'Why go to the trouble to build elaborate sets when it could all be done in front of a green screen?'
'Nitin lost out on a lot of good work; film-makers no longer needed his lavish studio in Karjat as much as they did earlier.'
It is the done-thing to praise people after their death. But Nitin Chandrakant Desai was truly a child of God.
His epic vision, as manifested in costume dramas like Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas and Ashutosh Gowariker's Jodha Akbar never fell short of the spectacular, and yet the epic vision remained restrained within the realms of aesthetic propriety.
"For me it's not about splashing colours to attract attention. Every frame has a relevance, mood and compulsion," he told me once after I witnessed the visual feast that was Devdas.
He was right. If we compare Nitin Desai's aesthetics in Bhansali's Hum...Dil De Chuke Sanam and Devdas we have the full spectrum of his talent.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali remembers walking over to Nitin Desai's home every morning to discuss the sets of Devdas. Nitin's mother would make poha for them.
Nitin leaves behind his mother, wife, two daughters and a financial mess created by the losses incurred in the running of ND Studios in Karjat on the outskirts of Mumbai which Nitin built from scratch in 2005.
"Sir, it was my dream project. I put everything into it. I wanted to construct a studio where directors could shoot their films without a care about where to look for what location. It was all there," he once told me.
Without a shred of doubt, Nitin Desai was the most accomplished art director of Indian cinema. Unlike many artistes Nitin was not a duffer in matters of finances.
A friend recalls him as being very sharp with money.
"He knew how to handle the financial aspect of his studio. It wasn't as if he lost money out of naivete or anything."
Then what happened? Why was Nitin Desai depressed over his finances?
"The green screen happened. Suddenly film-makers no longer required the services of an art director," reveals an old associate of Desai.
"Why go to the trouble to build elaborate sets when it could all be done in front of a green screen? Nitin lost out on a lot of good work; film-makers no longer needed his lavish studio in Karjat as much as they did earlier, due to the green screen phenomenon," the associate adds.
"He also lost out on a lot of work because film-makers didn't need the services of an art director; the green screen sufficed."
"I am stunned, shocked. I've no words. I am on the way to ND Studios in Karjat," says Ashutosh Gowariker, who worked on Panipat with Nitin Desai.
I remember spending the entire day at ND Studios watching my friend Sanjay Bhansali shooting.
When Nitin Desai came to know this, he was hurt. "Why didn't you tell me you were coming? I'd have come to see you."
I wish he had.
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com