Get ready to zero in on some of the Indian celebrities that have made a splash in the West.
1. Priyanka Chopra
Priyanka was already a superstar in India when she decided to branch out to Hollywood.
It was not easy. Priyanka has said it meant going to castings as a complete unknown all over again. But, hey, she made it on both hemispheres.
Priyanka landed the lead role on the US show Quantico, which ran from 2015 to 2018. Then she appeared in the movie Baywatch, which was not a critics’ favorite but got her sharing screen time with Zac Efron and The Rock. And in 2021, Priyanka appeared in The Matrix Resurrections with Keanu Reeves.
Priyanka was born in Bihar, India, in 1982.
When Priyanka was 13, she moved temporarily to the US to her aunt’s house. That is when she became a fan of several US musicians and actors. That may have influenced her, later on, on wanting to break into Hollywood.
She recently opened a fancy restaurant of Indian food in New York. One of the co-owners of the restaurant says of Priyanka:
“What’s so cool about working with her is that she is unabashedly Indian.”
Nowadays, Priyanka travels constantly between India and the US.
2. Mindy Kaling
You probably know Mindy for her popular sitcoms The Office -where she played a fun and ditzy character- and The Mindy Project. You may have also seen her on the blockbusters movies A Wrinkle in Time and Ocean’s Eight. In that last one, she shared screen time with Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett.
But what most people do not know is that Mindy is a prolific writer. She co-wrote the scripts for The Office, The Mindy Project, and Never Have I Ever. She has also penned successful plays and two memoirs that made The New York Times Best Seller List.
Mindy has gotten plenty of Emmy nominations for her writing and producing.
Mindy’s parents are from India, but they met in a hospital in… Nigeria. Mindy’s mom worked there as a doctor, while Mindy’s dad, and architect, had been hired to expand the hospital. The ex-pats fell in love.
Before Mindy was born, they relocated to the US. Mindy grew up in the Boston area in an affluent household.
Her first language is English:
“I was raised speaking English only because my parents spoke two different Indian languages [Tamil and Bengali], so the only language we all had in common was English,” Mindy said in an interview.
Her real last name is Chokalingam, but since everyone had a hard time pronouncing it, she shortened it.
3. Deepak Chopra
Deepak is a well-known member of the New Age movement. Yet, his beginnings were far from new agey.
He was born in Delhi in a traditional Indian family. Both his father and his grandfather served as officers in the British army (India was, at the time, a British colony) and had a western mentality.
Deepak’s father studied medicine in England and became a famous cardiologist. He was the physician of both the president of India and Lord Mountbatten, who was India’s viceroy and, to get gossipy, was Prince Charles’ beloved uncle.
Deepak’s father thought Indian healing treatments were superstitious and backward.
With a little push from his father, Deepak became a doctor and went on to have a great career as a physician.
He moved to the US in 1970. He became the chief of staff at the New England Memorial Hospital and taught at universities like Boston University and Harvard.
And after a while, Deepak became disenchanted with his role as a Western physician. He felt there were other aspects involved in healing other than drugs, so he left his position at the hospital.
Deepak now owns the Chopra Center, which combines Western medicine with Ayurvedic treatments -the kind of Indian treatments his father thought of as backward. They include meditation, herbal medicines, yoga, massages, classes on stress management, and personalized nutrition.
That diet and meditation help heal may not sound weird now, but 30 years ago, it did sound weird to most. It is partly Deepak who popularized these ideas in the West. He has written over 80 books. Many of them are bestsellers and have been translated into more than 40 languages.
TIME magazine called him one of The Top 100 Heroes and Icons of the Century.
By the way, Deepak and Priyanka are not related; Chopra is a common Indian last name.
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4. Ben Kingsley
Ben Kingsley has won all sorts of prizes for his acting skills. For his portrayal of Gandhi, in a 1982 movie, he won an Oscar, a BAFTA, and a Golden Globe.
He was even knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2002. Sir Ben said the knighthood meant more to him than the Oscar: “I told the Queen that winning an Oscar pales into insignificance -this is insurmountable.”
Ben’s grandfather was a wealthy spice trader from India. He first moved his family to Kenya then to England.
Ben was born in England to his Indian dad and an English mom.
Ben’s birth name is Krishna Bhanji. After deciding to become an actor, he changed it to something more English-sounding.
He chose ‘Ben’ to honor his dad, who, having Bhanji as a last name, was called Benji and Ben by his friends. And his last name honors his granddad. The granddad was called King Cloves because of his trade; so Ben chose ‘Kingsley.’
