Govind Nihalani, the ace Indian director and cinematographer, turns 71. Born in 1940 in Karachi, Nihalani grew up in Udaipur. Nihalani began his career as a cinematographer after graduating in cinematography from Shree Jaya Chamrajendra Polytechnic, Bangalore in 1962.
Till 1972 he was an assistant cameraman to Dada Saheb Phalke Awardee VK Murthy and Promod Chakravarty. Having learned all aspects of cinematography at the Polytechnic, and assisted VK Murthy for ten years, Nihalani was already a respected cameraman when he came to be associated with Shyam Benegal and Girish Karnad.
For Benegal, he photographed several documentaries (including a feature length documentary on Satyajit Ray) and ten feature films including Junoon, set against the turbulent events of 1857, for which Nihalani received a National Award for Best Color Cinematography in 1979. He also photographed Girish Karnad's celebrated Kannada film Kadu (The Forest). His association with Shyam Benegal, however, chiselled his cinematographic sense and ability. His critics say the features that Nihalani shot for Benegal are among the best of his works. This vast experience also made him an established filmmaker in his own right.
While working in texture films, Nihalani also filmed documentaries and advertisements. This trained him to extract and encapsulate the required information into a small time frame. It was during these 12 years that Nihalani worked hard, experimented and matured as a cameraman. His vision was enriched by documentary observations and a keen sense of the theatrical. The latter probably came from Nihalani's close association with the well-known Marathi playwright Vijay Tendulkar, who scripted his Akrosh and Ardha Satya.
His debut as an independent cinematographer was in 1970 in a Marathi film, Shantata! Court Chalu Ahe (Silence! The Court is in Session) based on a Tendulkar play. The undercurrent of anger and violence that runs through the play also characterises Nihalani's films, which explore the roots of violence and anger in society.
In 1981, he directed his first film, Akrosh. It immediately established his emergence as a serious filmmaker. The film shared the Golden Peacock Award at the International Film Festival of India held in New Delhi, 1981. Nihalani's directorial talent is an outcome of his skill and experience as a cinematographer. And in the excellent films that he has made so far, it is difficult to separate the able director from the ace cinematographer. Action, movement, and aggression attract him more, both as director and cinematographer. This perhaps made Richard Attenborough employ him as head of the second unit of the most ambitious film to be produced in India, Gandhi.
Vijeyta (1982), set against the backdrop of the Indian Airforce, was Nihalani's second film. Ardh Satya followed in 1983. It was received with great critical acclaim and won the National Award for the Best Hindi Film. Om Puri, the leading actor of the film, received the Best Actor Award at Korlovy Vary Film Festival, 1984.
Party, Nihalani's fourth film was the official Indian entry to the International Film Festival of India at New Delhi. It won the National Award for the Best Supporting Actress for Rohini Hattangadi at the 32nd National Film Festival of India, 1985 and the Best Actress award for Vijaya Mehta at the Asia Pacific Film Festival.
Aghaat was Nihalani's fifth film and was the competition entry at Montreal World Film Festival, 1986. It was followed by Tamas (a five hour epic set against the background of partition of India), Jazeere (produced for Doordarshan and based on Henrik Sen's play Little Eyolf) and Pita.
Nihalani's Drishti received the National Award for the Best Hindi Film 1990, and also participated in the Indian Panorama of the International Film Festival of India, Madras 1991. Droohkal was awarded the Best Director Award at the 9th Damascus Film Festival, 1995; and the National Award Winner for the Best Supporting Actor.
His Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa (1997) starring Jaya Bachchan was based on Mahasweta Devi's Bengali Novel with the same name. The film won the National Award for the Best Hindi Film, 1997. He later directed Ajay Devgan, Rahul Bose and Tabu starrer Takshak in 2000 and Joy Sengupta and Kitu Gidwani starrer Deham the next year. His last film was Dev in 2004, which starred Amitabh, Fadeen Khan, Kareena Kapoor and Om Puri.
With inputs from News Tomorrow