Short Film Written & Directed by Current Student Selected as a 2020 National Board of Review Student Grant Winner

BY Cody Beltis , October 8, 2020

Still from Anita

Anita, written & directed by student Sushma Khadepaun and co-produced by Sasha John '17, was selected as a 2020 National Board of Review Student Grant winner. The film had its world premiere in the Orizzonti Short Film Section of the Venice Film Festival in September. Several Columbia alumni have been selected for the award in the past —  a full list of previous winners can be found here


Written in Gujarati, Anita is named after its protagonist, a young woman who, with her husband, returns to India from America for a wedding. The characters struggle to bridge the two cultures, but at the crux of the story, embedded in a six-minute single take, is an uncomfortable, universal question: What is happening here? What is Anita experiencing? That question is essential when it comes to how a person can have control over her own body, her own life. Khadepaun’s film provokes dialogue; it does not offer easy answers. 


In an interview with Bomb Magazine, Khadepaun said, “Gujarati cinema is rather young; it’s only since 2012 that Gujarati films have been screening in theaters for a mainstream audience. Despite the fact that Gujaratis are a huge population and make for a large audience all over the world, we have grown up watching movies in Hindi. I am not inclined to make films in just one language, but for me certain stories—especially those about Gujaratis—have to be made in the language.”


Born and raised in India, Khadepaun is a writer/director based in New York City. Her feature script, Salt, is a recent recipient of the SFFILM Westridge Grant and was invited to the Torino NEXT Film Development Workshop. Salt was also part of the NFDC International Co-Production Market in November 2019. She was a participant at the La Fémis International Co-Production Atélier in Paris, and a finalist of Ryan Murphy’s Half Directing Fellowship 2018. In 2017, she was a participant of Pitch NY organized by NBCUniversal, and the Governor’s Office of Motional Picture & Television. Her short film, Foren, premiered at Palm Springs International ShortFest in 2017. Khadepaun has also been selected for the Pitch Panel at IFP, New York and the NFDC Script Development Lab in India.


John has previously worked in India at DAR Motion Pictures on films such as Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox (2014), D-Day (2013), and Anurag Kashyap’s Ugly (2014). Her thesis film Everything is Fine, which she produced and shot in New Delhi, India, received an award from the Katharina Otto-Bernstein Thesis Film Fund for production, and has screened at the 2017 Filmfare Awards in India.


The National Board of Review has dedicated its efforts to supporting cinema as both art and entertainment since 1909. Each year, this select group of film enthusiasts, filmmakers, professionals and academics of varying ages and backgrounds watches over 250 films and participates in illuminating discussions with directors, actors, producers and screenwriters before announcing their selections for the best work of the year in late November prior to an annual ceremony in January.


One of the organization’s core values is identifying new talent and nurturing young filmmakers by awarding promising talent with ‘Directorial Debut’ and ‘Breakthrough Actor’ awards as well as grants to rising film students and by facilitating community outreach through the support of organizations such as The Ghetto Film School, Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, and Educational Video Center. With its continued efforts to assist up-and-coming artists in completing and presenting their work, NBR honors its commitment to not just identifying the best that current cinema has to offer, but also ensuring the quality of films for future generations to come.