India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Verve People
March 15, 2006

Fresh Stock

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographs by Akash Mehta

Young, talented and ambitious, these new buds on the block are driven by a passion to make a mark in their chosen careers. Verve spotlights eight gutsy girls – who are following – and fulfilling – their desires, from Mumbai, the city of dreams

Sonia Faleiro
A Way With Words

Savouring the success of her recent release, The Girl, debutante novelist, Sonia Faleiro, recalls a childhood filled with books: “When I turned three, my mother, Muriel, gave me a collection of abridged classics.” That perfect gift sparked a lasting affair with the printed word.

Born in Goa and studied in Delhi, the 28-year-old journo-author did her M Sc in Nation Writing Culture from the University of Edinburgh. “That’s where The Girl was born,” says Sonia. “Working on my thesis for long hours in the library, I would take frequent breaks, giving vent to my creativity. Being away from home made me a little melancholic which is why my novel is coloured by the effect of the immediate environment, my mood swings and memories of home,” she asserts, even as she denies any overt autobiographical overtones in her creation. “Though my mother passed away in a car accident –The Girl has a similar episode – writing for me was not a cathartic experience.”

Sonia, now comfortably settled in her own apartment in central Mumbai, relishes her work as a freelance writer and columnist. Next on the anvil is the soon-to-be-published short story, The Stupid, a collection of non-fiction writing and perhaps, yet another novel. “I keep my real life reporting job and fiction in two distinct categories,” says the girl, who does have a way with words.

Kanchi Kaul
Big Steps On The Small Screen

What started off as a hobby in her growing up years has now turned into a full-time occupation for Kanchi Kaul. The 23-year-old actress has grabbed the attention of viewers with her swiftly maturing role in her debut on the small screen – as Ananya Sachdev, the young girl who gets accidentally impregnated in Ek Ladki Anjaani Si. The science graduate from Jai Hind College, Mumbai, has also sashayed through several commercials (Santro, Sangini, Johnson, Clearasil and Wheel) and displayed her histrionic skills in one Hindi (Woh Tera Naam Tha) and half a dozen Telugu films.

The bubbly new kid on the box has become a familiar face with her foray into television with “a different kind of love story, adapted from the Spanish TV serial, Juana La Virgen. For the last couple of years I had been getting lots of calls for daily soaps but I was not too keen as a serial calls for a great deal of commitment. Also, I was determined that I did not want to be a part of any saas-bahu saga that people continue to watch more out of habit than any real interest,” states Kanchi.

The pretty Kashmiri is as cool and fun-loving as her alter ego. Work apart, she loves “surfing the Net, playing tennis, travelling…and good food.” Acting is now her driving passion as “it gives me an opportunity to do things that I would never do in real life,” says the actress who wouldn’t mind doing a good Hindi film. “The size of the screen apart, it’s the same thing – aren’t movies also all about acting?”

Lara Balsara
Building A Business

All she knew while she was growing up was that she did not want to be a doctor, scientist or an engineer – “I wasn’t keen on a nine to five conventional desk job,” says 25-year-old Lara Balsara, now business development and diversification executive at Madison (Communications and Advertising). Being ‘papa’s girl’ did not make it easier for Sam Balsara’s offspring who had to go through the grind before making the grade. “Though dad is Madison in India, my sister, Tanya and I, interacted with him mainly on Sundays when he was a normal father like all others.” After a BA (economics) from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai and a short stint at Madison, she headed to UK for her Masters in marketing from Bristol University. Now two years old in the organisation, Lara focuses on “the company growing and doing a lot more functions, entering new territories; a fact that is easily visible on our website. I am not a trained creative person; my job is to ensure that there are new units in Madison.”

Getting used to travelling for conferences in India and abroad (she was recently at the Cannes conference and will be at the International Advertising Association Function in Dubai, this March), the youngest in the family does carry work home sometimes to discuss stuff with dad. “I will always value his inputs,” she says.

Minissha Lamba
Innocence And Oomph

Her ethereal beauty and sensitive rendition ensured that she was noticed even though her debut film, Yahaan, did not exactly set the box office on fire. And, now, Minissha Lamba, in her early 20s is on a roll with prestigious projects in her kitty – Farhan Akhtar’s Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd and Madhur Bhandarkar’s Corporate.

The girl, who’s caught the eye of Bollywood dream merchants, dreamt of becoming a war journalist or a travel writer while she completed her BA (English) from Delhi’s Miranda House. An ad film she did for Shooji Sircar, director, Yahaan, set her on the road to silver screen stardom. “My parents helped me take the plunge when I was a little confused. They pointed out that I was getting a launch on a platter. Those six months when I attended college to complete my graduation and took acting classes were hectic but proved extremely rewarding,” she states.

Completely from a non filmi background, Minissha is firm that “I will put my best foot forward by being picky about my projects. I am not squeamish about intimate scenes – you cannot depict certain types of love without showing physical intimacy. But there is a fine line between sensuality and vulgarity.”

Success to her first felt unreal as people called in to say that they had appreciated her fragile as a flower presence in the strife-torn film – “I had felt that it would be a ‘blink and I would not be noticed scenario’ but things proved to be otherwise.” Film roles apart, Minissha is the face of the female line for Provogue; the cosmetic giant, Neutrogena and will soon endorse a jewellery line as well.

