Recent Columbia grad snags Best Short Film award

By HermineBloom

It’s a beautiful thing when a group of like-minded, driven individuals dedicate themselves to the heart of an independent project. It’s even more fulfilling when the project receives quality recognition. Such is the case with Kalpana, a short film written and directed by Columbia alumnus, Mihir Desai. The film won the award for Best Short Film at Indie Fest USA in Anaheim, Calif., which took place from Aug. 22 – 29.

The film is about a not-so-successful writer who tries to keep his wife alive using the power of storytelling and the notion that possibilities are endless when it comes to fantasy and one’s imagination. “Kalpana” is a Hindu word that means imagination.

The fest screened a total of 124 independent films, both short and feature-length, but Desai’s experience at Columbia, coupled with an earnest, clear vision, helped him snag the Best Short Film award.

Desai graduated from Columbia with a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Video in May, but he came up with the idea for Kalpana in the summer of 2008 while attending summer school in New York with his girlfriend.

“One day I was telling her a story, because we discuss stories often whenever I come up with something, and she didn’t like how it ended so I changed the end[ing] for her,” Desai said. “And then I realized that that is the power of storytelling. You can change anything for anyone according to your convenience because you are the one who is creating people and creating the story. You function like God.”

Amy Shah, the female protagonist in Kalpana, was ecstatic when she heard the news about the role through a website called Actor’s Access. She was instantly drawn to the film after reading Mihir’s specific request for a young, Indian actress, which fit her profile perfectly. She currently attends graduate school at Loyola University after spending a few years in Los Angeles.

“I think the story is one that we’re really familiar with,” Shah said. “It’s a love story that we can all relate to, but at the same time it’s this girl who’s so positive and optimistic. It’s kind of nice to know that there’s someone like her out there, and it was really unique in the sense that it was a story within a story.”

The preparation for the film began in August and the product was completed in December, Desai said. It took only five days to shoot with the help of an eager cast and crew, who willingly volunteered their talents.

Using cameras rented from Columbia’s Film and Video Department, Desai’s crew of 15 current Columbia students and recent graduates gathered for a professionally-functioning film shoot.

“We had the call sheets and story boards ready, except it was independent, so we had to support each other if something didn’t work out,” Desai said.

Although they couldn’t control the weather on the second day, the production of the film was organized to an almost shocking extent, Desai said.

“Mihir is a good director,” said Leon Shepard, Shah’s on-screen husband. “I think he had me on speed dial the whole time.”

Overall, Desai credits Columbia for helping him focus on the important aspects of filmmaking.

“The best part about Columbia is that it’s not USC or NYU where you learn through a Hollywood style,” Desai said. “[Columbia] always focused on how you should make your story important and how to convey the story rather than showing off your production value. That really helped.”

Desai’s advice for upcoming graduates falls in line with the Film and Video Department’s mantra: Learning through doing.

“There are many people who say if you want to be a filmmaker you just have to watch movies and learn. I don’t agree with that,” Desai said. “So my biggest advice for anyone who wants to be a filmmaker is if you want to make a movie, just go out and make it. Don’t worry about the money or how much experience you have, just worry about how you’ll tell the story.”

Shepard described his initial reaction to winning Best Short Film as a mix between shock and relief.

“It’s good to know that they still judge [films] based on creativity versus sound equipment and editing and stuff like that,” said Shepard, who trained at Second City and continues to take acting courses in the city.

When all is said and done, Desai is pleased with the finished product of Kalpana.

“It looks exactly the way I perceived it,” Desai said. “What has turned out the best is the soundtrack. It’s by an Indian musician. It [was made by] a friend of my girlfriend in Bombay.”

Desai entered Kalpana into the Chicago International Film Festival and Illinois International Film Festival and is waiting to hear results.

To watch the trailer and learn more about Kalpana, visit