2019 Design power list: From a master illusionist to an affordable modernist

Jayakrishnan is the first scenographer to introduce laser gigs, Star Wars Jedi girls and flamboyant live graphics, which are being emulated by every father with money to throw.

Published: 29th December 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 31st December 2019 07:55 PM   |  A+A-

Sumant  Jayakrishnan

Sumant  Jayakrishnan (Photo | Scenografiasumant, Instagram)

Sanjoy Roy 

Cultural director

Because he is India’s cultural event ambassador at home and abroad. Roy’s inexhaustible energy and drive keeps him going as the producer of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF)—expect about 114 award-winning authors in 2020.

This year, JLF travels to the Middle East, debuting in Doha as the first litfest in West Asia. It has editions in London, New York, Toronto, Houston, Belfast, Boulder, Adelaide and Cairo. Roy is the boss of Teamwork Arts, which organises 26 festivals in about 40 cities worldwide—Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards, the Ishara Puppet Theatre Festival, the Kahaani festival of storytelling and the Friends of Music concerts, among others.

Sanjoy Roy (Photo | Instagram)

His motto reflects the company’s tagline: Bringing India to the world and the world to India. He is a versatile expressionist; recently he held a cultural promotion of craft, design, heritage, food and fashion event in Delhi with 150 handpicked master craftsmen, Padma Shri awardees, artisans and women entrepreneurs.

The Teamwork Arts’ Jazz India Circuit, in which many international brands participate, is reinventing Indian jazz with punk, funk, hip-hop, R&B et al. His heart lies not in fests alone: students of Salaam Baalak Trust, a street children’s organisation he set up with Mira Nair, is using the arts to rehabilitate kids.

The Trust has produced aeronautical engineers and scholarship winners to study in America and Australia. They are taught music, dance, theatre and sports. 

The arts create tangible wealth

The other side

Co-founded Salaam Baalak Trust in 1988

Plus talent

Makes a great sorpotel

On his white locks

After an accident in 1996, he couldn’t cut his hair for a while. His son warned that if he didn’t get a haircut, he cannot attend the PTA meetings.

He promptly grew his hair to escape the annual engagements where teachers lectured him on being a badly behaved parent.

Sumant  Jayakrishnan 

The conjurer

Because he has changed weddings into a fantasy to remember. He only has followers, no leaders unless you count Philippe Starck.

Jayakrishnan is the first scenographer to introduce laser gigs, Star Wars Jedi girls and flamboyant live graphics, which are being emulated by every father with money to throw. The master illusionist creates outre installations at curated venues—fashion week shows, supermoney weddings, brand celebrations, the Serendipity Arts Festival and more.

The set he sets up today is the trend tomorrow. When a top brand wants to make a statement, Jayakrishnan is the go-to guy: he conceived the much-talked-about “evening of stories” to mark the 10th anniversary of a Delhi lifestyle company’s clothing label.

2019 Power Lists

Art and craft: India's Banksy and other cultural czars and czarinas

Literature: From historian Amitav Ghosh to thrill seeker Ashwin Sanghi

Bollywood: From outrageous poster boy Ranveer to budget superstar Ayushmann 

Tollywood: From fantasy king SS Rajamouli to new rage Vijay Devarakonda 

Performing Arts: From habitual offender Vir Das to piano boy Lydian

Fashion: From rebel with cachet Sabyasachi to bad boy Rohit Bal

Parvathy Thiruvothu: Mollywood's braveheart with sense and sensibility

Monica Shergill: The woman who kickstarted India's streaming revolution

Jayakrishnan trained in visual communication at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, where he developed multi-disciplinary skills in various genres.

In 1994, he studied theatre design and scenic techniques at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and subsequently trained at the English National Opera, Royal Opera House, Royal Court, Royal National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company and the BBC in London.

In 1995, he travelled to France to train in puppetry, lighting design and theatre design and then to New York in 2002 as a visiting installation artist and visiting scholar at NYU.

Needless to say, he brought an amalgamated platter of all he had learned to India. His designs are more than just installations.

He merges in various elements such as audio-visual, video, calligraphy, lighting, performance and more within the mode of theatrical performance.

