Tomorrow's people

Topics Indian society

The Game Changers. Photo: Amazon
The Game Changers: 
Transforming India
Vir Sanghvi
Westland Books; Rs 199, 130 pages

In his latest collection of profiles that were either published elsewhere or written exclusively for this book, Vir Sanghvi chronicles the lives of 10 game changers, men and women who he thinks have shaped Indian society and opinions of it over the past decade or so. 

The list is fairly uneven, comprising two chefs, a Bollywood personality and a bevy of businesspersons. The profiles of the more famous among these — such as Nandan Nilekani and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw — offer little that is not already known.

But first, the chefs. Mr Sanghvi goes deep into the background of both Asma Khan and Gaggan Anand as he charts the story of their rise into globally recognised purveyors of south Asian cuisine. These profiles are intimate, if at times too focused on indelicate details of their personal lives. It is possible that the profiles were shaped by Mr Sanghvi’s interest in the subject (he has been a long-time writer on food and drink), yet two gastronomy profiles out of 10 seem a tad lot.

From Bollywood, Mr Sanghvi profiles Karan Johar, freely acknowledging that he borrows from the film director’s memoir An Unsuitable Boy in drawing his portrait. The profile, which only cursorily discusses Mr Johar’s film and TV career, is an extended meditation on Mr Johar’s sexuality. Here too, Mr Sanghvi’s aim to portray Mr Johar as an evangelist for a franker public discussion of sexuality is muddied by an excessive interest in the private. It is one thing for Mr Johar to speak about his inexperience with sex; quite another for Mr Sanghvi to build a profile on that foundation. 

Some profiles fare better. The one on Ameera Shah, the managing director of Metropolis Healthcare, touches upon the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs and melds that into a narrative about business triumph. The profile is also a nice counterpoint to the ones of Mr Nilekani and Ms Shaw. Yet, the question of how Mr Sanghvi chose his subjects is not answered satisfactorily. Why, for instance, Ms Shah and not another female entrepreneur? 

The profile on Arnab Goswami is apposite in that the newsman has reshaped English news television. As with most other profiles in the collection, the writer takes the reader through the early stages of Mr Goswami’s life and his work at NDTV before he set up Times Now. The profile is even-handed, bucking the trend of other senior journalists criticising Mr Goswami for his politics or the way he conducts news.

In the chapter on Shashi Tharoor, Mr Sanghvi credits the politician-writer with showing a young generation the difference between Hin­duism and Hindutva. Whi­le Mr Sanghvi does not criticise the BJP, he presents Mr Tharoor as a viable antidote to what he describes as the ideological moorings of the party, naming the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other Hindu organisations. He adds that it was con­founding to many that de­s­pite Mr Tharoor’s anti-RSS book doing well, the BJP still returned for a second term.

The chapter on Mr Tharoor, thus, says more about the writer than the subject of the profile. One, that the political circles he moves in lean a certain direction ideologically, a direction that may not be restricted to one party but which has some common features. Two, Mr Sanghvi’s analyses— while acknowledging the rapid rise of non-English languages in, say, social media — focus largely on the English-speaking world and the game changers that emerge from it. I was surprised that Mr Sanghvi sought to make a connection between the success of a book and the way the wind was blowing politically.

There are other commonalities in how Mr Sanghvi captures the men and women he profiles. He is attuned to their background, especially to their financial status before they became famous. So, we learn that Mr Johar’s family was “comfortably off in an upper middle class, Malabar Hill sort of way, but they were not rich” or that Paytm’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma came from such a poor background that “if he had to go to a wedding, he was made to wear his school uniform because those were the only nice clothes he had.”

While appropriate biographically, such details do not necessarily say much of real significance about those profiled. If anything, a comfortable financial background takes the sheen off the success of some of those Mr Sanghvi writes about (not to mention that bald — but largely meaningless — gap between Malabar Hill comfortable and rich). The focus on business also leaves out game changers from other fields such as sustainable energy and innovation, fields that are arguably more important to a rising economy than, say, cheffing. 

Mr Sanghvi writes in the beginning of his desire to profile those who will remain relevant 10 years from now. That is a tall order for a nation on the move, but it is likely that some of the rising stars in this list will continue to make news. All of them are ambitious, driven and eminently newsworthy. Whether they are game changers is not as neatly settled as that.

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