Cinematographer / Director / Producer Hindi

Govind Nihalani

Govind Nihalani Biography

Born : 19 August 1940, in Karachi, Sind, British India [now Pakistan]

Height: 5′ 6″ (1.7 m)

Govind Nihalani is a director, cinematographer, screenwriter and producer known for making films based on contemporary socio-political issues, Steeped in realism, his cinema is rarely marred by abstraction or stiltedness. His best films speak of human frailty and the inability of individuals to withstand forces of corruption and coercion, manifest in the garb of the Establishment. Born in Karachi, the capital of Sind, Nihalani migrated with his family to India in the wake of Partition. The incidents young Govind saw in those tumultuous times, despite the best efforts of his mother to shield him from the evil, left a deep impression on his mind.

After studying cinematography at the SJ Polytechnic in Bangalore, Nihalani began his career as assistant to VK Murthy, the legendary Guru Dutt’s celebrated cinematographer. He went on to shoot the first nine of Shyam Benegal’s films before making his directorial debut with Aakrosh (1980), which was co-written by Vijay Tendulkar and Pt Satyadev Dubey. A searing saga of rural oppression in which a tribal man is charged with the murder of his wife, the film began Nihalani's long and fruitful association with the actor Om Puri.

Though Aakrosh was an acclaimed film, it was Nihalani's third, the iconic Ardh Satya (1983), featuring Om Puri as a conscientious, angry, obsessive police sub-inspector who is frustrated and caught in a ruthless system, that remains the benchmark for hard-hitting cinema. In between, Nihalani was the cinematographer on Richard Attenborough's internationally acclaimed hit Gandhi (1982) and Shyam Benegal's tour de force Mandi (1983).

In Party (1984), Nihalani exposed the hypocrisy of Bombay's ideological and social elite, while Drishti (1990), written by novelist Shashi Deshpande and loosely inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage (1973), was a study of the failing relationship of an upper-class urban couple.

Throughout his career, Nihalani has collaborated with writers and playwrights and adapted literary works into films. He has shot all his films himself but brought in Murthy to collaborate on his epic Partition saga Tamas (1988), which was adapted from fellow refugee and novelist Bhishm Sahni's work and was the crowning glory of Nihalani's career. Originally planned as a feature film, Tamas was released as a television series. On the misplaced assumption that it was anti-Hindu, a case was filed against Nihalani after one episode was telecast. He also received death threats from right-wing extremists. Fortunately, the Bombay high court and the Supreme Court cleared the film.

Nihalani always worked with tight budgets despite which his acclaimed productions such as Drishti (1990) and Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa (1997) displayed a distinct cinematic quality. His work on Junoon (1978) got him the Filmfare award for Best Cinematographer. He has also worked with popular stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor in Dev (2004) and Ajay Devgn and Tabu in Thakshak (1999).

He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2002 by the government of India.