Born in Dharwad, India to the Kannada playwright and novelist Niranjana and writer Anupama Niranjana, Niranjana completed an M.A. in English and Aesthetics from the University of Bombay, an MPhil in Linguistics from the University of Pune, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Since 2021, Niranjana serves as the Director, Centre for Inter-Asian Research; and as Dean of Online Programmes, Ahmedabad University.
Niranjana was the co-founder and a senior fellow at the Centre for Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore, where she was also the Lead Researcher in the HEIRA Program. She was the chair of the Centre for Indian Languages in Higher Education at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai from 2012 till 2016.
From 2016 to 2021, she was a professor and Head of the Department of Cultural Studies, at Lingnan University, Hong Kong, and Visiting Professor with the School of Arts and Science at Ahmedabad University. She was the Chair of the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Society.
She is the conceptualizer and co-producer of Jahaji Music, a documentary, starring Indian-Portuguese musician Remo Fernandes, that looks at musical forms in the Indian diaspora in the Caribbean. The film’s title translates to “Ship’s Music” which is a reference to the ships that carried indentured labour settlers from East India to French-Trinidad in the mid-19th century. The film, co-produced by filmmaker Surabhi Sharma, connected the worlds of gender, music and migration and was well received by the media.
She is also the author of Musicophilia in Mumbai, which examines the cultural, political, and geographical reasons why Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) became such a popular center for Hindustani music. In a 2014 interview with Online Indian Women’s magazine The Ladies Finger, she detailed her research process for this project, which she describes as part ethnographic, part archival work, and several interviews. As part of the same project, she once again collaborated with filmmaker Surabhi Sharma to produce the film Phir Se Sam Pe Aana (Returning to the first beat).
She was a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore from 2013 to 2016. She is also the recipient of the Sephis Postdoctoral Fellowship (1997-1999), Sawyer Fellow at the University of Michigan; Rockefeller Fellow, University of Chicago, and the Homi Bhabha National Fellowship. She was awarded the Central Sahitya Akademi Award for Best Translation Into English (1993), and the Karnataka State Sahitya Akademi Award for Best Translation (1994).
She has lectured in the West Indies, Brazil, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan, the U.S, and the U.K.
Niranjana is also known in academic circles for her keen efforts in creating a bi-lingual pedagogy manual for classrooms in Indian Higher Education classrooms. Initial research toward this was carried out with fellow feminist scholar Sharmila Rege.