By Katie Chambers
Welcome to NYWIFT, Priya Mishra! Priya is an award-winning screenwriter and director. She wrote, directed, and co-produced her debut short film Bath Bomb in 2019. Currently, Bath Bomb and Only Business, the second film she directed, are both having successful runs on the festival circuit.
A queer second-generation Indian immigrant, and a girl who lost her mom during her junior year of college, Priya’s work centers love, grief, acceptance, social-critique, and embracing your anger. Priya hopes that her work will make audiences feel more connected with other human beings, more angry at the state of the world, and more willing to improve it by embracing vulnerability and kindness.
Priya spoke to us about identity, wildly fun times on set, and exploring grief through her creative work.
Tell us about yourself – give us your elevator pitch!
Priya Mishra is a queer South-Asian American writer and director who’s burning white Hollywood to the ground!
What has been your favorite project to date and why?
My favorite project to date is probably Let’s Do Drugs, which was the first short film I was majorly involved in during college. The film is so special to me because it was the film through which I realized I wanted to be a filmmaker. For some reason, even through equipment failure, power failure, audio issues, and bad weather (all culminating in us being forced to film during a freezing, rainy Tuesday 2 AM on Coney Island), I thought to myself, “Man, there’s no place I’d rather be than on this set.” I knew then that there was nowhere else in my life where I would ever feel such a sense of purpose and belonging through such strife. After making that film, I felt so powerful. I felt like I could do anything at all I put my mind to- and I knew I wanted to be making movies.
There is also just something so, so special about getting to make a movie with some of the people you’re closest to in the whole world. It was truly a magical, transformative, and gratifying experience.
You started as a writer and visual artist, then transitioned into filmmaking. How does your past experience influence your work as a filmmaker?
Ever since I have been writing and drawing, especially once I hit my pre-teen years, my works were always covered in a melodramatic, over-the-top shroud. My art would be bursting with the highest forms of joy or melancholy, my writing full of characters pushed to their limits. As an adult, I realized that so much of my work, my personality, and my life, was influenced by the steady diet of Hindi-Language films from the 90s and early aughts that I devoured as a kid. Love, all sorts of love, is always at the center of my work. But the raw, tender, vulnerable, and dramatic ways that love is portrayed can all be traced back to this one medium.
It often feels like filmmaking is in my blood, just from the sheer love of it being passed on from my family. I feel like you tend to hear a lot of North-Indian people in the US talk in such a way.
Film did not seem like anything I could feasibly be involved in until I entered college. Yet as soon as I was on set, something in me seemed to light up. I feel like the aural element of film was the thing that really tempered my art. The addition of sound with writing and visuals created a sort of alchemy that allowed me to be more expansive within this blended medium. My writing and art didn’t seem so intense, or “too much” – in films, it really felt like the only limit was my own imagination.
You have mentioned that much of your work explores love, grief, anger, and acceptance after you lost your mother in your junior year of college. We’d love to hear more about that – and how her spirit is present in your work.
So, as you could probably imagine, losing my mother after a brutal and grueling year of terminal cancer has been one of the most painful and lonely experiences I’ve ever been through.
My first film, Bath Bomb, was written as I was coming to terms with the fact that I was never able to come out to my mom before she passed away. Would she have loved me as much as she did, had she known? By not telling her all of who I was, had I tricked her into wasting her love on someone who did not even exist, and did not deserve it?
For a while she haunted me. When people said, “Your mom is always with you,” I was always filled with a sense of foreboding – my mother is watching my every move, and she is finding me lacking, finding me a liar.
Only very recently did I realize that when people say that to me, it does not mean my mother is some ghost, looking over my shoulder. Instead, she lives in me like an ocean, not some specter. All the love she poured in me over the course of my life still resides inside of me, the biggest and most affirming body of water. When I make my work, I definitely draw from that well. Making the work is an act of love, love that I learned from her, and self-acceptance.
What do you hope audiences will take away from your work?
That’s they are intrinsically worthy of good things, and they are not alone. That they have more power than they could ever imagine, and that power is not a bad thing. That even through every terrible thing that happens, life is still a wonderful thing.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? And the worst?