A recipient of several recognitions, including Charles Wallace India Trust Arts Award and the Sanskriti Award, Jayakrishnan considers setting up at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon for Tim Supple’s multilingual rendering of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to be one of his best work moments.

Not rocket science, only common sense


A camera from his grandfather on his 14th birthday


Workout on a run

Fanboy Moment

Meeting Lady Gaga

Anita Lal 

Earth mother

Because she turned Indian ethnic into luxury lifestyle. Good Earth, the exclusive Indian luxury retail store Anita founded, unites traditional weaves and materials with modern aesthetics. The company launched its exclusive Gandhara collection in 2019, which makes extensive use of the terracotta and pottery style of the eponymous, extinct kingdom. The Maladvipa collection translates the glory of the islands into tableware, textiles and home décor.

Focusing on the ‘Make in India’ ideology, Good Earth took part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India campaign. More than two decades ago, while shopping for her eldest daughter’s wedding trousseau, Lal realised that there were more bridewear options available abroad while she had a tall task in India. Encouraged by an indulgent husband, Lal’s impulse set up Good Earth which became more than just weddings.

It launches an annual design collection inspired by a particular mythical or cultural aspect of a region at India Week, Mumbai. For example, ‘Pichwai: The Dance Of Krishna’ curated by Good Earth offers ‘ornate, handpainted temple hangings that bring alive the legends’ of the god. The brand has collaborated with designer Rohit Bal and the Raw Mango and Pero labels and is constantly in search of new sensations and subjects. 

Fun Fact
She mixes all the music for the stores

Favourite things
• Historical fiction 
• Jazz music 
• Stan Getz

Dream Employer

Takes her team on work breaks to places such as Varanasi and Uzbekistan to glean  artisanal knowledge and channel inspiration

‘I will never compromise on design or quality’

Bijoy Jain

Space traveller

Because he is the architect of opposites who takes Indian sustainability design language to the world.

This year, the space-cum-experiential designer gave us the Nila House, Jaipur, a quintessential Bijoy Jain space where renovated heritage and clever modernity meet to preserve and project new and old India.

Part of the Lady Bamford Foundation, it will display the best of Indian craft traditions. Earlier this year came the second edition of handmade furniture by Jain for Brussels-based Maniera where it was exhibited.

He favours unusual materials such as stone, concrete, cow dung, brick, textiles, glass and Japanese washi paper to work with. Almost always dressed in monochrome, his creativity has the same starkness; take for example the ‘Stone Chair’ inside at the Le Cabinet de Curiosités.

His family upbringing had little to do with architecture: both parents were doctors. He worked for around four years in the model shop of an American architecture firm where he made models out of wood, which taught him how to work with his hands.

He spent his early years amid concrete and glass in Los Angeles and London before returning home to Alibaug after his family died in a freak accident.

He went to ground, dealing with the pain. When he finally came up for air, it was to found Studio Mumbai which has given the world a new Indian design ouvre. Jain’s success lies in the innovative application of modern technology to traditional Indian building techniques. Most of his buildings are houses.

In another life
Was a professional swimmer 

Swimming across the English Channel 

Do not fear trying

Cool quotient
Winning the contract to redesign and renovate the prestigious Beaucastel winery in Châteauneuf-du-Pape 

Gateway of India must be torn down since it is a terribly proportioned building. This would open Mumbai to the sea.

Abha Narain Lambah 

The healer of time

Abha Narain Lambah (Photo | House of Nilaya, Instagram)

Because she is India’s pre-eminent conservation architect who has mended more historic structures than anyone else in her profession.

The Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra; the 15th-century Maitreya Temple in Basgo, Ladakh; the Golconda Fort, Charminar and Qutb Shahi Tombs in Hyderabad; the Bikaner House, Nehru Memorial Library and Museum, Teen Murti House and the Red Fort Museum in New Delhi; and Municipal Corporation headquarters, Asiatic Library and Town Hall, Bandra Railway Station, Royal Opera House, University of Mumbai, JJ School of Art, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market in Mumbai; all bear her healing touch. Lambah’s 28-year-old restoration carer was recognised by the UN this year with the ‘Award of Merit’ at UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

She got it for restoring the Keneseth Eliyahoo synagogue, a heritage landmark in Mumbai. She has won many accolades: the Eisenhower Fellowship, the Charles Wallace Fellowship, and nine UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Conservation awards. Lambah started her company in 1998 when conservation was not in the Indian vocabulary, let alone was a profession.

