Did you know that Salaam Bombay, the second Indian film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film at the 61st Academy Awards, was directed by Mira Nair, an Indian American filmmaker who is a notable Hollywood director and is known for her brilliant filmmaking and unique films?
If Indian movies like Slumdog Millionaire won 8 Academy Awards, several filmmakers of Indian origin made it big in Hollywood with their exceptional screenwriting techniques and brilliant storytelling that recreated the art of filmmaking and brought a whole new experience for moviegoers as well as filmmakers.
If people know Quentin Tarantino for his classic neo-noir films and fully staged wide shot style, they know filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan for transforming the horror genre in Hollywood forever with his path-breaking American supernatural psychological thriller The Sixth Sense which made headlines for its brilliant execution and plot.
Be it Mira Nair’s award-winning film Salaam Bombay which won multiple awards including the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival or Tarsem Singh’s Immortals emerged as 2011’s highest revenue-generating film at the American box office, Indian American filmmakers have built a legacy for those Indian-origin filmmakers who dream of entering Hollywood and creating an impact on a global scale.
These Indian-American filmmakers from the Indian diaspora have not only established themselves as A-list filmmakers in Hollywood with a pool of awards and recognition on a global scale but have also redefined cinema and set benchmarks with their brilliant filmmaking techniques and films that changed the dynamics of every movie industry from across the globe.
Several films helmed by Indian-American filmmakers have not only bagged a number of prestigious film awards but have also changed the years-old perceptions of filmmaking, reinvented genres, and transformed the art of filmmaking for many, many years to come.
From M Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense which reinvented the popular Horror genre in Hollywood to Deepa Mehta’s Water which broke many filmmaking stereotypes and barriers; directors of Indian origin have contributed greatly to change the dynamics of filmmaking to leave an impact on the world through their films and storytelling methods.
Even today, decades-old international films directed by notable Indian American, Indo-Canadian, and British Indian filmmakers are shown to students in Film Schools from across the globe.
Students and budding filmmakers are made to observe critically acclaimed and award-winning movies such as Mirror Mirror by Tarsem Singh Dhandwar, Salaam Bombay by Mira Nair, Water by Deepa Mehta, among others to make them understand the essence of filmmaking and the art that it is.
These movies help aspiring filmmakers understand the main aspects of filmmaking, from screenwriting to cinematography, and direction.
After watching several Hollywood and International films that have been directed by Indian American filmmakers, we have made a list of the best Indian American filmmakers and the films that redefined cinema, introduced the world to different filmmaking techniques and brought a breath of fresh air with their engaging and impactful work.
- Mira Nair
- Deepa Mehta
- Aneesh Chaganty
- Gurinder Chadha
- Meera Menon
- Rohit Gupta
- Dylan Mohan Gray
- Parvez Sharma
- M. Night Shyamalan
- Asif Kapadia
- Tarsem Singh
- Param Gill
When we talk about filmmakers who redefined cinema and filmmaking with their artistic filmmaking, Mira Nair is the first name that comes to my mind. With countless awards, global recognition, and a 4-decade long filmmaking career, she is a phenomenal filmmaker who brought to the world a beautiful amalgamation of art and commercial cinema.
In my opinion, you are missing a startling cinematic experience if you haven’t watched some exceptionally well-made films such as Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding, Mississippi Masala, The Namesake, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, among others, directed by critically-acclaimed filmmaker Mira Nair.
The New York-based director is known for making movies on sensitive and controversial social topics and has received several accolades for her enormous contribution to filmmaking through her exceptional work in films that changed the winds in Hollywood and International cinema.
After making several documentaries like Jama Street Masjid Journal, So Far From India, and India Cabaret, among others, Nair made her directorial debut in 1988 with the award-winning film Salaam Bombay which was the breakthrough film of her career.
The film not only bagged an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film but won several reputed and prestigious international awards like Caméra d’Or at Cannes Film Festival, Best Foreign-Language Film at Boston Society of Film Critics, Air Canada Award for Most Popular Film of the Festival at Montreal World Film Festival, among many others.