Ben’s career has always been successful. Early on, after being in a musical, he was offered rock stardom by no other than The Beatles and their manager. Ben turned it down to pursue acting.
Soon, he hit the jackpot again. He was hired by the famous Royal Shakespeare Company and played everything from the lead role in Hamlet to Othello.
Then, after 15 years of theater, he made his jump to the movies. He won huge acclaim with his portrayal of a Jewish secretary in Steven Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List. And he has also been in Hollywood blockbusters such as Iron Man 3, Exodus: Gods and Kings, with fellow British actor Christian Bale; and Prince of Persia.
About India, Sir Ben says: “India is in my bones, it’s my second home.”
5. Kamala Harris
Kamala has had an impressive career. She was attorney general of California, then a senator. And nowadays, she is the vice president of the United States.
The apple has not fallen far from the tree; her parents have impressive resumes as well.
Kamala’s given names -Kamala Devi- reflect her Indian heritage. In Sanskrit, ‘Kamala’ means lotus, and it is one of the names of the goddess Lakshmi, while ‘Devi’ means goddess. Like Kamala’s mom said to Los Angeles Times in 2004: “A culture that worships goddesses produces strong women.”
Kamala’s mom moved to the US to attend college, but alas, she also found a husband and had Kamala.
Since the rest of the family stayed in India, Kamala traveled there frequently as a child to visit her relatives. She adored her Brahmin granddad P.V. Gopalan.
She has said: “My grandfather was really one of my favorite people in my world.” When they were apart, they wrote to one another and, when they were together, Kamala trailed behind the diplomat while he talked to his friends about service and politics.
Kamala says she got her love for public service from him.
Kamala has said:“[We] were raised with a strong awareness of and appreciation for Indian culture.”
We have focused on her Indian heritage, but Kamala is also close to her paternal family that lives in Jamaica.
6. Kal Penn
Kalpen Saresh Modi is an actor. You may have seen him on the popular TV show House, playing a doctor; or perhaps starring in the film trilogy Harold & Kumar, where he was a pothead. Fans still stop him in the street to smoke a joint with him. It is a bit awkward for Kal because, in real life, he has never done drugs.
On Designated Survivor, Kal played a staff member of the White House. And in this case, art did mirror reality: once upon a time, Kal truly worked at the White House. For two years (2009-2011), he was the Assistant Director of the Office of Public Engagement.
About it, Kal told CBS: “I don’t like politics; I like public service. And that goes back to my grandparents, who marched with Gandhi in the Indian independence movement. And those were the dinner table conversations that we had.”
Kal’s parents are from Gujarat, in India. “I used to visit Gujarat as a kid during the vacations. And it used to be a lot of fun. I still fondly remember those times… I don’t how well I can speak Gujarati, but I wouldn’t mind being a part of the regional cinema,” Kal has said.
Kal was born in New Jersey, US, in the 1970s.
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7. Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie is one of the great writers of our time. He has received honorary doctorates from 12 universities, is an honorary professor at MIT, and is a fellow in some of the most prestigious literary societies, like the British and the American.
Salman was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II -so he is Sir Salman to you. And he was awarded the highest cultural honor from the French government.
Salman was born in Mumbai, India, in 1947. He grew up speaking Urdu and has happy memories of his childhood.
When he was 13, his parents sent him to a boarding school in England. Soon after, his parents moved to Pakistan. So during his school vacations, Salman visited them there.
Salman went on to study history at Cambridge University, in the UK, and began his brilliant career as a novelist.
Many of his novels take place in India or have Indians as their main characters.
The New York Times calls him a “storyteller of prodigious powers.’ Salman attributes his storytelling, partly, to growing up in India hearing the enthralling myths his father told him at bedtime. Those Indian myths, Salman says, mixed deep truths and fantastical beings – just as his writing does.
Salman has lived his adult life in England and the US. Yet, when asked if he still considers India his home, he answers: “I think that the place where you were a child and grew up -there’s a way in which that’s always home.”
Salman states that India is the country that has “inspired my writing more, where I had family and friends, and a very deep sense of belonging.” And he says he carries India in his heart.
That being said, Salman shared that he also feels quite comfy in London and the US: “[migration] gave me the sense of roots in more than one place.”
8. Norah Jones
The people in the business describe her as a fantastic musician. She grew up playing several musical instruments, including the piano. But it is her soulful voice that has attracted the most attention since her early days, when she would sing jazzy music in New York lounges.
Music is in her genes.
Norah’s birth name is Geethali Norah Jones Shankar; during her first years, she went by Geethali Shankar. But when Norah was 16, she officially shortened her name to Norah Jones, giving preference to her maternal names. At the time, Norah hardly knew her father, while her mom had raised her.