She often wonders why Ayn Rand conceived the anti-establishment architect protagonist Howard Roark in The Fountainhead as a man, instead of a woman. She says it was American architect Joseph Allen Stein, with whom she worked on the India Habitat Centre, Delhi, who ‘nudged me in the direction of conservation’.

The childhood summers she spent at his grandfather’s timber mansion in Kashmir is probably where it all began.

To restore her gradmother’s heritage house in Kashmir

The Sultanate Period

Favourite Projects
• Maitreya Buddha Temple, Ladakh
• Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad
• Royal Opera House, Mumbai
• Moorish mosque, Kapurthala

What Next
• Getting the Gateway of India back to its glory 
• The Rs 100-crore-plus Bal Thackeray Memorial at Shivaji Park

Ashiesh Shah 

Power pundit

Because he is one of India’s most versatile and influential architects whose style and success made him a part of the planning process of nation-building.

This year, NITI Aayog appointed him a Champion of Change in Transforming India through G2B Partnerships even as he continues to be the spokesperson of Soft Power on the special advisory board to the Prime Minister for Incredible India 2.0.

Shah started work in New York in the mid-2000s before starting Ashiesh Shah Architecture + Design in India almost a decade ago. This year, he headed many high-flying design projects from office spaces and penthouses to concept stores and restaurants.

In 2014, Forbes India nominated him the most influential young art collector in the subcontinent.

He curates art, crafts and design exhibition in which India’s best in their fields participate. His clients include Bollywood celebrities such as Hrithik Roshan, Ranbir Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Meher Jesia, Abhishek Kapoor, Jacqueline Fernandez and Aditya Roy Kapoor. Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla and Masaba Gupta swear by him.

His talk of the year moment: reinventing the Kashmiri box for the Papier Mâché Project with Matryoshka dolls.

Believes in
• Wabi-Sabi, peaceful nature-oriented Japanese philosophy
• Art with function 
• Artisanal methods

Had terrible stage fright.
Studied to be a dentist.

Every designed space needs soul

Celeb clients 
Hrithik Roshan, Aditya Roy Kapur, Jacqueline Fernandez, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, Masaba Gupta, Pernia Qureshi, Ranbir Kapoor

People think interior design is a frivolous occupation

Srila Chatterjee 

Storyteller of craft

Because she opened up India’s exotic local product ranges to sustainability-oriented customers thereby creating a new consumption ethos that provides livelihood for artisans and small studios in major metros and small cities.

At ‘Baro’, Chatterjee’s furniture, textile and decor store in Mumbai, surprise itself is an experiment. It is driven by the principle that there is a story behind everything and it is the story that gives product cachet. Find an ‘Ayurvedic’ sari or a gardening knee cushion at the Baro Market section launched earlier this year for emerging brands to sell their products.

‘The Good Life’ is the new multifarious collection of singular local products: Kaisori natural handmade soaps from Kashmir, Boheco Hemp green fashion made with organically grown and consciously dyed fabric, basketry, linen and home accessories of banana fibre and water hyacinth and Inmate footwear. Present at the store is Hamsini of Bengaluru where clients take vintage saris to be transformed into bespoke quilts.

Silaiwali organises Afghani refugee women to make dolls from fabric waste. The store which opened in 2014 started as an experiment in handmade furniture made of reclaimed and old teak. Previously she was an incubator of talent in cinema, fashion, production and set design at Highlight Films. She curated the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in its early years, co-founded blueFROG, the iconic music space, and collaborated at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. At Baro, craftspeople work for themselves and are told how to adapt to the client’s needs. 