The film opened to raving reviews from popular movie critics. Applauding the movie and Mira Nair’s work, renowned American film critic and screenwriter Roger Ebert wrote, “The history of the making of “Salaam Bombay!” is almost as interesting as the film itself.”
Mira Nair was not only praised for making such a meaningful and captivating movie with a few known actors and a limited budget but also received a lot of appreciation for opening American minds to the other side of cinema with no rim shots, happy endings, or big stars.
Mira Nair, in her career span of 3 decades, has received multiple awards for her movies. Her film Mississippi Masala was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Film and her 2001 family-drama Monsoon Wedding which explored the madness and spirit of a typical Punjabi wedding in Delhi, won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
Mira Nair, with her distinctive filmmaking approach, redefined filmmaking with her unique take on sensitive topics and storytelling techniques.
Internationally recognized for her critically-acclaimed movies like Fire, Earth, and Water, Deepa Mehta is a Canadian-Indian filmmaker who is known for making films on controversial subjects and bringing life to her films and characters through her realistic, raw, bold, and unbiased storytelling.
Often referred to as a ‘quintessential transnational filmmaker,’ she has earned a name for herself on a global scale through her movies that impacted millions of people, especially in her native country India. She explored sensitive topics like same-sex relationships, the lives of Varanasi widows, the horrors of the India-Pakistan partition, and much more.
She has earned several international awards for her Earth-Water-Fire trilogy and an Academy nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film category for her 2005 film Water.
The movie, which delved into the lives of widows in Varanasi and spoke about the deprivations faced by them, received exceptional response from the audience as well as critics.
In fact, it was the only non-French-language Canadian movie to be Canada’s official entry for the Academy Awards post-Zacharias Kunuk’s feature film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner and Attila Bertalan’s classic A Bullet to the Head.
Also a brilliant scriptwriter, Mehta received a Genie Award for the screenplay of her 2002 film Bollywood/Hollywood. The film won the Audience Award for the best comedy film at the prestigious Sarasota Film Festival.
The filmmaker is known for using her films as a medium to shed light on the complexities of patriarchy, cultural division, LGBTQ, and the dilemmas of the ‘perfect world.’ But what makes her such an accomplished filmmaker is the fact that her movies don’t lose their grip or charm because of their niche or narrative.
They entertain, educate, and impact, exactly what films are supposed to do. This makes her one of the finest artists who took filmmaking to another level by introducing the world to her unique filmmaking style. When you watch a Deepa Mehta film, you can feel how she makes the actors get into the skin of their characters. You can feel their joy, pain, and though-process.
Not only in films, but she has also created phenomenal television and web series and directed episodes of American TV shows like Little America and Yellowjackets.
If you are a movie buff who is into mystery-thrillers, you must have watched the award-winning American Screenlife Searching, a film that took the Internet by storm for its unique filming concept. But many of you might be unaware of the fact that it has been directed by an Indian-American filmmaker named Aneesh Chaganty.
After making his breakthrough debut with the 2018 American suspense thriller Searching which broke many filmmaking stereotypes through its unique visual presentation and technique, Aneesh Chaganty became one of the most prominent American filmmakers of Indian origin to start a whole new trend in filmmaking.
The film, which was shot on devices like webcams and drones and told the entire story through laptop screens, became the first-ever film to be shot without proper shooting equipment. Searching received raving reviews from critics as well as the audience for its unique concept, engaging screenplay, and gripping storyline.
His second feature film Run, an American psychological thriller, became the most-watched original movie on the American streaming platform Hulu. It also started a debate on the micro-blogging site Twitter and was trending on the social media platform as it left netizens discussing its plot and storyline for days with its captivating storyline.
His imminent success in Hollywood made him one of the most Indian-American filmmakers.
Talking about his filmmaking techniques, fears, and inspirations, Aneesh Chaganty told a leading daily that he always wanted to make movies that felt real.
He wanted the audience to feel that every character in their movie, each shot, each narrative is authentic, and convinces the viewers that they are actually engaged in a real-time storyline.
