Model and multitasker Indrani Pal Chaudhuri fuses fashion with woman power
At a time when most women in the country are shackled by limitations at different levels, there are a few who take such situations as challenges and conquer them. One such woman is Kolkata-born New York-based fashion photographer, Indrani Pal Chaudhuri, who believes women can change the world.
On her part, Indrani has been trying to bring in a change in the lives of underprivileged women and children through her Shakti Empowerment Education (SEE) Foundation, which she had co-founded along with her father, Ajay Pal Chaudhari, in Kolkata almost two decades back.
Also, the Director of Relations at the UN World Film Forum, she currently juggles fashion photography and film-making and the funds that she generates from her assignments, are pumped into the development of SEE Foundation that looks into children and women’s education besides community outreach.
The father-daughter duo runs the foundation from their 300-year-old palatial mansion at Ranaghat, 74 km from Kolkata. She speaks to Folomojo about her journey so far.
Read the excerpts from the interview:
Q. You became a successful model at 14 and then started experimenting with photography. Tell us about your journey.
IPC: At 14 I was a top student but was eager to learn photography and film, so I tried for an internship but was asked to try modeling instead. Though I struggled with being too short and “too Indian”, I became a successful model in Tokyo, Milan, Paris, London, Barcelona and New York for Vogue, Bazaar and many others.
I used my earnings to found Shakti Empowerment Education providing free schooling for kids and women’s vocational training in West Bengal. I received a scholarship to Princeton University, and teamed up with classical harpist Markus Klinko to develop a unique photographic style.
While still a student I was asked by David Bowie to photograph his album cover, launching my career in fashion and advertising. Then I branched out on my own as a director, and my first project won two gold Lions at Cannes ad festival.
My first short film won Best Director, Best Film, Best Visual Effects and Best Fashion at the International Fashion Film Festival at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and my films have been screened at the Pompidou Center, Paris, the Lincoln Center NY, the Fashion Institute of Technology NY, SHOWSTUDIO London, and the Australian Center for the Moving Image among others.
Q. You walked into the heady world of glamour at a young age. How did it affect you?
IPC: From modeling, I was fortunate be able to see that fame and fortune can be a curse, and that the superficiality of appearance did not define me. I spent my free time meditating in ashrams around the world and returned to Kolkata to receive my mantra from Swami Bhuteshananda, President of the Ramakrishna Mission.
I saved my earnings to co-found Shakti Empowerment Education Foundation (SEEschool.org) with my father Ajay Pal-Chaudhuri, giving my life and work, new purpose.
Q. What was the inspiration behind turning a 300-room palace can turn it into a school?
IPC: I believe that women are infinitely powerful. At a young age, I sat at the feet of Mother Teresa, with whom my mother Greta volunteered, and my father Ajay instilled me with his dream of returning to help those in need.
At 18, I brought my family back to visit India, traveled for 6 months’ doing solo pilgrimage across India, and realized I had to do all I could to help those in greater need than myself, so for the past 21 years I have provided free education, vocational training, and homeopathic medicine, to 300 students in need, first in our home and subsequently in a building across the street that we customized for this purpose.
Q. Tell us about your photography style.
IPC: My goal is to reveal the divine spark in my subjects, the qualities which make them unique.
Q. Tell us about recent cinematic and photographic ventures.
IPC: My book Icons: The Celebrity Exposures of Markus and Indrani was published by Running Press and celebrated with a week-long exhibition presented by the Lincoln Center NY in 2013.
This year, I have directed the film campaign for Girl Rising India, starring the top nine Bollywood stars including Priyanka Chopra and Freida Pinto. I just finished the short ‘I Have Heard the Sirens Sing’ inspired by an ancient Celtic myth, starring 10 features produced by Rick Schwartz (Black Swan, Gangs of New York) and Jeremy Frommer.
I am the director of the US film ‘The Huntress’ with writer-director David Zanardi, a female Sherlock Holmes trilogy shooting in Texas this May. And I’m Executive Producer of the ‘Interpreter of Maladies’, a film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-wining book.
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