By: ASJAD NAZIR
FROM ACTORS AND MUSICIANS TO AUTHORS AND COMEDIANS, THE CELEBRITIES WHO STOOD OUT THIS YEAR
IN 2021, the world started to open up again after a previous year of lockdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
This enabled a number of Asian talents to step up and dazzle people globally in their own unique way.
Eastern Eye decided to celebrate those outstanding individuals in the second edition of the first-of-its-kind list of the top 50 Asian celebrities of the year.
The countdown is based on those who did good work, made a positive impact, shattered glass ceilings, did philanthropic deeds, lit up social media, got fan support or were just inspiring.
A special mention also goes to popular star Sidharth Shukla, who passed away in September and generated a tidal wave of emotion globally. He will be remembered, and he is beyond any list.
EXCLUSIVE Interview : Saif Ali Khan fearlessly conquering new acting frontiers
50. Madan Gowri: With nearly a billion views across his channels and over eight million subscribers, south India’s most popular digital content creator has become an important voice. His unique ability to create meaningful and easy-to-understand videos has set him apart from most other online stars, who mainly rely on comedy.
49. Helly Shah: The young actress made another big impact with her award-winning performance in hit Indian drama serial Ishq Mein Marjawan 2. The gifted small-screen star also delivered a winning turn in a hit music video and saw her fan base continue to surge, as she trended on social media across multiple countries.
48. Azaan Sami Khan: The multi-talented star jumped out of the shadow of his famous parents – Zeba Bakhtiar and Adnan Sami. As a singer and musician, he released a stunning debut album. Then as an actor, he showed off his talent with a lead role in drama serial Ishq-e-Laa. More acting and music projects will continue his rapid rise.
47. Zakir Khan: The first big global Hindi language stand-up star has sold well over 100,000 tickets. His 2021 tour dates included a ground-breaking comedy run at Soho Theatre in central London. With nearly seven million YouTube subscribers and over four million Instagram followers, he also headlined Amazon Prime comedy series Chacha Vidhayak Hain Humare.
46. Drashti Dhami: The Indian television queen won fans over with a regal performance as Khanzada Begum in the hit web series The Empire and showed she really is one of India’s best actresses. She also set exercise goals on social media by showing off her incredible fitness levels and had producers lining up to sign her.
45. Anuk Arudpragasam: The Sri Lankan author’s stunning second book A Passage North was shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize. The powerful story highlighted the traumas of a brutal civil war that affected the lives of so many and shone a light on an interesting literary talent.
44. Asim Riaz: The model turned actor and rapper saw his fan base surge in a way few celebrities experienced in 2021. He regularly trended across social media and has become a strong youth icon. Although he appeared in hugely successful music videos, what made this year special was him launching an explosive music career.
43. Debattama Saha and Karanvir Sharma: The talented stars remained inseparable this year. Both delivered star-making performances in hit drama serial Shaurya Aur Anokhi Ki Kahani and then teamed up for brilliant song Jo Tera Howega, which was a first-of-its-kind collaboration between two TV stars.
42. Steel Banglez: Whether it was big tracks with Sidhu Moose Wala or making noise in the western mainstream with exciting tunes, the ace British music producer crossed cultures, boundaries, and musical frontiers once again. The only thing he possibly did wrong was delaying the release of his 27-track monster album The Playlist to early 2022.
41. Geraldine Viswanathan: The half-Indian, half-Australian actress broke through in Hollywood last year and has carried on that momentum with the movie 7 Days and highly rated TV series Miracle Workers. The glass-ceiling shattering actress has signed up for the film Cat Person and has big projects on the way, such as 2022 animated feature Rumble.
40. Shaheer Sheikh: The hard-working actor had another prolific year filled with top-drawer performances. Although he had big moments on TV and in music videos, his greatest triumph was brilliantly taking on the iconic role of Manav Deshmukh in the critically acclaimed web reboot of classic serial Pavitra Rishta.
39. Bilal Abbas Khan: It was another great year for the popular star with projects across diverse platforms. His winning performances included drama serials Dunk and Dobara, along with Pakistan’s first big post-pandemic film release Khel Khel Mein. He has signed further projects and remains the young actor to watch in his country.
