Graduate Thesis Film Explores Backstage Bollywood

Aarushi Nigam standing in front of the title poster for her film, Dream Factory
Aarushi Nigam, recent Film and Media Art (MFA) graduate

If you’re looking into graduate schools, you know that every program has different thesis options. At Emerson, graduate theses are opportunities for students to be creative leaders in their field of study. Today, we are highlighting Aarushi Nigam, a recent graduate from Emerson’s Film and Media Art MFA program. Aarushi’s thesis film, Dream Factory, was recently screened, and she met with us to discuss her thesis experience.

Why study film at Emerson?

Originally from India, Aarushi studied economics in college and earned her first master’s degree in journalism. After working in journalism in New Delhi for a few years, Aarushi decided she wanted to pursue a filmmaking degree.

Aarushi wanted to find a program that would allow her to study both documentary and cinema film. While most schools only focused on one genre, Aarushi says Emerson was different. “Emerson stood out because they equally prioritized all forms of film, from documentaries to cinema to experimental film. It was encouraging that they wouldn’t push me into one bracket,” she explains.

Because of the program’s focus on multiple film genres, Aarushi decided Emerson was the place for her. 


What are the perks of a graduate thesis film?

Completing a thesis project is a requirement for all Film and Media Art graduate students. Thesis projects can either be a film or an art installation. Aarushi says being required to complete a thesis helps students launch into their careers more smoothly after graduation. “This is an arts degree, so unless you want to be a teacher, it can be a big unknown after graduation.” Having a large project like a film in their portfolios helps students prove their value to employers after graduation. 

While producing an entire film may sound daunting, Aarushi says that the collaborative environment at Emerson makes the thesis project easier to complete. “It’s a great community to create something in. You never feel alone,” she adds.

What is your thesis project?

Aarushi’s thesis film, Dream Factory, is a documentary and was recently screened at Emerson’s Paramount theater. “It’s about the physical labor that goes into the Bollywood industry,” she explains. “I always knew that I wanted to do something about the Indian film industry. With my thesis, I wanted to show the muscle that goes into making dreams happen.”

To shoot her film, Aarushi spent a few months in Mumbai and New Delhi. Here she followed the below-the-line crew working for a Bollywood film production company. While Bollywood often releases behind the scene interviews with actors, the below-the-line crew does not receive the same attention. Aarushi explains, “The means of production is so far removed from the final product that we don’t know much about how these Bollywood films are made.” 

The title image from from Aarushi's film, Dream Factory, showing a man looking into the distance with film equipment in the background
The title image from from Aarushi’s film, Dream Factory
Actors in a Bollywood film shooting a scene outside while below-the-line crew stand and manage equipment
A still shot from Aarushi’s film, Dream Factory

What was the best part of completing a thesis film?

Aarushi enjoyed  getting to know the people she filmed in Mumbai. “I’m naturally an introvert, so showing up to the set and talking to everyone behind the scenes while I did my work was a great experience,” she explains. 

As she got to know the below-the-line crew, Aarushi was struck with the kindness of each person she met and filmed. “They were very concerned about me and my film crew, making sure we were hydrated and not overheating, since the area where we filmed was pretty muggy. The people we were following had long, 12-hour days, but they still were so concerned about making sure we were okay.”

What was the biggest challenge of the thesis process?

Aarushi describes post-production as the hardest part of her thesis project. She explains, “The story of this film was built through the editing process. I thought the work would be done once I cracked the story of my film, but there was so much work to do after that point.”

After her initial editing process and uncovering the storyline of her film, Aarushi still had many more steps of post-production left. She describes how labor intensive post-production was, requiring hours of sound mixing, color correction, and more. Despite the challenge of editing her footage, Aarushi is glad she completed her thesis film and pleased with the final product. 

What’s next?

Currently, Aarushi is focusing on submitting her thesis film to as many film festivals as possible. She hopes to get her film into multiple festivals, which will help her gain traction as a filmmaker.

Long-term, Aarushi plans to work in Indian films produced internationally, including films produced in the US. She explains, “My original goal was to get an MFA in the U.S. and go back to work in the Indian film industry, but then I found out that a lot of my favorite films were produced outside of India, including many from Los Angeles. They would go to India to shoot but did the rest in the U.S. I didn’t realize that you don’t need to physically be in India to participate in Indian filmmaking.”

A collage of various characters from a Bollywood film, with an illustrated woman in the foreground
A still shot from Dream Factory

Aarushi is excited to have her first feature-length film under her belt and looks forward to continuing her growth in the film industry. To keep up with Aarushi and her work, be sure to follow Dream Factory’s Instagram account!
To learn more about Emerson’s Film and Media Art MFA, visit the program website or schedule a call with an admissions officer.

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Writing Assistant

Olivia is a second-year student in Emerson's Communication Disorders MS program. Originally from Ohio, she is loving Emerson and city life. When she's not writing for the Grad Life blog, she loves to read, bake, and crochet.

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