The 15 Creatives Defining the New India
MEET THE NEW GENERATION DEMANDING A SOCIAL REVOLUTION IN INDIA.
BY JOANNA LOBO
For decades, India’s wildly diverse 1.3 billion people have been placed into a single box labeled "Hindu" and "conservative."
But today, a new generation is determined to demolish those labels by showcasing their unique voices and identities.
At just 30 years old, Mandovi Menon is already a media maven.
The co-founder and former editor-in-chief of media company Homegrown highlights stories of India's youth culture and diversity that have been swept under the rug for too long.
"The artistic community is realizing now the responsibility that it has — it’s a heavy one," she tells LURE. "If nobody is going to fight for the things that we care about, there is an opportunity to do that through … expressing our experiences as honestly as we can."
She was recently featured on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia list.
POET & ILLUSTRATOR
Ignorance is bliss when it comes to controversial social issues in conservative India.
So as a queer-identifying woman with a Catholic father and a Hindu mother, 20-year-old artist and illustrator Priyanka Paul is an obvious target for trolls who disagree with her progressive takes on caste, heritage, sexuality and privilege.
Unphased, Priyanka continues to make art that explores the conservative underpinnings of Indian society. Her work has been featured in Vogue and Paper magazine, and she was recently tapped to talk about gender fluidity for Gucci's Chime for Change #WeAreIrregular documentary.
"Identities are so fractured, we don’t really know who we are," Priyanka tells LURE. "So I’m not doing things for the reaction, I’m not making sensationalized art.”
SPOKEN WORD PERFORMER & ACTIVIST
A Brown Girl’s Guide to Gender — a spoken word performance about the treatment of women in Indian society — was watched by millions and turned then-teen Aranya Johar into an online star.
Now 21, she's an advocate for gender equality, mental health awareness and feminism with an international platform.
This year, she was the youngest member at the G7's Gender Equality Advisory Council, where she shared the stage with Emma Watson.
“The older I get, the more I realize the privilege of using these stages and platforms to do something more worthy, to spark more conversations,” she says.
Aarifa Bhinderwala, 30, is a successful entrepreneur as a pioneer of India's pole-dancing movement. Her mantra "polling is for everyone" is reflected in her wildly popular classes for all body types and fitness levels.
Outside the studio, she's been praised for her appearance in the Netflix docu-series The Creative Indians, which helps break stereotypes about pole dancing
"I never wanted to be a dancer," she tells LURE. "But the pole allows me to embody the grace and elegance of our many Indian dance forms in a unique manner. It gives me confidence.”
Hip-hop, still new to India in the last few years, acts as a medium for activists like 25-year-old Sumeet Samos to critique rigid social structures.
Sumeet — born into India's lowest social caste of manual laborers known as "untouchables" — found that no matter how hard he worked at university, nobody took his efforts seriously. His first visceral rap performance at a student rally went viral on social media and launched his career.
"[India’s rappers are] speaking out about what poverty looks like, what the surroundings are and anything their life is about," he tells LURE. "This is making rap powerful and socially transformative."
Every month, Tanya George, 29, leads walking tours dedicated to deciphering the lettering and scripts found throughout India's streets.
“These signages and fonts always have a story behind their usage," she tells LURE of her Type Walks. "Our diversity in community and language is reflected in the signage."
Tanya worked as a graphic designer for four years before her love for typography took her to the UK for an MA in Typeface Design. She returned to Mumbai in 2016.
“We need to take pride in our signage," she says. "Some of that history goes back centuries."
A Ganesha holding a rainbow, a tree of life based on the curry leaf plant, and a flying baby elephant with a dream catcher mandala.
Zaheer Chhatriwala, 29, creates stunning pieces of art — using the human body as his canvas.
Much of his work combines elements of old-school American styles, like neo traditional, with classic Indian motifs, like mandalas or sari patterns.
"These are art forms with their beautiful compositions and figures and whose designs translate well to tattoos," he tells LURE. "I want Indians to be proud of sporting Indian art on their body."
MENTAL HEALTH ACTIVIST
Divya Kandukuri, 23, didn’t know much about bipolar disorder until she was diagnosed with it.
Stigma in Indian society surrounding mental health challenges led her to start Blue Dawn, a system of mental health services for Bahujans, or lower-caste groups. Blue Dawn connects people in need with "anti-caste" counselors and sponsors, a network she's now expanding to mid-sized Indian cities.