38. Ashi Singh: One of the most versatile actresses working on TV today effortlessly went from starring in fantasy serial Aladdin – Naam Toh Suna Hoga to headlining Meet: Badlegi Duniya Ka Reet. Her performance in the title role has been one of this year’s best, and it has been accompanied with an inspiring message of girl power.
37. Yohani: The highest-placed Sri Lankan on the list had been bubbling away under the surface and finally blew up with the biggest sleeper hit song of 2021. The singer’s stunning cover version of Manike Mage Hithe clocking up over 160 million views led to her recording a 12-track debut album and more importantly, putting Sri Lankan music on the global map.
36. Anoushka Shankar: The sitar queen gained a Grammy nomination in the Best World Music Category for her album Love Letters. She followed that up with multiple projects including curating high-profile events, her stunning single Sister Susannah, live performances, and an Ivor Novello award nomination. She spoke up for important causes and strongly connected with multicultural audiences.
35. Yumna Zaidi: The versatile actress continued her dynamic journey with more acclaimed performances in hit drama serials like Sinf-e-Aahan, Parizaad and Ishq-E-Laa. Audiences, the media, and co-stars alike praised her brilliant acting ability in what turned out to be a year loaded with memorable moments for her. She even became a muse for a top fashion designer.
34. Shivangi Joshi and Mohsin Khan: The inseparable duo left super-hit drama serial Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai after five and-a-half years. India’s top on-screen TV couple gifted audiences with many great memories of their now iconic performances, and all eyes are now on what they will do next. Both have multiple options and are backed by an impressive fan base.
33. Ram Charan: The Indian superstar spent the year working on huge films that are sure to set the box office ablaze next year, including the hotly anticipated RRR. The actor has the movie Acharya on the way with his legendary father Chiranjeevi, which he has also produced, and a mega-project with big thinking director S Shankar. In addition, he quietly made a positive difference with tireless charity work.
32. Amitabh Bachchan: Whether it was film, television, social media or philanthropic work, the oldest star on the list had another great year and continued to lead the way. The hard-working 79-year-old’s iconic show Kaun Banega Crorepati crossed 1,000 episodes in 2021, and he has signed more major movies which are bound to entertain audiences in the year ahead.
31. Manoj Bajpayee: It was a great year for the acclaimed Indian actor, who scored another web success with the second season of his hit serial The Family Man and won a prestigious National Best Actor Award for his film Bhonsle. He also admirably opened up about his struggles and gave hope to those in a similar situation.
30. Hadiqa Kiani: The Pakistani pop icon made an impressive move to acting this year. The chart-topping 47-year-old singer followed up an award-winning acting debut in hit serial Raqeeb Se with a stunning turn in Dobara. This launched an exciting new phase for one of the country’s music greats and showed that it’s never too late to pursue a new passion.
29. Mohanlal: The Malayalam movie megastar delivered an acclaimed sequel to his 2013 blockbuster Drishyam and headlined mega-budget historical Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea, which won a National Award for Best Film even before its official release. In between, he worked on a huge stack of major movies, which will light up cinema halls throughout 2022.
28. Rupali Ganguly: The hit drama serial Anupamaa continued to top the ratings, largely thanks to the small-screen star’s perfect portrayal in the title role. Apart from entertaining millions with her relatable character, one of the highest-paid Indian TV stars showed an ageist industry that an older actress can successfully carry a project.
27. Shah Rukh Khan: The most popular Bollywood actor in the world started his much-awaited return after a hiatus by working on multiple projects. The superstar also handled himself with great dignity when his son Aryan Khan was in trouble and received immense support globally. He remained connected to fans and continued with his multiple charitable endeavours.
26. Adarsh Gourav: The Indian actor became a global star with his stunning performance in The White Tiger. He outshone his more established co-stars in the film adaptation of the best-selling novel and got himself a BAFTA award nomination. The 27-year-old has also garnered other major nominations and landed a key role in high-profile anthology series Extrapolations, alongside major Hollywood stars.
25. Atif Aslam: Fans in India repeatedly demanded the ban on Pakistani artists be lifted so Atif can sing and perform in the country again. The border was no barrier to the sensational Pakistani singer, who released hit songs like Ajnabi, Raat, Dil Jalane Ki Baat, Rafta Rafta and magnificent cover Chale To Kat Hi Jayega. He also signalled his intention to pursue acting.