• What you do or think must focus on living with a conscience 
• What you buy and use has a story of 
its own

• Original clothes
• Natural fabrics
• Bright colours

Unique at Baro
• Shola flowers made by the artisan on the premises so that people know its story: a pith that grows within the mangrove trees
• Baro reuses 70 percent of its bubble wrap

Fun Fact
• Baro means 12 in Bangla, since the address of the store is 12 Sun Mill
• Srila only wears watches from Ice in different colours

Rajeev Sethi 

Patron of artisans

Because in the highly young and competitive world of design, the éminence grise of native sensibility has kept his top place with his vast knowledge of rural Indian art and craft.

This year, World University of Design, the country’s first and only university for creative education, honoured him as the ‘Design Guru’.

The man behind the Jaya He GVK New Museum at Mumbai’s T2 International Airport celebrated three initiatives—‘Jiva’, which sells local produce to locals; ‘Jiyol’, which supplies city boutiques with goods made by marginal communities in the Red Corridor; and ‘Janu’, which provides cultural products targeting young Indians, with a six-day expo of new-age yoga, tribal dance, forest foods, fashion products with conscience, tribal performance art and workshops with artisans.

Very few design restorers have done as much as Sethi to revive the dying rural arts and crafts economy and promote sustainable livelihood for artisans.

His sculpture ‘Gondwana’ was the first artwork to be unveiled at Adani Shantigram’s Art Programme; a piece that combines the Gonds from Madhya Pradesh and the Warlpiris of Australia. One of his eclectic successes: teaching women weavers the design skills of sujini, a quilting technique to make bay blankets.

Benefits should reach the artisans

Sleeps with
His dogs on top

Wanderer of

The quaint bylanes of Nizamuddin basti where he loves the fresh bread made at wayside eateries

Prateek Jain & Gautam Seth 

The illuminati

Because they are the leading lights in brightening urban India’s chic spaces. Klove founders Prateek Jain and Gautam Seth are known for their eclectic lighting-it-up sensibility; yet another milestone was launched this year with Klove’s Goa collection inspired by the freewheeling 1970s.

Klove has revolutionised the use of lighting in urban design and decor with signature hand-blown glass pieces plus metal, veneer and rattan, too.

Founded in 2005, the travel experiences of the owners are behind each new concept and evolving design vocabulary.

Earlier this year, came the Magic of Being Alice: Into the Light, in collaboration with Arttd’inox. Totems Over Time made up wall installations, which were unveiled at India Design ID in February.

It was a natural progression from Klove’s Shamanic Soul, inspired by the lives of shamans. The highlight was Klove’s participation in Downtown Design in Dubai, the Middle East’s leading fair for high-quality design.

Klove was also part of the India Design 2019, the country’s biggest symposium for the best in design, architecture, and interiors.

April saw them at an artist-in-residence programme at the eco-friendly Soneva Fushi resort in the Maldives where they learned to make bespoke pieces from waste glass at the hotel studio. The resort has commissioned them to create a capsule collection with the material.

Work hard, 
party harder

• Opulence is not a dying trend
• Little things spark our imagination

Inspiring Cities
Paris and Copenhagen

Signature Style

Nikhil Kohli 

Affordable modernist

Because he is changing the concept of affordable housing with cutting-edge modern, budget-friendly homes for the contemporary customer.

This year, Kohli curated and launched a home collection for bachelors and the wallet-cautious. The versatile designer has been in an overdrive since 1992.

In 2019, he launched accent furniture with clean lines and linear contours, bespoke living room furniture and a range of bedroom spaces—all pocket-friendly.

He curated a range of art pieces in tune with his interior sensibility. Kohli has come out with a new collection almost every alternate month this year.

Known to strike a chord with his clients for finding solutions for remarkable spaces, his designs are suitable for all contemporary places. Kohli balances elegance, modernity and simplicity with function.

An inveterate traveller, much of his work is inspired by his journeys, especially the art, which borrows inspiration from his own personal zone.

Kohli believes that a beautiful home should not be restricted by the size of the pocket. An ardent reader, he is addicted to his collection of books as much as he likes to talk about unique artefacts he picked on his sojourns.

Known for
• Clean lines and linear pieces
• Versatile furniture
• Marrying radical ideas with traditional pieces

Passionate About
• Travel
• Collecting artefacts
• Reading

Everyone deserves a beautiful home


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