge 2021.
24. Salman Khan: The Indian icon continued to be adored by millions. He hosted India’s biggest reality TV show Bigg Boss and made a big impact with his philanthropic work. The actor helped 25,000 daily wage workers from the film industry who had lost their income due to Covid-19 and used trucks to distribute food to the needy.
23. Pankaj Tripathi: The most in-demand Indian actor had another year filled with stunning scene-stealing performances. The versatile star had wins that ranged from a second season of web series Mirzapur to high-profile films, including Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl and Ludo. He also popped up in Hollywood film Extraction and signed many more projects.
22. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan: The 18-year-old actress came to prominence with a star-making lead role in successful Netflix series Never Have I Ever. The coming of age drama co-created by Mindy Kaling was quickly commissioned for a second season, which means the youngest star in this year’s list will shine even brighter.
21. Sarwat Gilani: The Pakistani actress headed the cast list of the best new South Asian serial of the year, Churails, which exploded onto the scene and destroyed all existing rulebooks. With the electrifying drama, she opened the door for a new era of TV content in Pakistan box and consolidated her position as a feminist icon.
20. Amitabh Bachchan: The oldest star in the list showed age is just a number and had another prolific year, despite contracting Covid-19. The 78-year-old delivered a stunning performance in Gulabo Sitabo, returned for season 12 of hit gameshow Kaun Banega Crorepati, helped humanitarian causes and shot for more movies. He also signed big projects and carried on destroying ageism.
19. Naomi Scott: A stunning 2019 meant major production houses chased after the actress in 2020 and consolidated her position as a Hollywood heavyweight. The half-Indian British beauty became a beacon of light for other aspiring Asian hopefuls wanting to make it in international cinema. With big movie projects on the way, she is set to shine brighter.
18. Jameela Jamil: The TV/radio host turned actress won 2020 with her acclaimed podcast I Weigh with Jameela Jamil, which focuses on women’s accomplishments, body positivity, activism and racial inclusivity. She took on the establishment and used her star power to make a real difference. The British star also lit up many high-profile projects with her presence.
17. Guru Randhawa: The formidable Punjabi singing sensation had another year of hit solo singles, film songs and cool collaborations, which all clocked up huge figures on YouTube and crossed boundaries globally. Apart from singing, the hardworking star was also on lyrical and composing duties.
16. Shehnaaz Gill: The model, singer and actress made a massive impact in 2020. The loveable star trended more than any other Asian celebrity on social media and saw one of the fastest growing fan bases on the planet, regularly sending it into meltdown. She had success with music videos and came to represent the real Indian woman.
15. Riz Ahmed: The British rapper, actor and now filmmaker showed off his all-round talent in 2020, which started with a masterpiece awesome album and finished with two contrasting films, Mogul Mowgli and Sound Of Metal. These projects, along with an award-winning short, showed off his impressive range and established his trailblazing credentials.
14. Diljit Dosanjh: The Punjabi superstar continued balancing a flourishing career as a lead actor in cinema with marvellous music, which included 2020 blockbuster The G.O.A.T. The multi-faceted success saw him go to places no Punjabi star has been before. The only thing he wasn’t able to do was perform in front of packed arenas because of the Covid-19 closedown.
13. Geraldine Viswanathan: The half-Indian Australian actress made a huge Hollywood breakthrough with globally acclaimed film TheBroken Hearts Gallery. The glass-ceiling shattering performance kicked open another door for Asians in Hollywood and has now set her up for a huge movie career, which includes a voice-over in high-profile animated feature Rumble.
12. Zayn Malik: The half-Pakistani British pop idol spent another year getting more worldwide media attention than any other Asian star, despite trying to keep a relatively low profile. The global superstar released music, welcomed a baby girl with partner Gigi Hadid and carried on setting wildfires across social media with his immense presence.
