When Nipa Shah of Novi came to America from India following an arranged marriage at 21, she never guessed that 30 years later she’d be a film producer and sex trafficking activist.
Her first film, “Paid in Full,” was created, she said, to give her adult daughter a job. Nikki Shah had been trying to get work in the film industry for a decade in Michigan and in New York City.
“She wasn’t getting good roles,” said Shah of her daughter. “Most Hollywood films won’t have any major roles for non-Hollywood people. All of the roles are puny, or crappy, or they’re roles that are pretty much degrading and exploiting women. We were 110 percent behind our daughter wanting to get into films, but we didn’t want her to take any roles that exploited her.”
“We were in New York on the subway and I asked her, ‘Do you really want to do this?’ ” said Shah. “And I said OK then, I’ll make a movie for you. Sometimes you say these things and the universe makes it happen.”
Executive producer Shah cast her daughter as the lead role of Rani Chopra, a woman who is out for revenge after her sister is forced into sex trafficking and killed. She also enlisted her son, Jay Shah, as a production assistant.
“Paid in Full” also stars Jonathan Bennett (he played Lindsay Lohan’s love interest in 2004’s “Mean Girls”), longtime film and television actor James Russo and R&B singer Ginuwine. Shah enlisted director Lance Kawas and screenwriter Marc Prey. In all, she said she had a 40-person crew.
Next week “Paid in Full” will make its debut at the Riviera Cinema in Farmington Hills. Shah rented the theater for a sold-out red carpet premiere, and the crime drama also will show there the following week for a one-week run. She’s working on getting the movie, which benefited from some of the 2014 Michigan film incentives, distributed through Amazon, Hulu and other video-on-demand outlets.
“I spent so much more money than originally planned ... my husband calls it an expensive learning experience,” said Shah.
Her husband, Nilesh Shah, is the same man she moved to American to be with; they’ve been married 32 years.
“I love America,” says Nipa Shah, who credits her 20 years at General Motors as the reason she was able to produce a film from the ground up.
Shah says when she first arrived in the United States she “didn’t know a computer from a toaster oven,” but a short time later she was in IT at GM, then became a portfolio manager and later a purchasing manager. She left GM in 2008 to start her own marketing company, Jenesys Group.
The underlying theme of “Paid in Full” is domestic sex trafficking, which Nipa Shah says is “a story that needs to be told.”
“When we talk about sex trafficking, we think India, Nepal, eastern Europe, but this is domestic sex trafficking where these girls have fallen into a situation and they’re imprisoned by these pimps. It’s not just runaway girls ... these girls can come from affluent families.”
To further investigate and educate the public on the topic, Shah has begun work on her next project, a documentary. The tentative title is “Sold,” and a preview will be shown Sunday at the “Paid in Full” premiere.
‘Paid in Full’
30170 Grand River,
Red carpet reception
6 p.m. Sun.
Film runs April 8-14