In true rockstar form, Ravi had a tumultuous love life. He had a short affair with American music producer Sue Jones which produced Norah.
“I knew who my dad was,” Norah said in 2007. “I saw him sporadically until I was nine, and then I didn’t see him again or talk to him until I was 18.” At 18, she looked him up and they began to really know each other.
Years later, in another interview, Norah said: “I love my dad and we have a very good relationship now.” She even went to India and stayed with her dad and her paternal family for a month.
9. Kunal Nayyar
Kunal Nayyar became famous thanks to the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory. He played Raj, the shy and brainy scientist with a strong Indian accent. The actor says most people think he faked the accent, but it is real.
Kunal was raised in India.
He grew up in New Delhi playing badminton at school and being a fan of cricket. He calls Delhi “definitely, the most rocking place.”
When Kunal was 18, he moved to the US to study finance at the University of Portland. There, he began acting in plays, and by the time he graduated, he had decided to become an actor.
Not much later, he got his breakout role as Raj.
The show lasted 12 years (until 2019) and made Kunal one of the highest-paid TV actors. According to Forbes, he was earning more than $20 million a year.
Kunal is married to Neha Kapur, aka Miss India 2006.
10. Shekhar Kapur
Indian-born actors and film directors usually prefer to work in India. After all, the country has a booming film industry and 1.5 billion potential movie-goers. So very few set their eyes on the West. Enter Shekhar Kapur.
Shekhar has made many acclaimed movies in India, but also abroad. Have you seen Elizabeth, the several times Oscar-nominated film in which Cate Blanchet brilliantly plays the famous queen of England? The movie put Cate on everyone’s radar. It also got a bunch of nominations for the British BAFTA awards and the Golden Globes. You guessed it: Shekhar directed Elizabeth. He also directed its sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which again got several award nominations.
Other English-language movies Shekhar has directed include New York, I Love You (peppered with stars like Bradley Cooper, Scarlett Johansson, Julie Christie, Andy Garcia, Natalie Portman…) and What’s Love Got to Do With It (Lily James, Emma Thompson), which is in post-production.
Despite his Western excursions, Shekhar still lives in India.
11. Liza Koshy
Liza is a YouTube star. Her videos have more than 3 billion views.
Liza was born in the US (1996). Her dad is Indian, and her mom is an American of German descent.
12. Deepika Padukone
Deepika is one of India’s highest-paid actresses.
Both the public and the critics love her. She is even a good dancer, which comes in handy when she stars in Indian musicals.
For a while, Deepika followed in his footsteps and played badminton competitively. But then she realized that was not her path, and she switched to modeling and acting.
It was a good move because surprisingly soon, she was starring opposite India’s biggest film star, Shah Rukh Khan (he is worth almost a billion dollars). The duo first made a movie called Om Shanti Om and then Chennai Express. Both films were huge successes.
Deepika even made a quick Hollywood detour and starred with Vin Diesel in the action film XXX: Return of Xander Cage.
She is now married to another Indian mega-celebrity: actor Ranveer Singh. They have starred together in several films, and the Indian public cannot get enough of them. The couple does seem madly in love in interviews, and many people consider them couple goals.
13. Priti Patel
If you are British, Priti needs no introduction since she is on the cover of the British newspapers almost daily.
For the uninitiated: Priti is one of the highest-ranking public servants in the UK. She is the Home Secretary, so she deals with immigration policies and national security.
The outspoken politician has been a member of Parliament since 2010.
Priti’s grandparents were farmers in the region of Gujarat, India, but they relocated to Uganda, in Africa. There, they owned a convenience store. Priti’s parents were born in Uganda.
When things got politically rough, the families moved to the UK, where Priti was born.
“My parents were shopkeepers,” Priti has said. “…I grew up over our shop [in England].“
Her relatives, back in Gujarat, say Priti’s parents visit India every couple of years.
14. Freida Pinto
If Freida Pinto looks like a fashion model, that is because she was.
Since Freida was 5, she liked acting and used to impersonate Michael Jackson. But she had not thought of becoming an actress until she was in college. That is when she saw Charlene Theron’s outstanding performance in Monster (2003). And Freida realized that was what she wanted to do.
When she graduated, Elite Modeling Agency signed her. She worked with them for two years and then landed a job in a movie.
Freida has been working non-stop since then. She has, for example, worked alongside Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, and Naomi Watts in a Woody Allen movie; she was James Franco’s love interest in the Rise of the Planet of the Apes; and appeared with Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, and Natalie Portman in Knight of Cups.
Freida was born and raised in Mumbai and still has a home there.
