HAILED as a “visionary”, prominent art director Nitin Chandrakant Desai had won accolades for creating spectacular sets for a number of movies as well as television shows in his career spanning over three decades.
When Desai, who studied photography at Mumbai’s JJ School of Arts, started working as an assistant director on the sets of Tamas (1987), a landmark television show directed by Govind Nihalani, the Indian entertainment industry was yet to regard art directors as major contributors to a project’s success. However, credited for creating the authentic look and feel of many period dramas — for both big and small screen — Desai not only changed that perception but also redefined the role of art directors.
Desai, who was found dead in a suspected case of suicide at his studio on Wednesday morning, would have turned 58 on August 9. Police suspect that the debt burden on Desai may have pushed him to commit suicide.
Having worked in 2D medium as an art student, Desai was enamoured by the detailing that went into creating movie sets. After working for television shows such as Bharat Ek Khoj (1988-89) and Chanakya (1991-92), he grabbed attention for his remarkable work in the ambitious romantic saga 1942: A Love Story (1994). He followed it up with major cinematic outings such as Khamoshi: The Musical (1995), Maachis (1996) and Salaam Bombay (1988), among others. In later years, he continued to garner critical and public appreciation as he took charge of the art direction of grand movies such as Swades (2004), Jodhaa Akbar (2008), Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015), and Panipat (2019).
Desai established his excellence in creating exquisite sets belonging to different times in the history — mediaeval to present-day India. He even created a futuristic setting for Action Replayy (2010). His work was widely recognised as he bagged four National Awards for movies Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar (1999), Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (2000), Lagaan (2002), and Devdas (2003), apart from winning multiple popular awards.
Later, Desai’s focus shifted to creating a world-class space at NF Film World in Karjat, located nearly 50 kilometres from Mumbai. He got the idea of this studio-cum-theme park after losing out on doing Oliver Stone-directed Alexander (2004). Disappointed with the infrastructure available in India then, the American filmmaker, who had approached Desai for the project initially, shifted its filming to Morocco. The studio, which was set up in 2005, was a dream come true for him while the theme park that opened much later on nearly 50 acres of land in Karjat was designed as a wonderland for movie-lovers. After buying a ticket, they can experience the magic of spectacular sets of popular Indian movies.
In recent years, the studio had probably become his albatross. Speaking to PTI Mahesh Baldi, an independent MLA from the Uran area under which Desai’s studio comes, claimed that Desai was under financial stress since no shooting was taking place at the studio.