24. Ayesha Singh: The superhit serial Ghum Hai Kisikey Pyaar Meiin has clocked up nearly 400 episodes since premiering in October 2020, and the actress has been its heartbeat. She has kept global audiences hooked with magnetic performances in gripping storylines and delivered a memorable character that has become iconic.
23. Jubin Nautiyal: The talented singer’s star-making year was loaded with stand-out moments, including his solo single Lut Gaye crossing a billion views on YouTube. He also delivered a host of other hits such as the hugely popular Raataan Lambiyan and not surprisingly, is very much in demand on the global live circuit.
22. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan: The 19-year-old actress continued her stunning rise with a winning turn in season two of globally successful hit Netflix series Never Have I Ever, which was commissioned for a third series. She also signed up to play the lead role in forthcoming film The Netherfield Girls, a contemporary adaptation of classic novel Pride & Prejudice.
21. Jameela Jamil: The multi-talented star used her all-round skills on a wide array of projects that ranged from voice-overs and her winning podcast to landing a lead role as the antagonist in upcoming series She-Hulk. The passionate activist also continued to use her voice to highlight important causes and speak up against wrongdoing.
20. Samantha Ruth Prabhu: A high-profile divorce didn’t stop the superstar actress from having a strong year. She made a powerful web debut with The Family Man, before shifting her focus back to cinema and working on much-anticipated films like Tamil romance Kaathu Vaakula Rendu Kaadhal, Telugu mythological Shaakuntalam and her debut international project, Arrangements of Love.
19. Armaan Malik: The sensational Indian singer had another stunning year filled with super-hit songs in different languages, including English song Echo. The prolific star remained the most fan-friendly celebrity with regular social media interactions. The 26-year-old has also become a role model with his grounded nature, strong work ethic and impressive body of work.
18. Akshay Kumar: The most active A-list film star in Bollywood worked on multiple projects this year. He headlined Bollywood’s first hit film in over 20 months with Sooryavanshi and gave a beleaguered industry a much-needed boost. The popular actor has loads of movies in diverse genres on the way, which will continue to help Hindi cinema rise from the ashes.
17. Rubina Dilaik: A dream year for the actress started off by her winning India’s biggest reality show, Bigg Boss 14. She followed that up by generating a huge number of social media posts and appearing in successful music videos. The small-screen star also started work on her hotly anticipated debut film Ardh, and admirably auctioned off her outfits for charity.
16. Sumbul Touqeer Khan: The biggest breakout star of 2021 took everyone by surprise with her stunning title role in hit serial Imlie. The 18-year-old actress showed a maturity way beyond her years to carry a show that pulled in huge audiences globally and gained a big fan following. The youngest person in this year’s list is the future of Indian television.
15. Vijay: One of India’s biggest cinema icons scored another major success with his film Master. The mega-movie star, affectionately known as Thalapathy Vijay, generated fever-pitch excitement among fans with the announcements of projects that included pan-Indian film Beast, which will be released in Tamil, Hindi and Telugu in 2022. He also generated an incredible social media presence without trying.
14. Taapsee Pannu: The award-winning actress followed up last year’s best Bollywood performance in Thappad with two contrasting but equally memorable characters. Her femme fatale in Haseen Dillruba and an athlete fighting for her rights in Rashami Rocket showed she is on a different level to her contemporaries right now. She also delivered a terrific turn in Tamil film Annabelle Sethupathi.
13. Sonu Sood: The big-hearted star became the number one celebrity of 2020 because of the remarkable philanthropic work he did during the pandemic. The strong symbol of hope had another year of making a difference with his charitable deeds, which saved lives and inspired countless people, including fellow celebrities and politicians, to help others.
12. Lilly Singh: The hard-working Canadian carried on being a social media star, concluded her path-breaking late night talk show and signed a stack of exciting new projects. These ranged from a confirmed role in season two of comedy series Dollface to becoming a judge for the 2022 edition of Canada’s Got Talent and providing her voice for animated films. She also used her platform to raise awareness about important issues.
11. Diljit Dosanjh: The multi-talented star dazzled the world with his brilliance this year. The singer, actor and producer’s big successes included awesome album MoonChild Era, music videos on YouTube clocking up tens of millions of views and superhit Punjabi film Honsla Rakh. He also put the finishing touches to more major projects and is looking forward to selling out live arenas in 2022.
