Cultivating Creativity and Compassion

As a world-renowned photographer and director, Havergal Old Girl Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri (Class of 1991) has helped many celebrities—Beyoncé, David Bowie and Lady Gaga, to name a few—present an image that best represents their brand as an artist. Famous or not, Indrani believes everyone has the opportunity to create the person they want to be and encourages Havergal students to think about their own personal branding. “It is important for each of us to create our identity and the impact that we want to have on the world,” she says.

Earlier this fall, Indrani returned to Havergal to speak at Prayers about her experience embracing individuality. Moving from Calcutta, India to Canada at a young age, she felt like she never fit in with her peers. Working in a predominately male industry—89 per cent of directors are male1—this feeling also translated to her career. However, later in life, she realized her unique qualities, perspective and background contributed to her success as an artist, by cultivating creativity and compassion. “When I stopped trying to be someone I wasn’t, I was able to become the person that I am,” she says.

By staying true to her interests and passions, Indrani has built a career that balances her success in the fashion and entertainment industries with her desire to advocate for prevalent social issues through her films, such as Girl Epidemic, which won the 2018 CNN PSA Expose Award, and Girl Rising. “I am focusing on trying to find ways to raise awareness, change the conversation and uplift people,” she says.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Indrani during her visit to learn more about her experience as a student, her career and her thoughts on Havergal’s Art program:

Q: What impact did Havergal have on you? How did it shape you as a person and your career?

Some of the subjects I studied at Havergal—history, sociology, science, etc.—might seem unrelated to the arts. However, the cross-disciplinary education I received at Havergal helped me to develop a rich understanding of the world, which I draw on as a photographer and director. It also inspired a love of learning which has stuck with me; If you learn something new each day, then the day is worthwhile.

Q: Do you have any current or past role models/mentors who have helped to guide or influence your career?

I was very fortunate to have many influential mentors and role models throughout my career. David Bowie discovered my work when I was a student at Princeton and launched my career as both a photographer and director. He commissioned me to shoot my first album cover for the release of Heathen and my first directorial project for his music video Valentine’s Day. I also photographed Beyoncé for her first solo album Crazy in Love. Since then, we have worked on several campaigns together and I have learned a lot from our partnership.

Q: As a world-renowned photographer and director, what does a typical day look like for you?

Each day is different. Some days I spend the whole day on my computer and other days I am running around on set—whether in a studio, Calcutta or a tropical rainforest. The only constant is that I usually wake up early to meditate and work late into the night.

Q: What advice would you give to students who are interested in pursuing a career in the arts?

My advice would be to study a variety of subjects, in addition to the arts. As an artist, sometimes you are required to start your own company and having a foundation in business will help you to run it efficiently.

Q: In your opinion, why do you think it is important to have enhanced art and technology classrooms? Why do you feel it is important for students to explore their passions?

I think it is extremely valuable to have the opportunity to explore a variety of subjects to discover your potential. Many successful people have told me that they took a particular career path because they thought it was what they were supposed to do and have regretted not following their passion. The enhanced art facilities will create even more opportunities for students to try many artistic practices, including photography and filmmaking.

Q: What motivated you to open a school in India at the age of 18 and what did you learn from the experience?

After I graduated from Havergal, I travelled throughout India and focused on my photography. Seeing how little some people had and the untapped potential of those who do not have access to an education, gave me a deep sense of gratitude for my experience at Havergal; I wanted to give these people the same opportunities I had. Young people have so much potential and the opportunity to learn not only benefits them, but also strengthens the community as a whole.

Q: Your film and global campaign Girl Rising advocates for the importance of girls’ education and seeks to empower women around the globe to become powerful agents of change. Why do you think it is important to help girls realize their self-worth, confidence and power?

The devaluing of women in many cultures—including our own—creates a power imbalance that has skewed the way women experience and interact with the world. Women are incredibly powerful and when we devalue women, human potential isn’t fully realized. I think it’s important for women to have confidence so that they can be their own decision makers.

Q: What piece of advice would you like to share with current Havergal students that might help them to pursue their passions?

I really believe that every opportunity that you can find to make the world a better place will make you a better person. Whatever your skills or interests are, there are people who could benefit from them tremendously. Even small acts of kindness can have an enormous impact.

1. N. Wong: In ‘This Changes Everything,’ Hollywood’s Top Women Wonder When. Bloomberg. 2018.