By Ozzi Ramirez
Welcome to NYWIFT, Mohana Rajakumar! Mohana is a South Asian American scholar, novelist, screenwriter, and stand-up comic whose work regularly explores feminist themes. Some of her most notable literary accomplishments include winning the She Writes New Novelist Award in 2011 for her coming-of-age novel An Unlikely Goddess and the Best Indie Book Award for Romance in 2013 for Love Comes Later.
Additionally, Mohana’s work has been featured in AudioFile Magazine, Explore Qatar, and Woman Today. And her one-woman show Being Brown is My Superpower was accepted to the Edinburgh Fringe and United Solo Festivals. She co-wrote and appeared in the short film Me Against the World, directed by Kali Bailey, which appeared in NYWIFT’s “Women in Film Night” at the 2022 Montauk Film Festival.
Mohana has resided in Qatar since 2005.
She spoke to us about working across various art forms, her writing process, and the special honor that comes with writing a banned book!
Tell us about yourself – give us your elevator pitch!
I’m a novelist turned screenwriter who was bored during the pandemic and started adapting my own stories into screenplays.
You’ve explored many avenues in your career! As an artist, scholar, novelist, screenwriter, and stand-up comic what are some of the recurring themes in your work?
I tell women-centric stories that occur in unusual settings. Regardless of what genre I’m writing in and whether it’s in the form of a joke, novel, or film script, my audiences can experience what it means to be brown and female in a supposedly post-racial era.
How is your creative process influenced by the art form that you are immersed in at any given moment? What are the similarities and differences between developing a novel, play and comedy sketch?
The process is sort of the same – I sit at the desk and bleed a little! Haha! No seriously. Writing is a solitary task and while I’m an extrovert, I spend a lot of time alone outlining, brainstorming, and planning. And then there is the actual writing itself.
All of my work starts with a central question: What’s it like to be a modern person with traditional values (my romance series)? Or what if an aspiring journalist stumbled into a terrorist recruitment network (my crime thriller)? The script or book then becomes the answer.
Your novel Love Comes Later, which deals with the subject of arranged marriages, was praised in some circles while also banned in your home country of Qatar. What was your initial response to the controversy?
Being banned is a special mark of distinction as an artist. It means that your work is fresh, relevant, and interesting. I took it as the highest compliment. Books are banned in the Middle East all the time – and increasingly in the United States. I hope this inspires people to keep reading.
What brings you to NYWIFT?
I’m a female filmmaker who is relatively new to the industry, so NYWIFT has been a great way to learn more about what opportunities are out there, network, and in general, make a big pond feel a lot smaller.
How did the pandemic influence your work experience?
One of the pandemic’s silver linings was having my whole family forced into the house with me. I needed my own mental space and a new way to get a creative boost. I got both of these things by taking on the new and creative challenge of understanding how scripts work.
The energy and interest required while adapting a short story into a script helped propel me through one of the most uncertain times in modern history. Writing can be like that!
Do you have any upcoming projects in the works?
I am currently developing my feature and revising many other scripts. I’m also the director of a short film lab for teen girls that creates more opportunities for women in the industry from the ground up.
Additional reporting by Katie Chambers
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Welcome to NYWIFT, Aisha Amin! Aisha is an NYC-based writer and director. As a director, her work expands across narrative, documentary, and experimental forms to tell authentic stories built from real experiences. Her past film projects have explored and highlighted overlooked communities particularly in New York City, including formerly incarcerated mothers and communities struggling with the presence of gentrification in their neighborhoods. Amongst her directing, Aisha is an emerging screenwriting and was selected to participate in Cine Qua Non’s 2022 Screenwriting Lab. She is a 2022 recipient of NYFA’s Tomorrowland Grant and a 2021 recipient of the NYFA Women's Fund grant. She was a recipient of the 2019-2020 Sally Burns Shenkman Woman Filmmaker Fellowship at the Jacob Burns Film Center where she directed two short documentaries. She is also a recipient of The Shed's Open Call Fellowship where she expanded her film practice to installation art. Aisha spoke to us about her favorite styles of storytelling, the intersection of narrative and documentary, and her latest projects.READ MORE