Young Guns 21: Kajal

By Alixandra Rutnik and Brett McKenzie on Nov 01, 2023

Get to know the phenomenal class of Young Guns 21

After 85 incredible finalists and intense deliberation, the Young Guns jury has narrowed it down to the 29 winners that make up the class of Young Guns 21. An astounding collection of animators, illustrators, film directors, typographers (a few Ascenders 2023 winners as well!), graphic designers, and photographers make up YG21.

Every year we interview the Young Guns winners to get to know them better as artists and people. And as always, we are welcoming another class of outstanding individuals into the highly coveted Young Guns community.

Now that you know the YG21 winners better, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating them in person at NYC’s Sony Hall on Wednesday, November 15, 2023, at 6:30 PM. See you in two weeks and get ready to party!

Director, Photographer, & Writer


New York, NY


Brooklyn, NY


What were your original impressions of the Young Guns competition, the award, and the community?

Fela, the production company that represents me for commercials and music videos, along with its PR team, brought Young Guns to my attention this year. I had seen my peers in Young Guns classes in the past as well. As an extension of that, I now know just what a prestigious group the Young Guns are. I’ve been excited to learn about the competition’s alumni, history, and community. I'm also thankful to see myself amongst peers who I have collaborated with and others I'd love to get to know.

How did you end up in the creative industy anyways?

I came into this world knowing I wanted to be a director– it was already meant for me. Growing up, my Dada (grandfather) and I used to sit together and watch all types of films and television shows together - from Hindi films to Mr. Roger's Neighborhood to Disney classics. Whether or not I asked, he used to teach me about camera techniques, editing, and story. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. I was gifted my first camcorder when I was in junior high and I forced my friends to be a part of my horror (more like comedy now) short films. And despite being a first generation kid and having no connections, my Dada encouraged me to take a shot at becoming a director.

Despite not being able to afford film school, I got my start as an intern for a documentary director when I was 18. From there, I spent my time going back and forth from university to different production houses until I eventually got my first job as a junior director for Complex magazine in their music division - Pigeons and Planes. Eventually, I was directing every piece of content (documentary, branded, etc.) on their channel and was the Lead Video Director. After a year and a half, I left and began my freelancing career as a Director and Photographer in the industry. From there, its been a beautiful, unexpected, and rewarding journey.

"I got my start as an intern for a documentary director when I was 18. From there, I spent my time going back and forth from university to different production houses until I eventually got my first job as a junior director for Complex magazine in their music division."

I feel like my Dada's dream for me to become a director was gifted to me - he wanted to be a director himself and because he sacrificed for his family, he passed on that legacy to me unknowingly.

Congrats on the win! Why did you decide to enter this year?

I entered at the encouragement of Fela, and I’m so glad I did. I finally feel I have gotten to a place with my work that now fully represents my artistic vision and purpose, so it just felt right. I want the world to see that I am versatile, but hold true to what I want and how I want to create. This is the first time I’ve entered and feel very blessed to be recognized!

You only get to submit six projects that embody you and your talent. The best of the very best. So, how did you decide which pieces were good enough to make the cut?

Art to me is personal, not just to me, but to those who watch it. The pieces I submitted feel like some of the most important pieces I have worked on. Projects such as "Protecting Women of Color" starring Megan Thee Stallion for The New York Times not only allowed me to be received as a director fully in the industry, but also it was a piece I wrote and created with a small crew of people. To me, emotion is at the forefront of what I do for my people. I want to tell stories that really allow us to be felt in all ways - celebratory, joyful, sad, traumatic, happy, angry. My body of work I chose for the submission shows that every part of us is meant to be felt, and as POC and women, we shouldn't need to become digestible to be recognized. For me, it's all or nothing.

The other ads submitted included Hennessey, “Dear Destiny;” Burger King x VMAs, “Rule Your Beat” feat. Latto; Bose, “Get Loud;” Popeyes, “Hottie Sauce;” and Glamour Magazine, “Amanda Gorman - Glamour Woman of the Year,” which I am so proud to have been able to direct (and create and write a few lines).

Knowing the prestige Young Guns comes with, what was your reaction when you discovered that you won?

In my eyes, I constantly wonder if the work I am doing is making the impact I want it to make and if it is touching people. When I found out I was a part of Young Guns 21, I felt surprised, elated, and validated in a sense. I believe art should be made for the self, and along the way, it should be made to allow others to feel something as well. I hope this win came because people are really connecting to my work. It is an honor to be considered amongst so many people I myself am in awe of. I am humbled and grateful.

In what ways does your hometown inspire your creativity as an artist?

I have been blessed to be raised in a multicultural space like Brooklyn, as a child of immigrants, and deep roots in different places. For me, inspiration is found in blaring horns, loud voices in the streets on my walk home, and the orange and pink sky that colors around the perimeters of tall buildings. For me, my city is full of stories and the stories are full of people who I am so blessed to love and know. There isn't any one thing, but a beautiful mash up of all the things I pull from. The loudness inspires me, as does the quiet moments in between. Everything I feel around me goes into my art. I owe it to my block, and I owe it to my people - for constantly filling me so I can feel full in my creativity.

Now that you’re a part of the Young Guns community, are there any past winners you look up to and admire?

Mah Ferraz (YG17) is someone I admire within the community of past winners - she is a collaborator I have been blessed to work with who has the ability to cut and paste together any footage you give her. Mah is a masterful sculptor when it comes to her ability to edit. Every time we make something together, I feel so energized and inspired.

If you could create a new Young Guns tradition, what would you want it to be and why?

If there were no limits, it would be beautiful to match up different Young Guns folks and put them on a project together. For instance, if I (as a director and photographer) could team up with a Young Guns editor, art director, and writer to work on an ad together for a brand related to the Young Guns community. It would be such a wonderful collaboration and a beautiful way to move forward in our careers together. Often times, as young creatives, we are told we don't have enough experience, but what if we were given the ability to expand on that needed experience with a well known brand. It would make a world of difference.

Name a creative and professional dream project that you have yet to fulfill — maybe Young Guns will propel you in that direction!

When it comes to my career, I believe I want to try everything at least once because who knows what I might fall in love with. From directing a car commercial to photographing a makeup brand, I want to dive into every area of the industry. However, next on the agenda, I want to work deeply within the fashion space, helping to normalize different bodies and bringing forward even more POC. Other than that, I want to direct a SuperBowl ad and hope to land more trust with bigger brands.

This is YG21, but what do you imagine you’ll be up to when YG31 rolls around in 2033?

As a creative, it's difficult to know what is coming up in the next few months, but if I were to paint my life 10 years from now, I will have directed my features and gotten deeper into the television space as well. I hope I have had the opportunity to direct and photograph huge campaigns with all the brands I wanted to work with and have my work in print as well. I hope I am working on the most impactful, emotional, and creative pieces centered around POC and other women.

Personally, I run an organization called, The Last Time I Cried, which is focused on normalizing speaking about our feelings and opening up about mental health in the POC community. So I hope I have cried and laughed deeply with many people.

Overall, I hope I'm making my Dada proud. With everything I am doing and will continue to do.

Will we see you at the YG21 party in NYC in November?




Come party with us and celebrate all the Young Guns 21 winners on Wednesday, November 15 at Sony Hall! See you at 6:30 PM in NYC!

Get tickets! It's party time!

The class of Young Guns 21



Fire + Fragility: Zuzanna Rogatty's YG21 Cube Design
Young Guns 21: Max Amato
Young Guns 21: Justin Au
Young Guns 21: Tess Ayano







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