Like the women in her newest movie Space MOMs, filmmaker Radha Bharadwaj is an adept multitasker. From the moment she stepped onto the Hollywood scene, she’s used her many talents to showcase stories that speak to both her upbringing in India and her professional life in the United States. From her acclaimed first feature Closet Land to her latest movie on India’s Mars orbiter mission, her movies are plot-driven, engaging, and deeply relevant, even decades after they were first screened. Bharadwaj wrote and directed a second Hollywood feature, Basil, which starred Jared Leto, Claire Forlani, and Christian Slater. She’s currently promoting her newest film, Space MOMs, which was released in 2019. Shot entirely in India, with an Indian cast and crew, the movie was inspired by the female engineers of India’s Mars orbiter mission. This mission was the first to reach Mars orbit successfully on the first attempt, and Bharadwaj’s movie celebrates the sari-wearing engineers that got it there.
Early Career Success
Bharadwaj grew up in Chennai, and initially had great success in the arts in India as a teenager. In school, she won state and national-level competitions for writing, including short stories and poetry. She later wrote, directed, and acted in plays before she moved on to working in televised plays.
Bharadwaj went to film school in the United States, and made her professional screenwriting and directing debut in 1991 with Closet Land. The feature film starred Madeleine Stowe (The Last of the Mohicans) and Alan Rickman (Die Hard, Harry Potter) as a victim and interrogator in a futuristic police state. Despite her youth and inexperience, Bharadwaj pitched the film to Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment, who signed on as producers. Closet Land was released by Universal, and was later nominated for awards at both the San Sebastián International Film Festival and Stockholm Film Festival.
Since then, Bharadwaj wrote and directed a second Hollywood feature, Basil, which starred Jared Leto, Claire Forlani, and Christian Slater. She’s currently promoting her newest film, Space MOMs, which was released in 2019. Shot entirely in India, with an Indian cast and crew, the movie was inspired by the female engineers of India’s Mars orbiter mission. This mission was the first to reach Mars orbit successfully on the first attempt, and Bharadwaj’s movie celebrates the sari-wearing engineers that got it there.
Work, Success, and Keeping the Flame Alive
SEEMA recently spoke to Bharadwaj about her first steps into the world of film. She also gave us some insight into how she’s been spending her time during the global pandemic.
Can you tell us about your newest feature, Space MOMs?
RB: My newly completed feature film Space MOMs is inspired by the women engineers of India’s successful Mars orbiter mission. I’ve been working on it since 2014, and it’s been screened by prestigious players like the Milken Institute and the Allbright Collective. The audience — regardless of race, age, gender, or nationality — has loved this story of underdog triumph.
What’s on your to-do plate professionally in the coming year?
RB: I’m focused on getting my feature Space MOMs out to as many platforms as possible. I’m also putting together the elements (cast, etc.) for an upcoming film noir thriller I’m working on called Delilah. In addition to all that, I’m developing a feature film based on a real-life environmental disaster. It will involve lots of intrigue and high-level cover-ups.
How have you thrived in the midst of adversity?
RB: By always having something new cooking on the burner: a new script, or putting together the elements for a new film. Each project, regardless of format, is like embarking on a new adventure.
Have you been taking advantage of down time during the last few weeks?
RB: I work out of my home office, so not much has changed. I still do what I have to do for my three ongoing film projects.
What is your advice to young people, girls in particular, who might be interested in pursuing a career in film, the arts, or writing?
RB: Keep the flame alive. This means shutting out naysayers and dissenters. Indians in particular are pushed by parents to pursue careers in the sciences. I certainly was. I had to fight hard to pursue what I wanted to do.