His debut film Searching broke many records and made a whopping $75 million at the worldwide box office when the budget of the film was only $880,000. His film was not only a breath of fresh air in the world of repetitive cinema, but it opened several doors for those filmmakers who want to make an impactful film with a small budget.
Ace Indo-Canadian filmmaker Gurinder Chadha, who is known for movies like Bend It Like Beckham, Paris, je t’aime, Viceroy’s House, among others, is known for her brilliant and authentic portrayal of different cultures in her movies.
Her debut feature film Bhaji on the Beach, which was released in 1994, earned several international accolades such as Evening Standard British Film Award for ‘Best Newcomer to British Cinema. The film, which also won a BAFTA Nomination for ‘Best British Film of 1994, earned Gurinder Chadha worldwide recognition for her filmmaking practices.
She was the first British Asian woman to direct a full-length feature film that explored the lives of women from different cultures and backgrounds. She further shot to fame after her directorial venture Bend It Like Beckham became the highest-grossing Indian-themed film in the United States by minting 32 million dollars at the US box office.
It was also the first British film based on a Black/Asian theme to earn more than 11 million Euros in the UK and was a worldwide success as both critics and audience showered immense love on the beautifully directed film.
The film won several awards including the Pyongyang Film Festival award, Writers Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay, and Best Film award at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
In her 3-decade long career, she has directed several award-winning films such as What’s Cooking? (2000), Bride and Prejudice (2004), Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008) and It’s a Wonderful Afterlife (2010), among others, and is the recipient of the OBE award.
Her two-part drama for the BBC titled Rich Deceiver was watched by more than 11 million users from across the globe in 1995, making her one of the most prominent directors across the globe with her films earning more than 300 million dollars at the worldwide box office.
By creating relevant and relatable content and using authentic locations/characters in her films, she won the audience’s heart through the honest and real display of different cultures, human bonding, and emotions.
Indian-American filmmaker, writer, and editor, Meera Menon has often stated that she got the inspiration for filmmaking through her father from an early age and that is when she decided to make movies that will leave an impact on the world.
She made her powerful Hollywood debut with Farah Goes Bang, a comedy film that premiered at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival and won The Nora Ephron Prize for the pathbreaking direction and storytelling. The film also won several nominations including Best Director and Film at Winter Film Awards.
It also won a number of accolades at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and CAAMFest.
Meera Menon received immense applause for her storytelling method and for putting life into the characters through her direction. It also opened doors for several new filmmakers to try taking a unique approach to the comedy genre and making a film that forms an instant connection with the audience.
She then directed women-centric movies like Equity which premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. She has directed episodes in several popular American TV series including You, The Magicians, Outlander, Dirty John, and For All Mankind, among others.
Menon has made a name for herself in Hollywood with her remarkable filmmaking techniques and was selected by Glamour magazine as one of 35 Women under 35 Running Hollywood. She was one of the top fellows at the 20th Century Fox’s Global Directors’ Initiative and is one of the most celebrated filmmakers of Indian Origin in Hollywood.
There are several filmmakers of Indian origin who made waves with their work in Hollywood and international cinema and Midnight Delight fame Rohit Gupta is one such filmmaker who amazed everyone with his spectacular work in films ever since he entered the industry.
After receiving massive critical acclaim and audience love for the debut short film Another Day Another Life, a 4-minute American suspense thriller that was showcased at the Short Film Corner at Cannes Film Festival in 2009, he soon tasted success with his debut feature film Life! Camera, Action became a box office hit and won several awards.
The movie, which entered the Limca Book of Records for being the only full-length Hollywood film to be shot by a crew of only two members, premiered at the New York Indian Film Festival and received widespread recognition from across the globe.
After great word of mouth and raving reviews from Hollywood as well as international critics for its excellent filming, acting, screenplay, and music, the movie was then showcased at several film festivals all over the world.
Life! Camera Action was screened at Williamsburg International Film Festival New York, International Film Festival Antigua & Barbuda, Indian International Film Festival of Tampa Bay, Carmarthen Bay International Film Festival in the UK, Mississippi International Film Festival, and Golden Door Film Festival in the United States.
