Tag Archives: Aishveryaa Nidhi

Nidhi’s Films Find Home in Chicago South Asian Film Festival

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.

Award-winning Halwa on HBO

A South Asian writing-directing duo, Gayatri Bajpai and Nirav Bhakta, scored the first prize for their work Halwa at the HBO Asian Pacific American Visionaries short film competition. This is the first-ever South Asian film to have won an honor or been included in the visionaries program. HBO held the film’s premiere at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, and its success was further sweetened with its timing in the Asian Pacific American heritage month.

The evocative creation is refreshing in its portrayal of the older South Asian generation. Halwa shows the life of Sujata, an older Indian immigrant woman living with an abusive husband until she finds her childhood companion through Facebook and reconnects with her after decades. The film delicately picks chords from reality with subtle portrayals of a same sex relationship, domestic violence, and a second chance at love.

“We don’t do justice to the older generation of South Asians in the creative space — they are one-dimensional,” says Gayatri. Nirav and Gayatri feel strongly about the representation of South Asian culture in the media. “They are typically played for laughs with older Indian characters always arranging someone’s marriage. With our film, we hope to draw our audience into the quiet psychology of these characters. It was also important for us to portray an immigrant LGBTQ person, and celebrate the spectrum of what makes us Asian American.” True to their word, the characters in their film aren’t just boring, or melodramatic, or silly parents, but individuals with desires of their own.

With global and mixed nationality upbringings, both Nirav and Gayatri’s united passion for telling Asian-American stories comes with a bird’s eye view and from the space of belonging everywhere, and yet nowhere as well as their individual, unique experiences.

Nirav was brought up as an undocumented migrant in motels. He studied architecture, has lived in Panama, and is now based in the US. He started his film journey as an actor. With limited authentic roles for Asian-Americans, he channelled his energy into writing and directing, creating narratives on the immigrant experience. His first experimental short film Honor tackled honor killings and was shown in film festivals around the world, including UK Asian Film Festival.

HBO APA Visionaries 2019. Photography by Steven Lam. Instagram @stevenlamphoto

In contrast, Indian-Canadian Gayatri’s journey was straightforward into the creative space. Her interest in stories about people who find themselves caught between cultures, comes from a multiethnic, international upbringing. She earned an MFA (Masters in Fine Arts) in directing from UCLA. She directed short films Muck (2014), Housewarming (2017), which won UCLA Directors’ Spotlight awards for Best Documentary and Best Comedy. Another directorial venture Rio (2017) was produced by James Franco and incorporated into a feature film anthology of the same name. She also produced a documentary on Francis Ford Coppola’s Live Cinema production, Distant Vision (2016).

The team found out about HBO Visionaries Program through a Facebook post by CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment). Nirav says, “CAPE does solid work for Asian Pacific Americans in Entertainment in Hollywood. Right from the CEO level down to the talent, they are not just talk but also action. We took a chance and went for it.”

Halwa was specially created for entry into the HBO competition within six weeks. The team worked together long-distance, Gayatri from Vancouver (Canada) and Nirav from Houston (US). They had a tragedy and many creative obstacles but finished right on time. “It was a race to the finish down to the last upload. We kept that as our goal, and that drove us to get there,” says Nirav.

Sujata is played by actress Vijaya (Vee) Kumari, known for GLOW, Anger Management, Teachers, Criminal Minds etc who is based in LA. An accomplished neuroanatomy professor and a neuroscience researcher, in 2012, she retired to pursue a career of acting and writing. According to Vee, it was “a journey from the left side of my brain to the right.”.

The story has traces from Vee’s past experience with domestic violence. “We wrote the movie with great care to ensure Vee was comfortable with whatever was being written and shot as we wanted to get the tone right,” says Gayatri. The films refreshingly draws attention to the survivor’s strength. “We were clear there would be no violence on screen as we wanted to focus on the agency of the survivor. We listened to people who have gone through it to make sure we serve the story right for them,” says Nirav.

The team tried a new filming technique while shooting. “Our cinematographer told us about ‘silent takes’ by director Andrea Arnold. She does a silent take of each scene and then picks the best one while editing. We tried that and it worked very well for us,” says Gayatri. Piquantly, the technique also gives depth to the depiction of domestic violence, showing underlying silences and dynamics of power on both sides. The silence works beautifully in the scene where Sujata removes her makeup and faces her abusive husband;, the layers of oppression come off and she claims her power again.

Next, Gayatri and Nirav are now working on a screenplay and finishing a documentary about the experiences of a Mexican trans woman who was human trafficked by a drug cartel into sex slavery.

Halwa (2018) Writers & Directors: Gayatri Bajpai, Nirav Bhakta. Players: Vee Kumari, Asit Vyas, Sanchita Malik, Sonal Shah, Samiya Khan, Aishveryaa Nidhi, Puja Gupta, Renu Razdan. Music: Jacob Yoffee. Television release: Now streaming on all HBO platforms within United States & territories. 

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women, and social equity.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor, Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.

Meet Aishveryaa Nidhi, Festival Director of Short+Sweet Bollywood

Aishveryaa Nidhi has been associated with Short and Sweet, the world’s biggest performing arts festival since 2009 in various capacities. She has been an actor, writer, director, and script assessor for an independent theatre company, and when she is not performing, she is invited as a judge in Hollywood.

Short+Sweet is the world’s largest performing arts festival and is dedicated to original short-form of theatre, music and dance.

Founded in Sydney Australia in 2002, it’s now presented in 30+ cities across 10 countries (Australia, New Zealand, India, Singapore, Mauritius, Philippines, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Zimbabwe, and the USA) with around 50 festivals annually.

According to the Mark Cleary, Executive Director around 7000 original new ten-minute works have been presented around the world so far.

Aishveryaa is the only Indian actor of Indian origin to be nominated for the Best Actress award (Mandragora in 2009) in Short+Sweet, Australia and also the only director whose work was invited to be performed in People’s Choice Showcase (Irish Stew in 2014) where it won the third place in Audience Choice Award.

Short+Sweet Bollywood, a festival of dance based on Bollywood songs, is her brain-child. She is the first Festival Director of Short+Sweet Bollywood, which she started in Sydney in 2015, which is now duplicated in India, UAE, and Singapore.

This year, she was invited as a judge and a guest of honor at Gala Finals of Short+Sweet Hollywood at Marilyn Monroe Theatre at Lee Strasberg Institue of Theatre and Films, West Hollywood, to present the Best Actress Award, which went to Julie Collins from Auckland for Slow Dating, written by Australian writer Adam Szudrich and directed by Katie Burson. Adam Szudrich also won the Best Writer Award this year for the same play.

Where will her journey take Aishveryaa in the days to come?