This Filmmaker Wants to Create Content Featuring Marginalized Voices
Notebook is a Columbia News series that highlights just some of the many fascinating students who study at our University.
Nimisha Misra arrived in New York from India to achieve her goal of becoming a global filmmaker. Columbia is helping her achieve that dream.
When are you graduating from School of the Arts? What is your concentration in the Film Program?
I will receive my MFA in May of 2024; my concentration is screenwriting. The beauty of this program is that even though my focus is screenwriting, there are a panoply of directorial resources available to us all, which help to round off and diversify our graduate portfolio to best reflect our unique strengths as filmmakers. I couldn’t have asked for a better space to creatively explore and expand. Now I’m excited to use the remainder of my time here to make a strong portfolio film, which highlights all the growth and learning that I’ve experienced at Columbia.
What was your path to pursuing an MFA at Columbia?
I earned a bachelor’s degree in design in India in 2014, and started my career as an advertising copywriter soon after. The digital boom was still relatively nascent in India, and I was swept up almost immediately by the sea change in the media landscape. I had always wanted to be a screenwriter and director, and was fortunate to transition from copywriting into streaming by being hired to produce nonfiction and branded content for an independent, over-the-top platform. About a year later, I became a producer for the pilot team of ZEE5, which launched successfully in 2018 and is now Asia’s largest streaming platform. All of this behind-the-scenes production experience gave me invaluable insight into how the film industry functions. Late in 2018, I was offered the opportunity to develop a screenplay full-time, and have been working as a screenwriter professionally ever since.
My debut feature as a screenwriter, Posham Pa, was released in 2019. It received critical and commercial success beyond our wildest expectations, winning awards at several domestic and international film festivals, being number 1 on the list of the most underrated movies of 2019 (according to India’s version of The New York Times), and even being nominated for several Filmfare awards (India’s version of the Academy Awards). I was soon hired to work on several features and series, but once the pandemic hit in 2020, all production stopped indefinitely.
This lull offered a reprieve from the ceaseless pace of work that I had become accustomed to, and gave me an opportunity to re-evaluate my career. I realized that I needed to improve my skill set and film literacy. I also realized—as most women in male-dominated industries often do—that my environment was an active detriment to my aspirations. I needed to be in a setting that afforded female filmmakers the same opportunities as their male counterparts. I decided that my best option was to go to graduate school in the U.S, and expand the scope of my playing field as a filmmaker in the American entertainment industry.
Columbia quickly became my first choice once I started researching graduate school film programs. After all, this is the school that gave the world the first woman film director to win an Oscar—Kathryn Bigelow. School of the Arts has produced a cornucopia of diverse feminist voices and films. Joining this cohort felt tantamount to being anointed by the best and brightest filmmaking minds, not just in this country, but worldwide. Another impetus for choosing Columbia over any other East Coast film school was the Film Program’s impressive faculty. Not only are we full of legendary, award-winning filmmakers as tenured professors; we also have a revolving door of adjunct professors who are all accomplished screenwriters, directors, and producers. From the outset, I was aware what a privilege it would be to study in this ecosystem, and I have been deeply gratified, not just by the quality of my education, but also by the brilliance of my cohort, who have made this journey so transformative and meaningful.
How did the opportunity for you to write for the new Netflix series, Kaala Paani (Dark Waters), come about?
The production company behind Kaala Paani, Posham Pa Productions (coincidentally the same name as my debut feature), reached out to me in 2020 to join the writers’ room. It’s been the best writing experience of my life so far, not only because I’m so proud of the show we created, but also because I had an opportunity to work with some of the brightest minds in the Indian film industry.
Unfortunately, due to scheduling issues, I will not be able to work on season two of Kaala Paani, but I will continue to collaborate with the brilliant folks at Posham Pa Productions on other projects, while I also buckle down to work on my directorial debut.
What are your plans post-graduation?
I’m excited to embark on the next phase of my career, creating a pipeline of Indo-U.S. content on a global platform. Short-term, I want to write and direct some of my own material, and I’m in currently in talks with studios both in India and the U.S. to raise development capital to that end. Longer term, my hope is to facilitate the making of other Indo-U.S. films, especially ones that prioritize under-represented perspectives, and marry them with inventive filmmaking. So I intend to re-don my producer’s hat to make that happen. Columbia has equipped me with all the tools necessary to take my skills and storytelling to the market, and create more space for unique trans-Atlantic storytelling in America.
What is special about studying at Columbia, and in New York?
The faculty, cohort, and structure of our Film Program is such that it turns all filmmakers into the best versions of themselves. The only thing one needs to bring to the table is an open mind and a growth-centric attitude, and this school will equip you with everything else that you might need to be a successful filmmaker. As a result, our alums are well-represented on the film festival circuit, and in film studios and global streaming spaces.
New York is a crackling incubator for the arts, rife with inspiration and motivation for all genres of artistic practices. I especially love that there are so many free and student budget-friendly events, museums, galleries, and other spaces all over the city. Every weekend can be an adventure. Make no mistake—this city is not for the weak of heart, but if you surrender to the chaos, you will open yourself up to some of the most beautiful and transformative experiences of your life!