During its festival run, the movie earned several prestigious awards and nominations for categories such as recognition of the film itself (Best Film), direction, Film editing, music, screenwriting, and the cast’s amazing performance.
In a short career span, Rohit Gupta has earned several accolades including some of the highest honors including the Platinum Reel Award for Best Narrative Feature Film at Nevada International Film Festival, Orson Welles Award for Best Narrative film at California Film Awards, Best Experimental film at Canada International Film Festival, among several others.
He not only broke stereotypes by making films that were an excellent combination of the best of art and commercial cinema but also redefined filmmaking by shooting an entire film with just one crew member beside him.
Rohit Gupta is an inspiration to budding filmmakers who want to make it big in Hollywood as he proved that filmmaking is an art that can be mastered by pure talent, creativity, and passion, even if you don’t have the budget and big movie stars. He redefined Hollywood films and how!
When talking about filmmakers of Indian descent who surprised everyone in Hollywood with their path-breaking and influential films, how can we fail to mention the critically acclaimed filmmaker Dylan Mohan Gray who shook the world with his heart-wrenching documentary Fire in the Blood?
The highly-acclaimed documentary feature explored the deliberate obstruction of affordable antiretroviral drugs used for treating AIDS/HIV from reaching the needy.
Soon after premiering at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, the film broke many records and also became the longest theatrical run of any non-fiction film in the history of Indian cinema. Fire in the Blood was named one of “26 landmark documentary films of the past seven decades” for starting a debate around access to essential medicine.
After the success of his documentary feature film, he directed The King of Good Times, which was Netflix’s very first Indian-themed non-fiction original film that explored the controversial life of former Indian business tycoon Vijay Mallya. This film led to Netflix’s Original documentary anthology series, Bad Boy Billionaires: India, and became one of the most-watched documentaries of 2020.
He is the recipient of numerous accolades including Best Nonfiction Original, Series/Special at 2021 Filmfare OTT Awards, Gold Award for Excellence in Nonfiction (Direction)—Silver Award for Excellence in Nonfiction (Script)—Jury Award for Best Film: Documentary, Award for Best Documentary at the 16th Fairy Tales International Queer Film Festival, among many others.
He further received worldwide recognition for his mid-length film From Durban to Tomorrow, based on the future of global health and human rights, and won more than 35 international awards and was screened at more than 100 film festivals from across the globe.
The film was shot in over six countries across three continents and received massive appreciation for its research, content quality, and socio-economic impact on a global scale.
Based in New York, Parvez Sharma is an Indian American filmmaker and writer who was one of the 173 fellows selected from 3000 competitors in the 94th year of the Guggenheim Fellowship that started back in 1925 and received the Fellowship in the film category in 2018.
Best known for directing films like A Jihad for Love and A Sinner in Mecca, Parvez Sharma has been trying to break stereotypes with his films that explore sensitive topics like the lives of LGBT Muslims around the world (in A Jihad For Love).
He is also known for his infamous decision of documenting his 2010 hajj pilgrimage to Mecca on his phone during the shoot of his 2015 film A Sinner in Mecca. However, he was applauded for the winds of change that he brought with his films and the attempt to make a difference through filmmaking.
He has won numerous awards for his filmmaking methods including the 2009 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary, The Hartley Film Foundation award, Andy Warhol Foundation for The Visual Arts, among many others.
His films garnered worldwide attention and fame and were screened at several film festivals like the Milan International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, Sheffield International Documentary Festival, Torino International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, Special Teddy, Berlin International Film Festival, among others.
He is also the recipient of the Best Documentary film award at Rapid Lion Film Festival, Johannesburg, and Reeling Film Festival, Chicago. International NGO Amnesty International named him “a human rights defender” in 2016 for his humanitarian work through films and writings.
Apart from being a renowned international filmmaker, he is also an established writer and was honored as an “LGBT hero” by former first-lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, in 2013 at a DNC fundraiser in New York.
