Celebrities in India are under media scrutiny at all times. More often than not, media narratives spun around their lives, include anything from the fashion trends they set at international events to details of their personal lives.
This article isn’t about any of the above. Instead, this is an attempt to highlight the commendable work of some celebrities, which hasn’t received the recognition it deserves.
1. Nana Patekar
Founded by veteran actor Nana Patekar, alongside popular Marathi actor Makarand Anaspure, the NAAM Foundation emerged after both actors witnessed the devastating conditions of drought and listened to the agony of drought-affected farmers in Maharashtra.
NAAM has since become a movement to promote the development of disadvantaged villages and improve the lives of farmers and their families. From empowering the widows of farmers who committed suicide due to failed crops in the droughts and mounting debts to helping water conservation to ease these villages of their water woes, the NAAM foundation has been carrying out extensive work on the ground in rural Maharashtra.
Other areas of work include waste management, construction of homes for BPL farmer families, access to clean drinking water, promoting community farming, education, employment, self-help groups and running extensive de-addiction programmes. Know more here.
2. Shabana Azmi
Veteran actor Shabana Azmi has been carrying forward the work of her late father, and famous Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi, in the village of Mijwan. Kaifi founded the Mijwan Welfare Society that runs initiatives for the development of this village.
These include the establishment of the Kaifi Azmi Computer Training Centre, Kaifi Azmi Kanya Uchatar Madhyamik Vidyalaya (Higher Secondary School for Girls), Kanya Purva Madhyamik Vidyalaya (Primary School for Girls) and the Kaifi Azmi Sewing and Tailoring Centre for Women.
In a move to increase the family income of the villagers, the Society has also established a farmer’s club to introduce latest techniques in farming and women’s self-help groups for financial literacy and encouraging participation of women in small savings and micro-financing. Read more about it here.
3. Deepika Padukone:
The actor came out and spoke about how, in 2014, she was suffering severe depression and anxiety. Despite doing well professionally, she shared how she would wake up feeling sick, directionless, and empty each morning. Her parents love and support as well as professional help paid off.
She read and learned more about depression and was moved by the millions of people who suffer from the same difficulties. And that’s how she founded Live Love Laugh Foundation in 2015. It aims to create awareness about mental health and break the stigma around it.
Apart from training general practitioners to become the first line of defence for mental health conditions, the Foundation is working towards creating a national database of mental healthcare professionals, connecting helplines and raising funds. Know more about the initiative here.
4. Rahul Bose:
For years, Rahul Bose has been working silently in an array of fields. From working on the ground for the tsunami victims in Andaman and Nicobar to becoming an ambassador and advocate for climate change, Rahul has done it all. He was also Oxfam’s first Global Ambassador from the Eastern Hemisphere, to create awareness on climate change in March 2009.
A mere day after the tsunami struck the islands, as part of the Solidarity Network, Rahul rushed there for relief work. He made over 23 trips in 30 months, provided relief with necessities and got involved in rehabilitation efforts with vehicles, mobile phones etc. He won the Godfrey Phillips Prize for Bravery in Social Service for his work.
He also works for the cause of promoting communal harmony and gender equality. Apart from speaking and writing on the issues, he has been working closely with over 80 Muslim, Dalit and Hindu girls, as part of an initiative created by Mumbai-based NGO Akshara Centre.
He founded his NGO, The Foundation, in 2007 for the removal of discrimination from all walks of life. Know more about his work here.
5. Nandita Das:
Actor Nandita Das became the face of the campaign by Women of Worth called ‘Dark is Beautiful’. The campaign wanted to draw attention to the unjust effects of skin colour bias and celebrate the beauty and diversity of India’s 1.2 billion skin tones.
Kickstarted in 2009, the campaign successfully challenged the belief that the value and beauty of people are determined by the fairness of their skin, which was shaped by societal attitudes and reinforced by mass media messages.
The campaign educated and empowered consumers to make wise choices by conducting media literacy workshops and life skills training. The aim was to tell brands and brand ambassadors that our country was ready to shed age-old biases and let every person, regardless of gender feel comfortable in their skin.
6. Yuvraj Singh
The seeds of the NGO YouWeCan were sown when celebrated cricketer, Yuvraj Singh was fighting cancer in the hospital. As he shared his recovery experience on social media, he was determined to help everyone who was battling cancer.
He was also inspired by Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation to form YouWeCan, after the American cycling legend, a cancer survivor interacted with him, while he was undergoing treatment.
YouWeCan focuses on every aspect of cancer. From creating awareness about its symptoms and chemotherapy procedures to helping educate kids who are cancer survivors, the Foundation does it all. Know more about it here.
7. Milind Soman
Popular as India’s Biggest Women’s run, Pinkathon was founded by Milind Soman and Reema Sanghavi, with the sole aim of creating awareness about women’s health issues, especially breast cancer. It aims to encourage women to adopt health and fitness through running.
Apart from massive participation by women across cities every year, the community project also runs training sessions, free medical checkups and mammograms for all participants and marginalised women. Know more about it here.
8. Gul Panag
In a bid to fight female foeticide and drug addiction in the union territory of Chandigarh, Gul founded the Col. Shamsher Singh Foundation.
It aims to work towards monitoring of Ultrasound Centres to prevent sex determination, volunteering as a decoy during raids on clinics/ultrasound centres to check female foeticide, helping communities to celebrate the birth of a second girl child.
The NGO also works towards the identification of drug addicts, follow-ups and rehabilitation, post-treatment. It works in collaboration with the Health Department to eradicate both social issues. Know more about it here.
9. Aamir Khan
Paani Foundation was set up with the aim of making Maharashtra drought-free using the power of communication. Founded by Aamir and his wife Kiran, alongside the Satyamev Jayate team, the initiative aims to equip villagers with technical know-how, as well as leadership skills to tackle drought in their villages.
Apart from simple training films, an Android App and training manuals, the team also runs a unique competition called the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup. This invites all villages from selected talukas to participate in the six-week competition, to further nominate 3-9 citizens and send them for a four-day intensive training programme, conducted by Paani Foundation. They are taught the techniques of scientific watershed management.
After the training, villagers return and build water conservation structures through Shramdaan (voluntary labour), raise money for machine work, test and treat soil, budget water usage, implement water-saving technologies, etc. Once the competition is complete, villages are judged on a 100-point marking system.
The top three villages at the end of this competition are given cash prizes of ₹75 lakhs, ₹50 lakhs and ₹40 lakhs respectively, and the top village from each taluka receives a cash prize of ₹10 lakhs. Know more about it here.
These celebrities show that they aren’t just about avoiding paparazzi, yet inviting attention. If you but look beyond the glitz and glamour, you will see that these changemakers are striving to change lives and break societal stereotypes.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)