Getting back to filming - a Heart to Heart talk with Nimesh Desai

If he has returned to direct a film after 37 years, two things are clear: The Gujarati film industry holds promise, and, heavy traffic of recent releases spell the audience’s readiness to accept more. Acknowledged better as theatre veteran, 59-year-old Nimesh Desai is glad about his current project, his second film, Kookh, that steers clear of being slotted as just another Gujarati film. Or even one that resorts to comedy to ride the popularity wave. After Naseeb ni Balihari, Desai directed close to four decades ago, (actor Paresh Raval debuted in the musical love story that also starred Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and Smita Patil; Asha Bhonsle sung ‘Hu to khobo maangu ne dai de daryo’ while Hariharan sung the title track; the film won eight state awards), Desai is making a film on a contemporary subject, a “sensitive and sensible story”, about a woman’s decision to practice surrogacy and all that happens in the process. From mental connections to emotional distractions.

We drive down to Anand in Gujarat where the film is being shot and get engaged with the film shoot, talks with the director, and one after another, the team of actors. I sit down with Desai who spells a clear agenda about the film and all that goes in its making.

You took close to four decades to direct your second film. Isn’t that too long?
Back then, Gujarati films were set in a pattern. I didn’t want to do cinema that others wanted. I began with ISRO site projects in 1975 when I was only 17. ISRO sent me to FTII Pune to learn filmmaking. However, I got into television and did 16 serials and a daily soap. I made around 80 documentary films, for government departments as well as NGOs. I was also visiting faculty at NID for film making. That apart, I have directed 104 full length plays, the recent most being Nakho Nagar Narsaiyo, of which I have done 10 shows already.
Thankfully, we now have meaningful, sensitive cinema and I wanted to do something sensible and interesting. Kookh is a simple story, told simply.

director nimesh desai, nimesh desai
Director Nimesh Desai takes a break between shots to speak about ‘Kookh’

Here’s how it goes…
A couple lives with their daughter in a small town and while the woman is keen to ensure a good life for the child, the husband is carefree, careless and laidback. An opportunity knocks their door whereby the woman considers carrying the child of a childless couple, making good money in the bargain. Along the way, there are twists and turns, varied emotions at play, love, attraction, distraction, complexities and realisations.

actor, Annapurna Shukla, Gujarati cinema, Director Nimesh Desai, Nimesh Desai
Veteran actor Annapurna Shukla shares her thoughts on the coming-of-age of Gujarati cinema


Simple emotions, complex tale?
I wanted to make a film that is contemporary. When I heard of ‘Kookh’, I felt driven to direct it but had to wait for sufficient funds until Ramjibhai Patel of Mosaic Films decided to produce it. It does not tow the line of comedy films you see nowadays, but is sure to touch the common man. Written by Lalit Laad and screenplay-dialogue by Tulsi Vakil, it is for the classes and the masses…you have varied emotions and elements of love, fantasy, pain, innocence, desire, etc. It is a visual treat along with terrific dialogue delivery. The element of fantasy, for example, is interestingly depicted in the little girl Meethi’s song, Dollar nu Vimaan. She wants to kiss the sun and wants to see a rain of chocolates…The lyrics are penned by Chinu Modi and Lalit Laad and the music director is Mehul Surti.


Are you making it keeping the international audience in mind?
Well, the subject is universal. Love, hope, pain, these connect everyone irrespective of where they live. So does a child. However, there are two key facets here…one is a childless couple desirous of a baby, the other is a woman’s desire to do the best she can for her child, even consider renting her womb to another. The film is slated for a Diwali release and I want to send it to international film festivals. That’s why the film has subtitles as well.

Director Nimesh Desai, kookh, film set, Yogita Patel, hospital set
Yogita Patel getting ready for her shot on the hospital bed

We decide to take a break from our chat to go and see the shoot in progress. It’s a hospital scene and lead characters Kalu (Naresh Patel) and Rudi (Yogita Patel) get set. Meethi (Rutu Vani) is playing about while other key characters Moti Masi (Annapurna Shukla), Maria (Elsa Ninaj) and Patrick (Andy Von Eich) are lounging around. Amid interesting chats and occasional laughter, they share their experiences about the filming process. While Shukla is a wellknown face in Gujarati theatre/TV/cinema, Eich is an actor from Germany and Ninaj a fashion designer-turned-actor from Alberia. Each one wears an excited look every time the film is discussed; each one also has a comfortable rapport with Desai and as onlookers will tell, this film crew is a gang where each one is enjoying their part, be it in front of the camera or behind. “There are good vibes and we like to hang out together; besides this story needs to be told,” says the actor from Germany while Ninaj feels “being friends behind the scenes helps work a lot better”. Shukla, on the other hand, believes “good things take time and this film is one of those”.

kookh film crew and actors, nimesh desai's film
The team exchanging notes after the shoot

Indeed, with a subject that is internationally relevant, coupled with emotions that are universal, Kookh could well create a buzz. In the hearts of the 70-unit crew, it already has. And, it is apparent across the hospital they are shooting in.
So, while we walk into the hospital room to see the shoot in progress, there’s a lot to notice and absorb from the crew behind the camera. That one-minute scene you see in the film probably takes them a few hours to create.

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Photography : Ravi Panchal

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