Parvez Sharma has inspired several documentary filmmakers from across the globe to make impactful documentaries that show the truth and spark debates amongst people, especially when it comes to eliminating taboos like homosexuality. He is an Indian American filmmaker who has earned a lot of appreciation and respect on a global scale for his contribution to films.
Initially known as “the guy who makes the scary movies with a twist,” Oscar-nominated filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan became a household name in the United States after he impressed everyone with his brilliant take on the horror genre with the 1999 American supernatural thriller film The Sixth Sense that redefined the horror genre in Hollywood.
The gripping screenplay and mind-boggling plot twist made The Sixth Sense one of the best horror movies ever made in Hollywood. M. Night Shyamalan not only set a benchmark for other Hollywood directors with his impressive work in The Sixth Sense but also started the trend of horror films with ‘surprise endings’ or ‘psychological twists.’
The Sixth Sense emerged as 1999’s second-highest-grossing that broke box office records and minted more than 293 million dollars at the US box office.
The film was a turning point in M. Night Shyamalan’s filmmaking career as it bagged six Academy Awards nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Supporting Actor category.
The film was awarded the Nebula Award for Best Script by the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1999 and M. Night Shyamalan earned international recognition for his brilliant writing and storytelling techniques.
His neo-noir thriller, Unbreakable, released in the year 2000 made him the king of the mystery and horror genre as the film received raving reviews from critics and was a huge hit at the US box office. He then became one of the most eminent Hollywood filmmakers whose filmmaking style was loved by fans and critics alike.
His 2005 film The Visit starring Bruce Willis, which was made on a budget of 5 million dollars, earned more than 90 million dollars at the international box office and emerged as the fifth-highest grossing thriller film of that year.
M. Night Shyamalan not only made a successful career in Hollywood as a filmmaker and writer but also introduced the ‘supernatural-thriller genre’ to the American audience.
With neo-noir thrillers like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and The Signs, Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan earned his auteur reputation with film productions and became an auteur filmmaker for making brilliant movies on supernatural stories.
The Indian-American filmmaker, screenwriter, and producer is the recipient of several prestigious accolades including Best Screenplay at Bram Stoker Awards, Best Director at Empire Awards, and Best Script at the Nebula Awards, among several others.
His filmmaking techniques are still used and incorporated by filmmakers working in thriller and horror genres. He redefined Hollywood films through his distinctive take on the horror genre and edge-of-the-seat thrillers.
Born in England to Indian-origin parents, Asif Kapadia is a Grammy, BAFTA, and Academy Award-winning filmmaker who is known for directing award-winning feature films and documentaries like The Sheep Thief, The Warrior, Far North, Senna, Amy, among others.
After winning international acclaim for his debut feature film The Warrior, a British Drama that explored the unconventional story of a cruel warrior Lafcadia who later walked the path of spirituality, Asif Kapadia became a rising feature and documentary filmmaker who changed the game of filmmaking through his bold take on debatable issues in the world.
His film The Warrior won the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film and was almost selected as UK’s official entry for the Academy Awards. The film received an overwhelming response from the critics that caught the attention of The Arts Foundation which awarded Asif Kapadia a fellowship in Film Directing in 2011.
Popular English writer and movie analyst Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian described The Warrior as possessing “mighty breadth” and “shimmering beauty.”
The film also bagged three BAFTA nominations out of which it earned the Alexander Korda Award for the Outstanding British Film of the Year 2003 and The Carl Foreman Award for Special Achievement by a Director, Screenwriter, or Producer in their First Feature.
His second feature film, Far North was screened at numerous film festivals including the Venice Film Festival and Kapadia was applauded for using the brutal arctic landscape for showing how anxiety and depression can lead to severe and irreversible consequences.
His documentary film Senna, based on the life of Ayrton Senna, a Brazilian motor-racing champion, emerged as the highest-grossing British documentary of all time. He gradually became the master of documentary filmmaking and received worldwide recognition for his contribution to the movie industry.
His 2015 documentary Amy received 5 out of 5 ratings after getting screened at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and emerged as the highest-grossing British documentary, and the second-highest-grossing documentary of all time in the United Kingdom, overpassing his 2010 feature film Senna.
