'He was always coming up with something new, which is why his sudden demise is so shocking!'
Milan Luthria worked with Nitin Chandrakant Desai 13 years ago on the 2010 crime drama, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, and remembers the art director and production designer as a go-to person who understood the constraints and restraints under which a film-maker works and would always fix any problem.
Speaking to Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya, Luthria says, "He will always be remembered for his lovely sets, his vision as an artist, but for me art direction and production design is all about making things work under pressure and that was his strength."
I had always admired Nitin Chandrakant Desai from a distance for his magnum opus touch in large-scale, lavishly-mounted films by senior directors.
When we started Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai, we had planned to shoot on location, but after a point it became difficult with big stars as crowds of thousands would turn up to watch us.
It was a nightmare filming in Colaba and at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.
While sitting and scratching our heads, someone suggested I call him.
He came over, and when I admitted that I was stuck, he suggested I come to the studio and walk around with him, telling him what I needed.
'Ajay assured me that Nitin Desai knew exactly what to do'
We did that a couple of times, I wasn't sure where this conversation was going.
But Ajay (Devgn) who had done a lot of work with him earlier, assured me that Nitin Desai knew exactly what to do.
He came back to me with a scale drawing showing how he would adapt the studio to whatever it was that I wanted, whether it was the climax or the Pi Loon and Parda songs, the the street action or Ajay and Prachi Desai's homes and Emraan's (Hashmi) shop.
I was there for over a month and he kept adapting.
He was a director's technician who would observe and listen carefully, trying to understand your point of view.
His kind of genius lay in balancing the creative and the practical challenges of film-making.
Creative challenge you can surmount by spending more and creating bigger sets, but to be able to adapt to the constraints of a budget and time, the availability of actor and a film-maker's pace was what made him priceless.
There are times when you need to shoot over five locations in three days.
When you reached out to him, Nitin would say calmly, "Don't worry sir, I will change the colour, create a '70s style café there and pull out some props for Sultan Mirza's home and it will be done."
'I admired him for his vision'
In one of the chalets built in the studio, he has plaques of all the directors he has worked with, both Indian and foreign.
It's an awe-inspiring list and when he told me after the shoot that he wanted to include my name too, I laughed and said, "I don't think I would fit in, these guys are too good."
He shook his head, "No sir, I have watched you for over a month because I like to observe film-makers from a quiet corner and no one has used my studio as well as you."
I myself admired him for his vision.
For a simple man to reach the heights he did was truly remarkable.
He was not paid as well as a movie star nor did he make the kind of money a producer does, yet he was able to create this space on the outskirts of Mumbai and make the film industry come there.
Now, there are many hotels near ND Studio where you can stay or get food from, but back when they were shooting Jodha Akbar there, it was tough because everything had to be provided in-house.
Even getting to Karjat was a task, but he made it worth your while. And persevered with his dream, later getting into a tie-up with a corporate.
'He was always thinking and coming up with something new'
Of late, he had started package tours, making the studio popular with busloads of tourists.
There are commentaries, tours of locations of popular films and sets, it's so innovative.
He was always thinking and coming up with something new, which is why his sudden demise is so shocking!
It wasn't as if he had gone into a shell.
In fact, I met him in January when I had gone there for a recce.
He was as jovial as ever, giving me a box of sweets and an invite to his daughter's wedding which I couldn't attend because I was travelling.
'He was very excited and I was thrilled for him'
We spoke for about half an hour and he introduced me to a gentleman with whom he was going to co-direct a historical show.
He was very excited and I was thrilled for him.
We had planned to meet, but it never happened.
He looked different, having grown a beard, and was wearing white.
I teased him, with Nitin it was always fun and laughter.
He was truly your go-to person who was always just a phone call away.
A problem solver, he understood the constraints and restaints a film-maker has to work under, and would always resolve issues for you.
That for me was his biggest quality.
Yes, Nitin Chandrakant Desai will always be remembered for his lovely sets, his vision as an artist, but for me art direction and production design is all about making things work under pressure and that was his strength.
He was in the prime of his life and I don't know why he would take his life!
It's a big loss and he will be missed.