Genelia Deshmukh, Arjun Rampal, Sudhir Mishra remember director Nishikant Kamat, who married content with commerce.
The past 15 years have witnessed the resurgence of Marathi cinema. Among those leading from the front in the emergence of the new wave was filmmaker Nishikant Kamat. His directorial debut Dombivali Fast (2005) was a biting commentary on how the common man will rarely win against the corrupt system. Where it fetched him the National Award for Best Marathi Feature Film, the drama also compelled the Hindi movie industry to look at Marathi cinema — until then regarded as its poor cousin — as a treasure trove of powerful stories.
Interestingly, Kamat was at the centre of another milestone in Marathi cinema that occurred less than a decade later. His brainchild, Lai Bhaari (2014), which marked the Marathi debut of actor-producer Riteish Deshmukh, was a raging hit at the box-office. In rivalling the earnings of some Bollywood films that year, it redefined the commerce of regional cinema. Perhaps, Kamat had imbibed the importance of box-office figures from the Hindi film industry, having spent over six years in Bollywood by then.
Genelia Deshmukh, who collaborated with the filmmaker on John Abraham-fronted Force (2011), remembers him as a "one-take director". "Nishi would walk you through the entire scene — discussing your expression, the mood of the scene and would ask you to relive an experience that comes closest to the sequence to be shot. Every scene would be preceded by a detailed chat because once he went on the floors, he would shoot the scene in one take. Most of my scenes in Force were filmed in a single take," she recounts.
Where he was analytical and sharp about the work at hand, Deshmukh says he was also deeply emotional. "During the Force shoot, I remember he broke down after we shot the scene where my character dies. He was the kind of person who was deeply invested in every character. Also, I have never seen a director who treated his crew so well. He would tell actors, 'Say what you want to me, but not to my bachchas.'"
While the mystery thriller Drishyam (2015) and Irrfan-fronted Madaari remain some of his best works, director Sudhir Mishra believes Mumbai Meri Jaan (2008) was perhaps his most underrated movie. "He was kind enough to involve me in the making of Mumbai Meri Jaan right from the beginning. I had seen the rough cut and it was easy to see that his outlook towards films was exceptional. He was one of the most underrated filmmakers; it may be because he didn't belong to any Bollywood camps, he did his job quietly."
When not giving instructions to actors, the director would frequently face the camera, playing menacing antagonists to Abraham in Rocky Handsome (2016) and Harshvardhan Kapoor in Bhavesh Joshi Superhero (2018). Arjun Rampal, who shared screen space with him in Daddy (2017), says Kamat enjoyed his stint in front of the camera as much as he did behind it. "During the shoot, he told us, 'I am just an actor here. Bolo, director saab, what do you want me to do?' And he did such a marvellous job in the film!" Rampal considers himself fortunate to be directed by Kamat in a few episodes of his web series, The Final Call. "Before every shot, we used to read out the scene several times over. He would always ask me how I would like to do a particular scene, and place his cameras accordingly."
His best works
Dombivali Fast (2005)
Telling the story of a middle-class bank employee whose existence is hinged on the frustration at the hands of law and lawmakers, the film walks us through the systematic breakdown of his mental state and how it turns him into a vigilante.
Evano Oruvan (2007)
Kamat adapted his critically acclaimed Dombivali Fast in Tamil with R Madhavan in the lead, thus proving that powerful stories have a universal appeal.
Mumbai Meri Jaan (2008)
Starring Madhavan, Soha Ali Khan and Irrrfan among others, Mumbai Meri Jaan skillfully took the audience through the aftermath of the 2006 serial bomb blasts in Mumbai.
The John Abraham and Vidyut Jammwal-starrer is one of the first slick actioners that kickstarted an entire genre of such movies. A remake of Gautham Menon's Kakha Kakha, the film is a revenge saga between a cop and a dreaded gangster.
Lai Bhaari (2014)
Marking Riteish Deshmukh's debut in Marathi films, Lai Bhaari was a runaway hit and changed the face of commerce in regional cinema.
A remake of a Malayalam film, the Ajay Devgn-starrer is the unofficial adaptation of Kiego Higashino's popular novel.
Starring Irrfan who played a vigilante in the film, Kamat narrated a fictional tale which is inspired by the collapse of the Mumbai metro bridge in 2012.
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