I think the best advice was when I was told that love is not sacrifice, and that living is not about being perceived. These are things I wrestled with for a long time, and definitely still wrestle with. But they’re things that have made me more comfortable in my own skin as a person, and more willing to advocate for myself – which are two qualities that have been very helpful as an artist.
I think the worst advice I ever received is that I should be willing to do whatever it takes to land/keep a job, even ones with poor pay and grueling conditions, because experience is important. I am still very early in my career, but I do know that I have never hated myself more than when I was being used as a tool for someone else. And I think that we are in a really cool era in film where we can truly make our own experience, our own art, without needing anyone’s approval or permission.
Every system and person putting you down is betting on you not betting on yourself – and you don’t have to do that! You don’t have to suffer at someone else’s hands to earn your place. You have to trust yourself and your own abilities so you can take the journey in the way you desire.
What inspired you to join NYWIFT? How do you hope to engage with the organization?
It’s so funny because I was in the middle of working on a NYWIFT application when I happened to win a membership by winning “Best Female Filmmaker” at Katra Film Series. It truly felt like a moment of serendipity, or synchronicity, as Julia Cameron would call it.
I hope to make a lot of new friends who are creatives and build my filmmaking community! I want to support others and work on more cool projects, and also get more mentorship on how to navigate the industry.
And what is next for you?
I am working on a live-action Scooby-Doo reboot where they’re all queer people of color who are in love with each other. It is definitely not sanctioned by anyone by any means, but I have been working on it for a few years now and it just feels very, very right. At the very least I’ll get a writing sample out of it.
I’m also working on a lesbian revenge-thriller feature (think Thelma and Louise meets The Handmaiden), a queer poly-romcom (I’m so sick of love triangles!), and a spooky short about working retail at a pumpkin patch and healing the inner child.
Welcome to NYWIFT, Jaya Mahajan! Originally from Mumbai, India, Jaya is a filmmaker with Executive Producer credits for documentaries and factual shows that have been on networks such as CNN, BBC, Discovery and the National Geographic Channel. She spent the initial part of her career as a business reporter and producer with CNBC and Bloomberg. More recently, she has been running an award-winning production company, creating films and documentaries and teaching journalism students in Malaysia and Singapore. Jaya recently moved to New York and is looking forward to focusing on projects that highlight and amplify traditionally underrepresented, diverse, and marginalized voices.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Jasmine Yeshan Zhang! Jasmine Yeshan Zhang was born and raised in Xinjiang, China and is now based in Brooklyn. She graduated from the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media department at School of Visual Arts in 2021. During her studies at SVA, she expanded her interests on making documentary films. She has been working as an Assistant Editor for documentaries since graduation and is currently working on an archival-heavy doc-series. She is always looking for more opportunities for documentary/film editing. Jasmine spoke to us about how her upbringing influenced her interest in other cultures, her transition from still photography to video, and what she hopes to achieve next.READ MORE
Meet NYWIFT Member Sweta Keswani! After starring in some critically acclaimed and hugely popular prime time television series in India which made Sweta Keswani a household name, she moved to New York in 2010 for love. She was seen on The Blacklist with James Spader, was recurring on New Amsterdam and AMC’s supernatural thriller Nos4a2. She had a fun role on Apple TV’s dark anthology series Roar and Mayim Bialik’s first directorial feature, As They Made Us, with Dustin Hoffman and Candice Bergen last year. Sweta also appears in The Beanie Bubble, which was released late July in theatres and globally on Apple TV. Sweta continues to hone her craft as an actor, whether it’s being in a stage combat or acting class, working on plays locally, or helping with R&D and as social media consultant for the Remarkable Women docuseries.READ MORE
Let’s give a warm NYWIFT welcome to new member Myra Velasquez! Myra Velasquez is an indie filmmaker and playwright whose films have been screened across the country and abroad. Some of her awards include the Lawrence Kasdan Narrative Film Award, the Grand Prize Chicks with Flicks, the BIFF Golden Honu Audience Choice for Best Short, the HIFF Gold Kahuna, and the BIFF Family Favorites. She has also been a finalist for the Sundance Lab, the BlueCat Feature Screenplay Award, the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference, the Big Apple Screenplay Competition, and a Cinequest Short Screenplay semi-finalist, among other notable mentions. Myra spoke to us about her latest audio drama, the best (and worst) advice she’s received, and what she hopes audiences will take away from her work.READ MORE