15. Aziz Ansari
Aziz is considered one of the best comedians in the US. He is also one of the highest-grossing ones, according to Forbes.
Aziz was born in South Carolina, US, to parents from Tamil, in India.
Aziz says he has watched many Tamil movies, “so maybe I could do a Tamil action movie.” Although he confesses he does not speak the language fluently: “I don’t speak it that well, but I understand it to a point. I haven’t been to India in a few years, but I’m trying to come here during Christmas this year to see some relatives I haven’t seen in a long time.”
Here you can watch some videos of Aziz doing stand-up comedy.
16. Rishi Sunak
Rishi is the Finance Minister of the United Kingdom (the ‘Chancellor of the Exchequer’ in British lingo). He is constantly on the front page of English newspapers.
One of Rishi’s strong suits is his winning personality. His schoolmates described him to Tatler magazine as “ridiculously nice,” “affable,” “approachable,” and “charming.” Rishi is almost always smiling. And with the way things are going for him, he has plenty of reasons to.
Rishi’s four grandparents were born in British India. Each couple left their country separately. One landed in Tanzania, the other in Kenya, which were also part of the British Empire.
But in the 1960s both families moved to the UK. There, Rishi’s parents met, married, and had him.
“My grandparents came with very little from a village in northern India, and two generations on, their grandson has this enormous privilege of running as a candidate for parliament. For my family, the route was education,” the politician has said.
Rishi did have a good education. He first attended a great private school, then Oxford and Stanford. He worked in banking and as a hedge fund manager before entering politics.
Of his nationality and heritage, he says: “British Indian is what I tick on the census, we have a category for it. I am thoroughly British, this is my home and my country, but my religious and cultural heritage is Indian, my wife is Indian.”
That wife Rishi mentioned is the daughter of Narayana Murthy, one of India’s billionaires. Thanks to her, Rishi is one of Britain’s wealthiest politicians. He owns gorgeous houses in London, the countryside, and in the United States. He is a practicing Hindu.
17. Archie Panjabi
Archie became famous playing ultra-cool Kalinda Sharma on the TV series The Good Wife. She even won an Emmy for her portrayal. She has also appeared in Bend it like Beckham with Keira Knightley, in A Good Year with Russel Crowe, The Constant Gardner with Ralph Fiennes, and A Mighty Heart with Angelina Jolie.
She is now starring on the TV show Departure.
Her parents are from Sindh, which at the time was part of British India. Archie was born in London, in 1972.
18. M. Night Shyamalan
Night’s movies have grossed $3.3 billion worldwide.
The director has a natch for suspense and twist endings. He directed the thriller Sixth Sense, which became one of the most successful horror movies of all time. Other of his popular Hollywood movies include Signs, which had Mel Gibson dealing with the supernatural; the superhero movie Unbreakable; the sociologically intense The Village; and Split, in which James McAvoy portrays a man with multiple personalities.
Manoj Nelliyattu “Night” Shyamalan was born in India, but when he was 6 weeks old, his parents moved to the United States.
Night grew up in Pennsylvania and attended the famous Tisch School of the Arts in New York. There, he adopted the name Night.
Night believes his multicultural upbringing is partly responsible for his success. He told TIME magazine: “Decisions I make in my filmmaking are for a global audience. The domestic [US] box office is an important thing, but it’s just as important for me that the worldwide audience is enjoying the movie… I picture my uncles and aunts [in India] and people abroad watching my movies.”
19. Aishwarya Rai
Aishwarya is a famous actress. Her paycheck is about 15 million dollars per film.
Her success does not surprise her school teachers. They say that she was so impressively beautiful as a child that people gathered outside the school gates to see her.
Aishwarya enrolled at an Indian university to study architecture, but she was getting so many modeling jobs that she dropped out to pursue modeling.
She has also co-starred in Western films like Provoked, which told the true story of an Indian woman who killed her abusive husband on UK soil; The Last Legion alongside Ben Kingsley and Colin Firth; and The Pink Panther 2 with Steve Martin.
The Western press constantly calls her “the most beautiful woman in the world,” and in polls made by Western magazines’, Aishwarya ranks among the most desirable women. The Netherlands named a tulip after her, and her wax figure is in the Madame Tussaud’s Museum of London.
France awarded her the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres; and India’s government, not to be left behind, gave her their top civil award: the Padma Shri.
Aishwarya was born in Mangalore, India, in 1973 in a Tulu-speaking family. And yes, her eyes are really green-blue.
So there you have a few of the Indian celebrities that are famous in the West. There are plenty more, of course, from actor Dev Patel to many high-ranking officers of the United Kingdom.