Today is the 23-year anniversary of writer and director Nisha Ganatra’s first independent film, Chutney Popcorn, making today the perfect day to celebrate this amazing filmmaker.
Nisha Ganatra, born and raised in Canada, began her career as an actress, but soon shifted to filmmaking because, as she says in an interview with FF2 contributor Pamela Powell, she “wanted to tell stories.” After creating a couple of short films in LA, Nisha moved to New York City where she studied film at NYU Tisch School of the Arts.
During her time at Tisch, Nisha certainly kept busy, directing several episodes of MTV’s The Real World and writing, directing, and producing her first full-length independent film, Chutney Popcorn. In this film, Nisha also starred as Reena, a young lesbian Indian-American woman.
The film explores Reena’s journey coming to terms with her sexual and national identities, which somewhat conflict with each other, as well as her relationship with her mother who struggles to accept both of her daughters’ western lifestyles. Nisha is of Indian descent and identifies as a lesbian herself, so the film is quite close to home for her.
Chutney Popcorn received very positive reviews and won several film festival awards…
Chutney Popcorn received very positive reviews and won several film festival awards, including at the Paris Lesbian Film Festival and LA Outfest, as well as a nomination for a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding TV movie.
Post-NYU, Nisha has also directed and produced episodes for many of our favorite TV shows, including The Mindy Project, Shameless, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Dear White People, and Transparent. As a consulting producer for Transparent, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series.
Recently, Nisha directed the hit film Late Night (2019), starring Emma Thompson as a late night talk show host and Mindy Kaling as a fresh and energetic new member of her writing team. In the film, Mindy Kaling is up against a group of overly confident white men, yet she quickly surpasses them with her drive, talent, and new perspective. Like Chutney Popcorn, there are certainly parallels here with Nisha’s own experiences.
Just a year later, Nisha directed The High Note (2020), starring Tracee Ellis Ross as a singer/songwriter whose relevance is waning and Dakota Johnson as her assistant who strives to be a music producer, both striving to find success in their own ways. In her interview with FF2 contributor Pamela Powell, Nisha delves into a central theme of the film: the sacrifices women make to be successful in their careers. “What do we have to sacrifice? And are those sacrifices necessary? And what do we lose when we make those sacrifices? What do we give up in ourselves? I think that was all really beautiful territory for us to explore.”
“What do we have to sacrifice? And are those sacrifices necessary? And what do we lose when we make those sacrifices? What do we give up in ourselves?”
The High Note also addresses difficult topics about the female experience, such as sexism, racism, and ageism in the music industry. Quoting Ross’s character in the film, Nisha says “‘In the history of music, there have only been five women over the age of 40 who have had a number one hit.” Nisha goes on to state, “It was a really serious note to address…why is there ageism? Why are women being discounted as irrelevant when they have more experience and [are] better than ever with what they are doing?”
Much like the characters in her films, despite social limitations and struggles that Nisha has faced throughout her long career in the industry, Nisha has found tremendous success through her dedication and talent. Both she and her films serve as an inspiration to anyone looking to create a space for themselves in the entertainment industry.
© Julia Lasker (1/11/2023) FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Read Pamela Powell’s interview with Nisha Ganatra here.
Read Dayna Hagewood’s review of Late Night here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured photo: Photo by Sami Drasin.
Bottom photo: ©2020 Focus Features, LLC. All Rights Reserved.