10. Shehnaaz Gill: The popular Indian model, singer, and actress showed incredible emotional strength this year, which won hearts around the world. She enjoyed the kind of genuine social media attention not seen by any other Asian star, and backed that up with music video appearances, a lead role in superhit Punjabi film Honsla Rakh and singing a stunning tribute track to Sidharth Shukla. The multi-talented Shehnaaz generated incredible momentum and looks unstoppable.
9. Dev Patel: Delivering path-breaking international projects seems to have become a regular occurrence for the British actor. This year, he broke more new ground for colour-blind casting with critically acclaimed period drama The Green Knight and launched his own Hollywood production banner. He is also wrapping up his next gamechanging project Monkey Man, an India-set superhero film that he is starring in and has written, produced and directed.
8. Charli XCX: The pop princess kept showing off her musical brilliance – whether it was with collaborations, appearing as a featured artist, writing songs for others or stunning singles like Good Ones, she had another action-packed year. The half-Indian, half-British singer also began working on her fifth album and hit the live circuit in the most mesmerising way. In addition, the trailblazer premiered her documentary Alone Together and kept the fan connection strong.
7. Sajal Ali: The Pakistani actress has become an icon at a young age thanks to her amazing work. She played the lead role in boundary-breaking web series Dhoop Ki Deewar, appeared in music videos and delivered winning performances in popular dramas Ishq-e-Laa and Sinfe-Aahan. But more impressively, she shot for her first international film What’s Love Got To Do With It and opened the international door for a generation of female Pakistani talent.
6. Kumail Nanjiani: The US-based actor’s portrayal of a superhero in The Eternals was gamechanging on multiple levels and smashed a glass ceiling that had existed for generations. The Pakistan-born star made young Asians believe that they too could portray a superhero in mega-budget Hollywood films. He also landed a key role in the hotly anticipated Star Wars spinoff series Obi-Wan Kenobi and has developed more projects as a writer and producer.
5. Shreya Ghoshal: Taking time out for motherhood didn’t stop the undisputed singing queen of India from ruling hearts in 2021. One of the most streamed music acts on the planet, she once again delivered an incredible number of hits across multiple languages and genres, including solo singles, fantastic film songs and stunning collaborations. The versatile singing star showed off her remarkable range and remained the most relatable A-list star on the planet.
4. Mindy Kaling: The biggest Asian power player in Hollywood had another memorable year. She produced Never I Have Ever, which was renewed for a third season, and created explosive new series The Sex Lives of College Girls. She delivered winning acting turns and was on writing duty for Reese Witherspoon and her new Legally Blonde movie. She promoted positivity and became a strong symbol of power for working mothers.
3. Priyanka Chopra Jonas: The most famous Indian celebrity on the planet started the year by starring in and executive producing The White Tiger and finished it with a role in Hollywood blockbuster The Matrix Resurrections. She has worked on big projects for next year, including drama serial Citadel and the movie Text For You. The actress signed projects like excitement-generating Bollywood film Jee Le Zaraa, used her platform for important causes and released a successful memoir.
2. Riz Ahmed: The British actor’s brilliant year included his award-winning independent film Mogul Mowgli and being named head of the Platform Prize jury at the 2021 Toronto Film Festival. In his quest for fairer representation, he also launched a global initiative for Muslim writers and played a lead role in acclaimed Hollywood film Encounter. His greatest achievement this year was becoming the first Muslim and Pakistani to get a Best Actor Oscars nomination for his stunning performance in Sound Of Metal. He was also nominated for a Best Actor BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award, along with winning a host of honours at festivals for the movie.
1. Prabhas: The biggest pan-Indian movie star spent the year generating fever-pitch excitement with mega-budget projects he worked on, which will collectively make him unstoppable in the next 12 months. The game-changer drew attention to regional-language films in a way never seen before, and showed that Bollywood is no longer the boss in Indian cinema. Thanks to him, more Indian movies than ever are now being released in multiple languages. His forthcoming films Radhe Shyam, Adipurush, Salaar and Spirit will continue the positive change he started. With the fastest-growing fan base of any star, he generated huge social media attention and a tidal wave of news headlines without trying or chasing the spotlight. Another mark of his greatness is all the philanthropic work that he did without talking about it.