11. Ayushmann Khurrana: The in-demand Indian actor continued his incredible momentum with more horizon expanding Bollywood films in 2020. He hit an international high note by becoming the only South Asian celebrity to be featured in Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world list. With announcements of further projects, that fast rise will continue in 2021.
10. Kumail Nanjiani: The Pakistan born actor continued his incredible Hollywood film rise with a voice-over in Dolittle and a lead in The Lovebirds. He also executive produced acclaimed anthology series Little America, launched a popular podcast and used social media to promote positive change. Due to the pandemic, he will have to wait until 2021 to unveil his superhero character in mega-Marvel movie Eternals.
9. Surbhi Chandna: India has the most prolific film industry globally, but TV took over in 2020 in a big way and small screen queen Surbhi Chandna ruled. The talented actress connected with cross-generational audiences globally, like no other Asian, starting the year with Sanjivani and ending it with an award-winning performance in blockbuster serial Naagin 5.
8. Mindy Kaling: The actress, writer, producer and all-round super-talent continued to be a huge Hollywood power-player during 2020. The award-winning star launched hit teen drama Never Have I Ever, which was renewed for a second season within two months of airing, put together more big projects and continued exuding girl power that is inspiring a generation.
7. Prabhas: He may not have had film releases in 2020, but Prabhas confirmed his status as the biggest pan-Indian movie star and generated fever pitch excitement with the announcement of new projects. The humble star won hearts with more philanthropic work during lockdown, which included adopting a forest and making large cash donations to those in need.
6. Priyanka Chopra Jonas: The USA-based actress continued to be the most known Indian star globally. She had success as a producer with Evil Eye, signed big projects including Matrix 4, had a huge presence on social media and carried on her philanthropic work. We also got a first look of her new international projects The White Tiger and We Can Be Heroes.
5. Armaan Malik: The rapidly rising music star went where no frontline Bollywood singer had gone before by releasing two world-class English songs aimed at a global audience. He also had further Bollywood songs, solo Hindi languages releases and engaged with fans locked indoors better than any celebrity, to show that he really is a new age Indian music icon.
4. Dev Patel: The British star added to his many achievements with The Personal History of David Copperfield, which saw him become the first Asian to take on a Charles Dickens title character in a major movie. That boundary-breaking colour-blind casting continues with his next Hollywood film The Green Knight, which we saw a first glimpse of. He also bagged a lead role in the much talked about Chippendales movie and is making the international acting playing field level for future generations.
3. Charli XCX: The massively successful half-Indian British pop siren could have spent self-isolation getting a much deserved rest, but decided to record an entire album and used social media brilliantly to get fans involved. The magnificent result was her Mercury Music Prize nominated album How I Am Feeling Now, which has been described as an important work of its time.
2. Lilly Singh: The strong symbol of girl power continued to shatter glass ceilings and blaze a trail of fire. From hosting her prime time talk show to filming a hilarious sketch show entirely in lockdown and delivering signature videos online, the creative genius remained unstoppable and shone brightest in the comedy sky at a time we all desperately needed some laughs.
1. Sonu Sood: No celebrity did more to help others during lockdown than the big-hearted Bollywood star. What started off with him helping impoverished migrant workers stranded by lockdown get back home evolved into a spectacularly philanthropic mission that made a difference to so many during the pandemic.
Whether it was paying for surgery, setting up a scholarship, campaigning for women’s rights, or buying a new tractor for a farmer, so his daughters could study and not plough a field, super Sonu helped in any way he could in 2020. He became a strong symbol of hope during a crushing year where it was needed more than ever and that is why he is named as the greatest Asian celebrity in the world for 2020.
“Thank you Eastern Eye for recognising my efforts. As the pandemic broke, I realised it was my duty to help my country men, it was an instinct that came from within. Eventually, this was something I came to Mumbai for, it was my responsibility as an Indian which I did. I think all the love of the people which I received was simply the wishes and prayers of those whom I helped. Once again, I won’t stop till my last breath,” he said.