How Former FCB India CCO Swati Bhattacharya Uplifted Women

Emotion drove campaigns that resonated in her home country and beyond

Last year, Swati Bhattacharya took a wrong step and broke her ankles. Even the doctors who treated her were surprised she busted not one but both joints.

She underwent three surgeries and was bedridden for seven months, giving her lots of time to mull her life and future.

"I thought, 'What am I fearful about? Am I fearful of losing fame?' " says Bhattacharya, who had a high-profile position at the time as chief creative officer at FCB India.

She became convinced there was spiritual meaning in her plight, and decided to make some big changes.

Bhattacharya gave up her job and the status that came with it, departing FCB earlier this year with no specific plans for the future. Right now, she's content to allow "life to decide what's in store."

"Let me be a soldier of creativity without a job. I just want desire and play at the center of my life," she says. "Now, it's not so important for me to be a globetrotter. I feel I want to go deeper, not necessarily wider."

Prior to a seven-year run at FCB, Bhattacharya spent the bulk of her career—more than two decades—at JWT, guiding "culturally spicy" work, she says, "the kind of work that people would talk about at parties."

After a stint at Dentsu Mama Lab, she pursued her passion for making short films and documentaries. Then, she accepted an invitation to judge 2016 Clio Awards in Spain. While there, she met FCB global chair Susan Credle, who soon offered Bhattacharya the position of chief creative at the agency's operations in India.

Through her work at FCB, Bhattacharya took her career to another level, achieving global recognition in the advertising industry and beyond through campaigns that improve life for women in her country.

Her favorite projects include #NoConditionsApply for the Times of India. It makes the case that the Bengali Hindu tradition of Sindoor Kehla, a 400-year-old celebration for married women, should be open to all women, including those who are single, divorced, widowed, gay or trans.

The campaign hits home by depicting a wider sisterhood that is "uninvited" from the ritual. "The moment you use that word 'uninvited'—from Korea to Japan to Germany, everybody knew what I'm talking about,” she says. "Yes, in our business we are seduced by craft. But if you're not delivering on the emotion… your story won't resonate."

Other standout work: the "Nominate Me Selfie" campaign for the Times and Shakti, a collective advocating for women in politics. It used the power of the selfie to promote women as candidates for India's Parliament, where they are greatly outnumbered by men. Bhattacharya spearheaded the initiative after Tara Krishnaswamy, a software engineer and founder of Shakti, reached out.

About 300 women, all volunteers, hit the ground in the state of Bihar with their smartphones. They photographed women and helped them create profiles sent to party heads, making it impossible for the elites to ignore female candidates.

"The Mirror," a short film for UNAIDS designed to encourage trans visibility, also ranks among her groundbreaking efforts. It centers on a boy playing dress up with bracelets, scarves and makeup. When his mother and grandmother "catch" him in the act, instead of shaming him, they join the child in dressing up, dancing and having fun.

Bhattacharya became close to members of the trans community while working on the Sindoor Kehla campaign and learning how horribly they are treated. "In India, they have to leave home, or they are thrown out into the streets," she says. In talking with trans people, she was struck by how many of them as young children began hiding who they truly were. These conversations inspired "The Mirror."

Talking to Bhattacharya about the powerful work she did at FCB, it's surprising to learn she had concerns about taking the job seven years ago.

"There had never been a woman CCO in India. You always worry whether you are the right one. If you don't have a spectacular run, then everybody's going to just think that you are a little diversity doll," Bhattacharya reflects. "So I was a little nervous, but I finally said yes to the job, and the next seven years were a blast."

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