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One of the largest and most diverse cultural events in the heartland of America, the Chicago South Asian Film Festival, is all set to enthrall film enthusiasts and lovers of the arts, beginning from 19 September 2019. The four-day festival, which enters its 10th year, is dedicated to promoting the cause of South Asian heritage in the performing arts through “cinema, conversation and culture”.

In an exclusive conversation with India Currents, Australian-Indian actor Aishveryaa Nidhi shares her excitement about her two short films – Cul-De-Sac and Halwa – which will be screened at CSAFF on the opening day, and shares her thoughts about the future of South Asian actors in the American entertainment industry.

Directed by Nirav Bhakta and Gayatri Bajpai, the award-winning film Halwa is premised on two women, who rekindle their friendship after 30 years of silence. Sujata Chopra is an immigrant empty-nester, who is going through a problematic marriage while battling loneliness and domestic drudgery. On the eve of her wedding anniversary, she is jolted by the news that her childhood friend’s partner has passed away. After 30 years of no communication, Sujata musters courage to reconnect with her friend in the garb of sharing her condolences. However, in a bid to reconnect with her friend in the virtual world, is Sujata putting her already grief-stricken life at stake?

Aishveryaa Nidhi, who plays Sujata’s friend Rukmini in the film, shares her experience, “It was a pleasure working with such an enthusiastic team. We are thrilled that the film won the highest honor at the HBO Asian Pacific American Visionaries. Halwa is a story which advocates diversity and the spirit of inclusion. We must share our voice with the broader audience and this film promises to achieve that.”

The second offering, Cul-De-Sac is a short film on the stigma related to the barely discussed issues of postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. Recently screened at the 23rd annual Oscar-qualifying LA Shorts International Film Festival, the film is also an official selection at CSAFF. Directed by Cara Lawson, an AFI graduate, the film is close to Aishveryaa’s heart. She comments on the socio-cultural reasons that make postpartum depression a hush-hush topic in society, “Having gone through postpartum depression myself, I know now that up to 80% of new mothers experience baby blues or short-term dips in mood caused by all the changes that come with a new responsibility. It’s not just the newborn, we often forget that even a mother is born after childbirth. She can feel happy and proud, but it is overwhelming for the woman too. If the symptoms are severe enough to get in the way of normal functioning, even if they occur during the first two weeks after childbirth, it could be a condition of PPD. In such cases, medical aid must be sought without any delay,” explains the actor.

Aishveryaa Nidhi at the Screening of her film Halwa at Holly Shorts Film Festival in LA

Aishveryaa is a committed artiste whose platter is always brimming with exciting projects. Recently, she worked in two short films which made it to the Oscar-qualifying ‘HollyShorts’ at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres, Hollywood. Apart from Halwa, Brandi Nicole Payne’s Aloha was one of the top entries. Both Halwa and Aloha are centered on the trials and tribulations women face in today’s modern world. While Halwa is about mending broken relationships and finding lost connections, Aloha is about a new mother’s desire and quest for perfection. “Aloha is a reminder that despite many technological advancements, childbirth remains a miracle. We hope whoever watches our film will have a greater sense of how special every child is, no matter what their birth story is. Writer-director Brandi Nicole Payne, from her personal experience, thinks that every child is worth honoring and celebrating, and that we should give parents the space to do so even when it is painful for them to share or for us to hear,” says the actor who is a seminal part of the cast.

We ask Aishveryaa, who is busy shooting for two upcoming projects – Hena Ashraf’s The Return and Stefan Klink’s Virgin Hamza’s Revenge – about the future of South Asian actors in Hollywood and she seems concerned. “We’ve often been painted with a monolithic brush, but the South Asian history and culture are rich. In the past, our narratives and voices have often fallen prey to stereotypical representation, prejudiced perspectives and other biases,” she explains. So, is she cynical about the future of South Asian actors? It’s quite the contrary, thinks Aishveryaa. “Today, India actors are seen on TV in a way they’ve never been seen before, be it Mindy Kaling in The Mindy Project, Priyanka Chopra in Quantico or Anupam Kher in New Amsterdam, the list is just growing. It was a proud moment when Hasan Minhaj delivered the keynote address at White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. So, I think, America is getting more and more sensitive and tolerant,” asserts Aishveryaa, and reiterates Bob Dylan’s iconic line as she signs off with this: “The times they are a-changin’.”

Ipshita Mitra is a Delhi based independent writer and editor.