He is the recipient of several awards including Best British Documentary at the British Independent Film Awards, Audience Award for Best International Feature at the Los Angeles Film Festival, among many others. In 2016, he received the Best Documentary – Feature at the Academy Awards and became one of the most popular feature filmmakers of all time.
His choice of subjects, his storytelling method, production techniques, and use of factual and raw information in his documentaries is what make him a brilliant filmmaker who redefined the art of making documentaries at a global level.
Based in California, United States, Tarsem Singh Dhandwar aka Tarsem Singh is known for directing Hollywood films like Immortals, Mirror Mirror, and Self/less. His 2011 American fantasy action film Immortals broke many box office records and minted more than 226 million dollars at the US box office.
He also received raving reviews from critics and was praised for creating a visual treat with amazing physical action and a captivating narrative with special effects.
His work in films was acknowledged on a global scale for his 2012 American fantasy comedy film Mirror Mirror bagged an Academy nomination. Apart from films, he has also directed numerous Hollywood commercials and music videos that featured stars like Beyonce, Britney Spears, Pink, among others.
Having worked with Hollywood A-listers like Jennifer Lopez, Mickey Rourke, Ryan Reynolds, and Freida Pinto, Tarsem Singh Dhandwar has become a prominent name in Hollywood who is known for his unique filmmaking style.
One of the most brilliant Indian American filmmakers, Param Gill was the first filmmaker to create history by releasing two of his movies on the same date. Both his directorial — Last Supper and Death Of Amar premiered at the San Francisco Global Movie Festival in 2014 on the same weekend.
Best known for creating films that explore diverse themes, Param Gill has been honored with several awards for his contribution to filmmaking. Many of his films received standing ovations at prestigious film festivals and enjoyed a long run for the gripping content and narrative.
The filmmaker, who is known for his immense passion for cinema and movie making, is one of the most notable Hollywood directors who is known for bringing a breath of fresh air with his unique films.
If you are an aspiring filmmaker who wants to create films that change lives, perceptions, thinking, and sometimes, the world, then you should carefully learn the movie-making methods adopted by these filmmakers who made it big in a competitive place like Hollywood and established themselves as prominent filmmakers against all odds.
Their work in movies has inspired directors, producers, writers, cinematographers, and others from the movie industry to keep working for their passion and create such a cinematic experience for viewers that even when they are not in this world, they leave a legacy behind.
These Indian-American filmmakers and their films have not only redefined Hollywood but have changed the way movies are made in different countries from across the globe.
Not only filmmakers, but many screenwriters of Indian origin have not only made it big in Hollywood but have changed the dynamics of the movie industry through their unconventional, creative, and unique work.
Be it Lena Khan, who directed and wrote the 2016 American comedy film The Tiger Hunter, as well as 2021’s superhit American action-adventure fantasy film Flora & Ulysses, or Stephanie Sengupta, who is a popular Hollywood writer and is known for creating superhit American series like Reign, these screenwriters, have impressed everyone with their exceptional work.
Several Indian-American artists have made a big name for themselves in Hollywood and are now the inspiration for many budding filmmakers of Indian origin.
Apart from these writers and directors who made it big in Hollywood and at an international level, several Bollywood movies received a lot of love in Hollywood and on a global scale.
Legendary Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s 1995 movie Pather Panchali was the first Independent Indian film to receive recognition on a global scale.
It not only attracted international critical attention but became the first Indian film to win the Best Human Document award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival. Post that, several Indian films not only bagged Oscar nominations but also received worldwide recognition across numerous film festivals and accolades.
Indian filmmaker Chetan Anand’s Aakhri Khat, which was released in 1966, was selected for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 40th Academy Awards. Apart from this, it was a legendary Indian actor and filmmaker Raj Kapoor’s classic film Awara that became a part of the 100 Greatest Films of all Time, curated by the TIME Magazine.
So if you are a movie buff who loves watching quality cinema or someone who is intrigued by art or classic movies, do take out some time to watch these brilliant films by these iconic filmmakers who redefined cinema for good!