Wednesday, July 6, 2011

From Photo to TV to Film: An Interview with the formidable Indrani

Indrani and Klinko
Earlier this week I got to catch up with the formidable Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri, better known as Indrani of the photographic duo MarkusKlinko & Indrani, the stars of the Bravo reality show Double Exposure. I’ve known Markus and Indrani for a number of years—I frankly was endeared to them when for some reason they ran afoul of a magazine publisher I once worked with; the steamed publisher vowed to me (literally, I kid you not) that the pair “would never work in this town again.” I immediately set up an appointment to meet them to see how I might feature them in my magazine.

Suffice it to say the publisher did not end their photo careers. Their dazzling images—Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, Kate Winslet, work for Lancome, Shiseido, Nike, etc.—led to the TV show, which featured the pair in their natural state, which is to say often battling each other over creative choices. (Go here to see a scene featuring Lady Gaga and Klinko telling Indrani that she is driving him crazy.) The big news from Indrani is that she is now branching out on her own at a filmmaker, though she assured me that she and Klinko are still a photographic team. “Marcus is the producer on my shoots, and a lot of the time we’re actually shooting stills and video at the same time,” she said. 

From the Keep A Child Alive campaign
The pair teamed in that way to create the controversial Keepa Child Alive ad campaign featuring celebrities (Serena Williams, Alicia Keys, Kim Kardashian) lying in coffins. Last month the campaign won a couple of big awards for the TBWA agency at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity. Indrani also shot a video project with singer/actress Mandy Moore in the Central African Republic for PSI, an organization the combats malaria.

"It was life changing in many ways. It was really challenging, shooting this wonderful star, Mandy Moore, in this intense situation where lives are at risk, and to see the tangible benefits of distributing nets. And then to create to both videos and still was rewarding."

Here is a clip from that project:

Crisis in Central Africa with Mandy Moore from Indrani on Vimeo.

Another project featured fashion icon Daphne Guinness. “For that we shot stills for Barney’s New York and at the same time shot video, so the two have gone hand in hand in a unique way that really I don’t think we could do if we didn’t have that strong partnership that Marcus and I have built over the years,” Indrani said.

Here is a clip from that project:

The new extended collaboration has in fact made the duo’s working relationship less contentious. “People who saw our show on Bravo will know that in the past we’ve had quite a few arguments and disputes, and the film work has actually helped provide a  resolution to that,” said Indrani. “We’ve become so occupied that we don’t have time to fuss over ourselves and rethink the strategy all the time. In the past we’d both have good ideas, and it was which one are we going to do. Now there is so much more room for me to play creatively.”

Indrani, who was born in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India, began a modeling career at age 14, and that work helped her put herself through Princeton, where she took a few film courses while majoring in anthropology. “I suppose that makes a certain amount of sense with what I do now,” she said. “Anthropology is about human behavior and cultural choices, and that’s what fashion is all about--how we display who we are in some kind of artistic culturally coded way.”

Indrani remains active in an organization she founded with her father called Shakti Empowerment Education. They converted a 300-year-old family home a few hours outside of Kolkata into a school and support center for about 300 students—many of them from Bangladeshi refugee families. “These are people who have not been a part of the big changes in India,” she said. “We’ve piggybacked vocational training onto the literacy sections to provide students with practical skills or to enable them to sell handicraft. We’ve also used microfinancing to jump-start women’s village collectives so they can impliment their skills. So they’re able to create small projects and perhaps give employment to their neighbors.”

It’s what I meant when I said formidable.

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