Snigdha Sur (MBA 2017) is the Founder and CEO of The Juggernaut, a digital media company for South Asian stories. She’s on a mission to diversify storytelling and newsrooms and help challenge existing storylines.   

Since writing this blog post, Snigdha Sur was selected as a Forbes 30 under 30 recipient.

When I applied to HBS, I wrote about wanting to be a “leader in Indian cinema, one who enables new voices, new audiences, and new ways of distributing cinema.”  

I didn’t become a leader in Bollywood cinema. Well, not yet anyway.  

But, during my second year at HBS, when we got to choose the classes we took, I did write a case on Raj Kapoor, one of the early entrepreneurs in Bollywood, for Entrepreneurship and Global Capitalism, a class taught by the inimitable Geoffrey Jones.   

And I did quit my job as a consultant to start a digital media company.   

I’ve been drawn to media since I was little. During a traditional Bengali ceremony for babies when they can eat their first solid food, they are presented with three choices on a tray: grain, a pen, and a gold coin. Grain represents a love for food. The pen, a love for learning. And gold, a love for business. My mom told me I picked up the pen with one hand and the gold coin with another.  

Even as a baby, I wanted to have it all.  

The pen prophecy quickly played out. I was a huge nerd. I would check out the maximum number of books at the Queens Public Library while other kids my age played outside, reading a novel a day. I watched the Mahabharata on rented videotapes. I watched Bollywood movies religiously.  

I wrote in my HBS essay: “According to The New York Times, Bollywood is viewed as an industry that can successfully market its wares only to those within India and its diaspora. This is a shame because the messages in Hindi cinema are universal, and often more uplifting than other stories I consume — they remind me that anything is possible.”  

Media was an escape: it introduced me to worlds that weren’t my own. Stories create spaces for the impossible, where you can insert yourself and imagine something entirely new.  

One of the best parts about HBS is its business history classes. Entrepreneurship and Global Capitalism — better known as EGC — follows different entrepreneurs around the world, one case at a time. What led to success? To failure? What can we learn from the past to avoid the same pitfalls in the future?  

Many of our cases were about Western figures — such as Isaac Singer of Singer sewing machine or famed designer Coco Chanel. They were great, rapturous stories. But as GDP increasingly moves East (where it was pre-colonization), I felt it was important for future HBS students to also know about Asian entrepreneurs.   

So I settled on Raj Kapoor, who, in his 20s, started a film studio in the 1940s in what was then a young industry: Hindi cinema. Bollywood was founded in 1912 in India, a year after Hollywood. Kapoor, who worked through the 1980s, helped internationalize Bollywood, winning fans far and wide — from Uzbekistan to Soviet Russia to the United States. The effects were long-lasting and far-reaching. When I lived in Beijing in 2012, a taxi driver sang a Raj Kapoor song to me in Chinese. Russians named their kids “Raj” and “Rita” after the main characters in Kapoor’s hit film Awaara (1951). During the Cold War, entire generations grew up on Bollywood, not Hollywood.  

I started building The Juggernaut partly because I was tired of not seeing myself or people like me represented with nuance. Tired of the doctor, engineer, or taxi driver stereotypes. Tired of the appropriation of South Asian wellness and health practices without respect for the wisdom that has come before. Tired of how my credentials today may make others forget that maybe I, too, have failed or struggled — or have a past separate from the institutions with which I’m affiliated. I was born in Chhattisgarh, India, and didn’t think I would end up at places like Yale or Harvard.  

South Asian stories are diverse. For those in the U.S., some of us have been here since the 1800s — others have come as recently as 2015 after the earthquake in Nepal. We’re of different religions, languages, cities, interests. We’re also American.  

So how do we tell our stories? Especially as South Asians become the largest diaspora and the fastest-growing major demographic in the United States. Especially as people increasingly want to tell others to “go back where you came from.” Especially as the wait time for a green card for some Indians increases to as long as 150 years.  

I’m only beginning to learn how to build something that lasts. But we all have to start somewhere. EGC taught me that there’s always a story waiting to be told — that stories connect people from all over the world and across time. At the end of the day, everyone just wants to hear a good story. What’s yours?