Devita Saraf
A Laptop On Every Lap

Though an integral part of the computer industry, she must not be confused with a quintessential IT person. For 24-year-old Devita Saraf, executive director, Zenith Group, is not “one of the technie whiz-kids who, happy in their own worlds, forget to survey the market while developing their ideas.” Daughter of Raj Saraf, Devita spread her wings to the University of Southern California to get a global exposure in marketing, before returning to roost in Zenith Computers, the hardware arm of her father’s group. She soon began heading its marketing division “to attempt to bridge the gap between new products and the markets. For even the greatest of technologies need to be marketed well,” she says. Being a young woman in a male-dominated field is a challenge; but she says, “Since everyone is highly educated they treat me with respect…and of course, my visiting card commands deference.”

Her first product? Topper – a laptop for students, to develop which she travelled across the country dropping in at schools and colleges to tap its potential. “So great was the response,” she recalls, “that it opened up a huge market for laptops. Within a year seven new laptops were launched and today 20 per cent of our business is in this sector.”

Her motto: “I want to make Zenith global, like Sony and Samsung.”

Shruti Agarwal
A Passion For Posing

On her return from New Zealand after completing her degree in communications and public relations, the economics graduate was given one year by her Pune-based parents to establish herself in Mumbai’s modelling arena. “The warm and welcoming city embraced me with open arms and I have not had to look back,” laughs 24-year-old Shruti Agarwal, who’s all set to be the new face of glitz and glam.

Her five-feet-eight-inch tanned and toned frame, with a stylish display of skin show, graced the pages of a calendar this year to ensure that the former Ms Pune’s date with fame was complete. “My parents were a bit worried when they knew that I was doing the calendar but on seeing the finished product they were taken up with its classy presentation,” she says.

Shruti, a part of many campaigns since her college days – “I modelled while I studied both in India and New Zealand and even took part in the Fringe Ponsonby Festival there” – really took the ‘full plunge’ when she moved to Mumbai after she returned from Auckland. “I toyed with the idea of doing something in PR and marketing but with many feelers from the modelling world, have turned it into my prime occupation now,” she says. Shruti made most of her ‘borrowed’ time in the city to prove herself. Wowing lensmen and brands alike to become associated with designers like Shahab Durazi, Suneet Varma, Seema Khan, part of commercials like Pepsi, Minto Fresh, Fast Track sunglasses and even Ganesh Hegde’s music video, Main Deewana Hoon – names that have ensured she is here to stay.

Ira Dubey
A Tryst With Drama

Even though her parents encouraged her to follow her own dreams, the younger daughter of theatre personalities, Lillete and Ravi Dubey, never entertained doubts that she would do anything beyond it. “My sister, Neha and I were always given our private spaces and allowed to do what really inspired us. Although I was a terribly academic conscious student and an all-rounder at Cathedral School,” states 22-year-old Ira, “for me, choosing my calling was a natural progression, as drama is ingrained in my blood.” Having recently returned from an undergraduate stint at Yale University – “New Haven was very cold and not really what I expected it to be, so it was an overwhelming experience” – Ira will now complete her formal education in Mumbai.

Her studies have not kept the performance-savvy youngster away from the arc lights “and the long and exciting hours on and off stage”. A veritable, talented Jill of all trades, Ira has tried her hand at “editing, writing, directing…in fact, everything that constitutes putting a production together.” Already in her repertoire are dramatic projects like Sammy and the experimental Fireface and films like The Morning Fog and Marigold.

Bollywood calling? “Two years ago, I would have said, never. Now, it’s not my main focus but who knows? I just need to be challenged all the time,” she says.

Ferena Ahmed
The Face In The Lens Eye

Born Ferena Wazir Ahmed – “I just go by Ferena though” – this 21-year-old Kashmiri Muslim has made swift inroads into the glamorous world of drama, modelling and films. Having studied communication, cultural and media studies – “My degree involved modules in feminist film theory, black cinema, social psychology, media and film production – and by her own admission ‘no shy wallflower and a little narcissistic’,  Ferena preened happily before the camera for student projects. “When I made a film about the Massai tribe in Africa one summer vacation, I thought I wanted to be the next Jane Campion, but somewhere the acting bug started creeping in and my dreams changed shape.”

The RADA student has done a few plays in Britain – Shakespeare and The Vagina Monologues. Back home, she has worked with Satyadev Dubey and Alyque Padamsee and is currently doing Unspoken Dialogues. “The immediacy of stage is scary and compelling.”

She is has stimulating projects in her kitty – a project with Anurag Kashyap, a Hindi movie with Soni Razdan, a couple of South Indian movies, “one more exciting Hindi film and some international projects that I cannot talk about yet”. What she can talk about though is an “assignment with writer/first-time director, Barnali Ray – an interesting drama set in contemporary India that looks at Ravana and Sita in a man-woman context”.

Having moved to Mumbai to be where the action is, Ferena is “independent, warm, bubbly, a person of extremes, mercurial, hardworking and a little kooky”. The best compliment she has received: “You remind me of Audrey Hepburn.”

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