Aditi Sridhar hopes to bring more South Asian representation to the big screen. She’s looking to break stereotypes and misconceptions about South Asian culture, and to bring herself joy by sharing it.
“I feel like those everyday moments of life and conversations can center South Asian people and don’t have to be all about how they’re Indian,” Sridhar, a senior film major, said. “But that cultural specificity can really center around the work and make it more meaningful, while still telling the universal story.”
After the COVID-19 pandemic, Sridhar began to break into film-making, an industry where connections are key. The relationships Sridhar formed with mentors helped her find the confidence she needed to enter an art-form where South Asians are commonly underrepresented.
She’s also the president of SCENE@Pitt, a club dedicated to students with aspirations of working in the entertainment industry. After becoming president, she set out to help other students trying to get their start in entertainment, so they don’t feel lost like she once did.
“I came into this whole field with no connections, no experience, feeling alone and isolated,” Sridhar said. “I want to find shortcuts for people so that they can find their creative projects faster. So that they can really feel empowered that they can do anything if they just have the tools and resources set in place.”
Laura Stravach, a senior film and media studies major and the business manager of SCENE@Pitt, finds Sridhar’s attitude inspiring. They called Sridhar a “force of change” within Pitt’s film department.
“She dedicates her time with SCENE developing workshops and working with students which is so cool to see,” Stravach said. “It definitely has set an example for myself and other students on how we should be collaborating and working with each other in classes and outside.”
In March, Sridhar stepped foot into Hollywood to present trophies at the 95th Academy Awards, an opportunity she found through her internships with Warner Brothers and the Academy Gold Rising Program last summer. She was even featured on a “Good Morning America” segment alongside the other students who presented at the Oscars, and the Academy selected her as a member of their Academy Gold Rising Program.
Sridhar said one of her favorite moments of the night was watching the song “Natu Natu” from the film “RRR” make history by becoming the first song from an Indian film to win best original song.
“An Indian song hasn’t been nominated before in that category, and to win in that same year was incredible,” Sridhar said. “People don’t realize how big the Oscars are in a place like India, even though India has the biggest film industry ever, people still regard the Oscars as the ultimate thing. So for them to win was huge for India and huge for South Asians.”
She also recently produced a short film called “PIVOT,” which tells the story of a South Asian dancer who struggles with perfectionism, her future and her complicated relationship with an overbearing partner. As both classmates and collaborators, those who have worked on Sridhar’s set have treasured the meaningful cultural exchange.
“This has become such an important project to me. The script that Aditi wrote beautifully depicts the everyday, culturally specific moments of her life that can shed new light on elements of representation that often aren’t seen on screen,” said Owen Gambill, a senior film major with an economics minor and a close friend and long-time collaborator of Sridhar’s.
Sridhar is also working on a film titled “Aloo Poori” for her senior thesis. It chronicles the last day of a mother and daughter living together in a small town in Western Pennsylvania.
According to the film’s crowdfunding page on Seed&Spark, which raised more than $9,000, “Aloo Poori is a nostalgic love letter to family traditions and the comfort of home. It confronts the anxieties of missed forgiveness and leaving the ones we depend on most amidst the start of new beginnings.”
The film’s name comes from a dish that her grandmother made for her growing up at her house in India, Sridhar said.
“She would pack it for us and we’d eat it on the plane home, when going back to the U.S. And then [when] she passed away, my mom would also do it,” Sridhar said. “It kind of became like ‘You’re leaving, you’re going on a far journey, here’s the aloo poori, so that you remember us, and so you have something good to eat to remind you of home.’ So I wanted to take that and then contextualize it within a mother-daughter relationship.”
Through her film-making, Sridhar is driven to represent South Asians in an authentic manner. Growing up in Johnstown, which is about an hour from campus, Sridhar said there was a very small South Asian community, and her closest family was 2,000 miles away. To connect with her culture, she spent time choreographing Bollywood dances in basements with her friends and tasting her parents' North and South Indian dishes.
“I’ve always desired to see South Asian families carving space for themselves on screen,” she said. “Sometimes, at least for my family, this came with a deep closeness between myself and my parents, which inevitably kept a balance between my Indian and American identities.”
When she came to Pitt, Sridhar said she was “ready to meet more brown people and really immerse myself in the community.” And while she achieved this goal, which Sridhar said was “exciting,” the more she got into film, the less time she spent with South Asian people, although her stories center South Asian American voices. Sridhar wants other South Asian students to know that they shouldn’t limit themselves in their career paths.
“I'd say you just have to let go of all the ‘What would happen? What will people say? What if I fail?’ and just go for it,” Sridhar said. “I think Indian culture and Bollywood culture allow for this kind of expansion of imagination. I’d say for someone that is South Asian on campus, it's like, just take a film class and see what you can do.”
Contributing reporting by Carissa Canzona.