Born Nurkurniati Aisyah Dewi in 1970, Nia started out as an apprentice reporter at a private Indonesian television station and began her career making video clips and commercials. A graduate of Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania, Nia also took a course on film production at New York University. She returned to Indonesia to confront the challenges of filmmaking in a developing country under authoritarian control. In 1999, Nia set up an independent film company called Kaylana Shira Film.
Nia went on to direct the film Ca Bau Kan (2002), based on a novel of the same name by Remy Sylado. In 2004, Nia directed her breakthrough film Arisan! starring Surya Saputra, Cut Mini and Tora Sudiro, which garnered awards from the Indonesian Film Festival and MTV. Nia has additionally produced and directed the films Berbagi Suami (2006), Janji Joni (2005), Ajang Ajeng (2004), Joni Be Brave (2003) and Biola Tak Berdawai (2003).