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Nisha Ganatra, in focus

'The High Note’ director wants to tell the stories that haven’t been told

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Nisha Ganatra, in focus
Director Nisha Ganatra on the set of her film THE HIGH NOTE, a Focus Features release. Photo: Glen Wilson

Since the release of her first feature film “Chutney Popcorn” in 1999, director Nisha Ganatra has been on a mission to place women, people of color, and the LGBTQIA+ community at the forefront of her film and television projects.  She not only directed and co-wrote the movie but also starred in it as Reena, a young lesbian Indian American woman who offers to serve as a surrogate mother for her sister Sarita (Sakina Jaffrey) when Sarita discovers she’s unable to conceive.

Tracee Ellis Ross stars as Grace Davis, Dakota Johnson as Maggie Sherwoode and Ice Cube as Jack Robertson in THE HIGH NOTE. Photo: Glen Wilson / Focus Features

Tracee Ellis Ross stars as Grace Davis, Dakota Johnson as Maggie Sherwoode and Ice Cube as Jack Robertson in THE HIGH NOTE.
Photo: Glen Wilson / Focus Features

Her latest film, “The High Note,” is a fun romantic comedy/drama that centers on Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), a superstar whose talent and ego have reached unbelievable heights, and Maggie (Dakota Johnson), her overworked personal assistant, who aspires to her own childhood dream of becoming a music producer. When Grace’s manager (Ice Cube) presents her with a choice that could alter the course of her career, Maggie and Grace come up with a plan that could change their lives forever.

Ganatra was attracted to “The High Note,” which was written by Flora Greeson, because of its humor and because it encouraged its two women leads to take big risks. “Any movie that kind of shows us how to be each other’s biggest allies and encourages that and rewards you for that, I love to tell that movie, and see that movie, and support that movie,” says Ganatra by phone.

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No stranger to taking risks herself — she is, after all, a director — the Canadian American filmmaker is drawn to telling stories of women that depict them as full human beings with their strengths and vulnerabilities on display, as she does masterfully in both the soon-to-be released “The High Note” and in her 2019 film “Late Night.” The Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling vehicle features Thompson as late-night talk show host Katherine Newbury, who’s on the verge of being fired. She decides to hire her first and only female staff writer, Molly Patel (Kaling), to shake things up.

Speaking of her characters, Ganatra says she finds it refreshing that these women are good at what they do and they’re unapologetic for it. Often times. successful and accomplished women on screen are often shown as “bumbling, or bad at relationships,” she says, but in her films, “These women get the opportunity to shine.”

Tracee Ellis Ross stars as Grace Davis and Dakota Johnson as Maggie Sherwoode in THE HIGH NOTE. Photo: Glen Wilson / Focus Features

Tracee Ellis Ross stars as Grace Davis and Dakota Johnson as Maggie Sherwoode in THE HIGH NOTE.
Photo: Glen Wilson / Focus Features

A graduate of NYU’s film school, Ganatra has been working on her craft steadily for years. She received a Golden Globe award in 2015 and an Emmy nomination for her work as a director and producer on Amazon Studios’ television series “Transparent.” In addition, she has also directed episodes for several critically-acclaimed series, including “Black Monday,” “Girls,” “Mr. Robot,” “Fresh off the Boat,” “Dear White People,” “The Last Man on Earth,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” and “The Mindy Project.”

As Ganatra’s career continues to grow and her directorial style evolves, her goal remains the same, she says: “to tell stories that haven’t been told, and center women and people of color, and try to get voices that haven’t been heard, heard more.”

Produced by Working Title Films’ Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, “The High Note” will premiere on May 29 on demand for a 48-hour rental period for $19.99.

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