Aditi Sridhar lived Oscars history in real time Sunday night from the Dolby Theatre stage.
The 22-year-old Johnstown native and University of Pittsburgh senior was one of four aspiring filmmakers from around the country who got the opportunity to be a trophy presenter at the 95th Academy Awards in Los Angeles. Sridhar was all glammed up as she watched “Everything Everywhere All at Once” dominate its competition — sometimes from mere feet away.
When Harrison Ford announced that film as the 2023 best picture winner, Sridhar was right behind him as he embraced his “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” co-star and newly minted Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan. In an even more amazing turn of events, she was the one who handed 2023 best actress winner Michelle Yeoh her best picture Oscar and gave her a celebratory hug.
“I felt like I was as part of the moment as they were,” Sridhar told the Union Progress. “They made me feel that. They were just so happy to celebrate and so shocked. … It was just very gratifying to be on stage and see the changes that are happening in the industry.”
Srihdar is a film and media studies major at Pitt. She’s currently gearing up to make her senior thesis film, “Aloo Poori,” which she likened to a “South Asian ‘Lady Bird.’ ” It’s about a young woman from Johnstown grappling with her own ambitions and her mother’s recent mental health-related diagnosis. Anyone who wants to help fund this production — which is set to shoot in Pittsburgh and Johnstown — can do so via seedandspark.com.
As you can probably imagine, having the chance to attend the Oscars weeks before graduation has put a real pep in Sridhar’s step.
“It was very magical and invigorating in a way,” she said. “Even though you’re there and it’s easy to have imposter syndrome, being there makes you feel like making it [as a filmmaker] is attainable and not so far away.”
She took somewhat of a circuitous path to the Oscars stage. Last summer, Sridhar traveled to Los Angeles for an internship in Warner Bros.’ creative development department. While there, she was nominated to apply for the Academy Gold program, which is designed to give “creative individuals of diverse backgrounds access and resources to achieve their career pathways in filmmaking,” according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ website.
She got in and wound up completing her Warner Bros. internship while simultaneously participating in Academy Gold. Sridhar said the Academy Gold initiative was an incredible way for her to network with industry professionals and fellow young creatives. It also paired everyone with a mentor, which in Sridhar’s case gave her some face time with DanTram Nguyen, Searchlight Pictures’ executive vice president and co-head of film production and development.
In addition to being the catalyst for her Oscars debut, Academy Gold also facilitated an appearance Sridhar and her fellow trophy presenters made on “Good Morning America” last week, where they got to talk about their current projects and future ambitions.
“It was an amazing experience to showcase young artists coming up,” she said. “The more that we do that, the more we will have diverse stories and voices, and a multitude of them in the industry.”
Sridhar found out she was going to be an Oscars trophy presenter only a few weeks ago. One of the perks of this gig was that the Academy provided her with multiple gown options and took care of her makeup and hair needs. She also got to keep the dress, shoes and jewelry she wore to Hollywood’s biggest night.
Her main duties on Sunday involved holding trophies, handing them to winners, and making sure both winners and presenters exited the stage without incident. She was on stage as seven awards were presented: best picture, supporting actor, documentary feature, documentary short, original song, cinematography and visual effects.
Besides best picture, Sridhar said she had “a lot of pride” as someone of South Asian descent getting to be in the thick of things when the “RRR” track “Naatu Naatu” picked up an original song Oscar and when an exuberant Quan accepted his supporting actor prize. She was so “lost in the moment” during Quan’s speech that she almost forgot to grab the envelope containing his victor card from presenter Ariana DeBose. When his speech was over, an emotional Sridhar walked an emotional Quan backstage.
Highlights of Sridhar’s Oscars experience also included standing between “Creed III” duo Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors as they presented the cinematography category; geeking out over her proximity to stars such as Andrew Garfield, Florence Pugh, Pedro Pascal and Elizabeth Olsen; and feeling like she’s “blessed” after getting to see Rihanna up close.
Everyone back home has expressed their support for Sridhar, and they won’t stop sending her all the photos where she appears next to Ford and Quan during their heartfelt reunion.
“It felt like it was my birthday times a million,” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t just on stage for myself, but for my extended family in India and everyone at Pitt and in Johnstown. … I was just proud to be repping.”
To stay on theme, she thanked the Academy for connecting her with the other three trophy presenters and allowing her to live out her Oscar dreams.
“It was a surreal experience, and they were very supportive every step of the way,” Sridhar said. “I’m just very grateful … that they’re investing in young people so that we can one day hopefully be on that stage.”