Interview with Ojas Kolvankar

Ojas Kolvankar is a fashion stylist and writer at a Grazia India. The former law graduate looks at the linkages between art, culture, style, gender and sexuality, and design, through a nuanced lens. 

Q. Could you tell us about your life before joining law school? 

I studied humanities at Ramnivas Ruia Junior College Matunga, which is the 11th-12th equivalent. I never actually had law as the main plan. It was always at the back of my mind but I had never thought of actually pursuing it.  At Ruia, I was a part of the college magazine’s Editorial Board and would participate in and help organize a lot of cultural events at the Junior College, throughout the year. I generally would try to be as active as possible and stay involved in different things. Upon finishing college, I decided to take a gap year since my University applications for pursuing Humanities abroad didn’t work out. This was a decision my parents were not in favour of and told me to join any course and pursue my entrance examination preparations along with it. I enrolled myself into a BA course but quit it after about two or three months because I lacked an affinity for it and didn’t quite enjoy it. Amongst the many other options, Law seemed like an interesting choice because of the diverse nature of the subjects taught. At the time, a friend’s father who was a High Court Judge told me about a new law college, earlier known as PES Law School, now termed as the “Advocate Balasaheb Apte Law College”. It had a very interesting board and I decided to join it. I joined the course just to stay close to Bombay, and to not disconnect from the city. The city’s culture was too dear to me. The plan was to finish law and then do a fun post-graduate course. But I never actually had plans of practising law. I wanted to get into a not-for-profit organization or an NGO to advocate for community rights but practising in a big law firm was never something I was keen on.   

Q. How was law school for you? How was your experience? 

It was incredible! In a lot of ways, the college didn’t ask you to fit into a set schedule or structure. It allowed you to explore your own interests. Additionally, mine was the first batch so we started a lot of the events and set the tone for the college. Cultural Annual Events and the college magazine were all started by us. The college at the time was a small unit and as a result, the students all knew each other and were tightly knit. The administration and the principal were all very co-operative and supported and encouraged us in our initiatives. At the end of my 2nd year, I began working with Godrej India Culture Lab, a cultural think tank that connected the field of arts with culture and sociology. The law course became a complementary aspect of my career, an experience which gave me tenets to pursue my passion. Moreover, the friendly space allowed me an easier environment to come out, and the students were all very accepting and protective. The college had a wholesome environment and I enjoyed my time there. 

Q. When did you know you wanted to move into a career which was multidisciplinary? 

I think it was via Godrej India Culture Lab, an organization I worked with for over two years. However, I did try the conventional route of law and interned with a major Communications Corporation in their in-house legal department for about three months. Nonetheless, it failed to catch my interest in spite of a welcoming work culture. Godrej India Culture Lab had events every Friday evening and I would make excuses to leave my internship earlier than usual to attend the same. That’s when I realized this was my calling. Gradually, I quit my internship and joined Godrej India Culture Lab. Through this think tank, I discovered the various facets of multidisciplinary subjects and their interlinkage. This helped me develop an understanding which was broad and encompassed various facets of not only law and policy but sociology and anthropology. This training was very instrumental in how my opinions and thoughts translated into my career as a writer and stylist. I currently write about women safety initiatives, how LGBTQIA+ people use technology to navigate their identities, and about sustainability as a feminist issue all while navigating them from an interdisciplinary and intersectional lens. Godrej India Culture Lab helped me shape, and identify the features to pursue an interdisciplinary career. It also gave me a platform to interact with academicians from Oxford, Yale, Harvard and other top universities who were pursuing multidisciplinary studies and different art forms, along with their institutional efforts. The exposure to such a rich and diverse culture amalgamated with my experiences helped me make a conscious decision of moving to a different field, one where I could enjoy my creative pursuits rather than wearing a black robe and pleading before a judge. I left Godrej India Culture Lab in my fourth year, freelanced for a bit, took up a job with Verve Magazine and eventually started working for Grazia, an Italian Fashion Publication where I style and write articles. 

Q. Any skills from law school that have helped you with your career?

No particular skills as such, but essentially a cumulation of multiple factors. A few skills that I picked up from my college were further enhanced at Culture Lab. The parallel between my field and law stems from the foundational training we receive in law schools; the legal vocabulary and the argument formation skills. These provide an enriched perspective and give an informed sense of writing that appeals to everyone at-large. We were taught to use terms like ‘differently-abled’ rather than ‘disabled’, which subconsciously gives you a more sensitive approach towards different aspects of life. Moreover, my background helps me understand the legal aspects of different issues like, the repealing of Section 377 of the IPC. Understanding the frame of reference for such issues from a legal lens was an added advantage to my writings. Subjects like Family Law, Environmental Law and Constitutional Law which were personal favourites in law school, provide me with a background for the issues I write about. Today, I channel my energy towards topics which someone from a creative pursuit might not include because of their primary training in creative writing. A lot of the topics that I talk about have a base in a subject I studied in law school. I understand the intricacies that go into formulating legislations, which more often than not gives me an upper hand in discussing a particular issue. Quite frankly, the arguments I make today and the wider ambit my pieces have, are greatly influenced by my legal background. 

Q. Were there any challenges you faced in this transition from law? How supportive were your kith and kin?

I would like to think that the transition was seamless, but the problem essentially stems from the fact that the world has so many new opportunities today that at times people don’t even understand what it is that I do.  Not a lot of people understand who a stylist is and what we do. Even at Godrej India Culture Lab – I was positioned as a ‘Culture Catalyst’ which doesn’t exactly explain my job or the kind of work I did there. Regardless, my family was always very supportive of the move, even though they didn’t really understand the vocabulary. That support from my family personified my interests and passion!

Q. What tips do you have for students who want to go beyond conventional law careers? Do you have any suggestions for them? 

The utility of law in a different career chosen after law does not need to be black-and-white. When you enter a new field with a different set of expertise, it helps add a different perspective altogether. You should consider your education to be a step leading to what you actually want to do. In my case, framing an argument is a skill, I still find useful. Apart from that, it comes down to what you truly wish to pursue. It’s about how you approach your work. I, for one, have always wanted to be happy in my profession, so I chose to be a stylist. As you develop in your career, you begin to sift through and figure out things that you want to do and don’t want to do.  I looked for opportunities and took them as they came and thereby started writing as well as styling for an organization. From a combination like this, I was able to add something different to my portfolio as a stylist. Do not limit yourself! The path may be different but, what matters is how you wish to go about it!

Q. Is there a closing line or a mantra you would like to leave our readers with? 

There is no Mantra as such. Law is definitely a great platform, it makes you read, question ideas and think critically. I would advise you to treat your degree as a platform for endless possibilities. You don’t have to mandatorily keep working in regular sectors and move towards the more trodden paths.  There are so many things you can take from the world of law and the course essentially gives you the space to experience much of them. You don’t need to look at a law degree as the end of your learning process, rather treat it as the beginning of your educational life. The world is your oyster!

(NOTE – This has been reproduced from a telephonic conversation with the interviewee)

Find out more about Ojas Kolvankar – 

Disclaimer – All views and opinions expressed in this interview are personal and belong solely to the interviewee(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the LAABh Foundation or the individuals and institutions associated with LAABh Foundation.

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