“Our approach to mental health is that it is not just an individual issue, but a societal and structural one. We have to challenge these existing structures,” she tells LURE.
POET & SONGWRITER
"Unless we learn to celebrate our darkness, the light won't come in," poet and songwriter Mohammad Muneem of the band Alif tells LURE.
There's plenty of darkness in Jammu and Kashmir, the disputed region straddling India and Pakistan where Mohammad is from. But instead of focusing on the bloodshed and religious strife dominating international headlines, his music zeroes in on those the conflict affects.
"There's less opportunities — people feel like they're trapped," he says. "They feel like they're not in a place where they can fully express their potential, which is why I feel that more art can really change how people look at Kashmir."
Alif is currently touring India while working on its second full-length album.
Everyday people serve as muses for illustrator Indu Harikumar — which becomes obvious when looking at Identitty, her project about women’s relationship with their breasts.
The 39-year-old, who is at the beginning of career having just started making art four years ago, has turned to strangers and friends on the internet for her crowd-sourced storytelling.
“Hearing peoples' deepest secret takes away the isolation and shame and binds you to random strangers. It helps you realize you are not alone in your struggles,” she tells LURE.
YOGI & INFLUENCER
Natasha Noel, 26, isn’t afraid to strike a Photoshop-free pose.
“My message is simple: Embrace who you are, be kind to yourself and to others,” she tells LURE.
It took Natasha most of her childhood to embody that message. She battled with depression stemming from a history of sexual abuse. Dance and yoga became crucial to her healing.
The yoga teacher also moonlights as an "uplifter of humans" on social media. She isn’t afraid to speak about taboo subjects, like depression, rape, orgasms, body hair and internalized misogyny.
“I make it [my social media] a safe and accepting space, and help them change their perspectives on life, mental health and fitness,” she says.
After being diagnosed with cancer at 14, fashion photographer Roshini Kumar promised herself she'd stay true to herself if she ever got well.
12 years later, she's realizing that promise by pushing the conservative boundaries of body image and sexuality in India with her photography.
Her project Bad Company reimagines the sexual revolution of the 1960s, draping it in leather and kink in a seedy, red-lit backroom.
Using a softer touch, she destigmatizes stretch marks and cellulite in her ongoing series Bare, providing contrast to the Photoshopped perfection gracing Indian magazine covers.
"In India, perfection is having a very cliché look," Roshini tells LURE. "Having dark hair, being fair, being slender."
Roshini recently launched her own digital magazine called Revolution, exploring body positivity outside of mainstream media.
DESIGNER & STYLIST
Fashion designer. Stylist. Brand consultant. Kshitij Kankaria, 28, has worn many hats.
Kshitij's work goes beyond the clichés of traditional Indian imagery. After India decriminalized homosexuality last year, he led a project in which queer people were photographed in the nude to showcase their stories.
“The Indian culture that has been shoved down people’s throats is always about celebration and color and chaos and madness," he tells LURE. "But there’s much more happening. It is my responsibility to represent the real story of the country, away from this mass-produced image."
Kunal Pandagle, 20, has had a mercurial rise as a rap star shedding light on social issues in India, like voting rights and cycles of exploitation.
Under the stage name Kaam Bhaari (translation: work hard or game over), he's currently working on his debut EP after having spit verses for Bollywood and given a Ted Talk. It was his self-titled track, about the hustle required to survive, which got him Internet fame. Then came the opportunity to be in Gully Boy, a critically acclaimed Indian film shining a light on the city's street hip-hop and rap space.
“My music finds inspiration from everything I see around me — from my friends and my love for this city to deeper subjects like fighting depression,” he tells LURE. “I try to sing about things that change people’s thinking."
Chef Thomas Zacharias is a champion of Indian food.
The 32-year-old’s restaurant The Bombay Canteen has won awards for preserving Indian food traditions.
After months spent traveling across India, he launched The Bombay Canteen to highlight the diversity and range of Indian produce and cooking techniques, which he modernizes into sharable plates.
“Traditional Indian food can be hard to understand, so we present in a form that is relatable, delicious and rooted, fun and modern,” he says.
In LURE’s Issue 11 “One in a Billion,” we meet a new generation in India demanding the country celebrate all its diversity.
Check out more from Issue 11 below, including our original film “Young Bloods: Mumbai,” as well as our Instagram for more exclusive content.