Nihalani, Govind

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Cinematographer. Nationality: Indian. Born: Karachi (now in Pakistan) in early 1940s; lived in Udaipur, India, after the partition of India. Education: Attended S. J. Polytechnic, Bangalore, graduated 1962. Career: 1962–72—assistant cameraman to V. K. Murthy and Promod Chakravarty; also made advertising films; 1970—first film as cinematographer, Shantata, Court Chalu Ahe; 1974—first of several films for Shyam Benegal; 1981—directed his first film, Akrosh.Award: Indian National Film Award for Possessed, 1978.

Films as Cinematographer (Selected List):


Shantata, Court Chalu Ahe (Karnad)


Ankur (The Seedling) (Benegal)


Nishant (Night's End) (Benegal); Charandas Chor (Charandas the Thief) (Benegal)


Manthan (The Churning) (Benegal)


Bhumika (The Role) (Benegal); Kondura (The Boom) (Benegal)


Junoon (The Obsession) (Benegal)


Womb of Power (doc); A Fine Tolerance (doc)


Hari Hondal Burgadar (Share Cropper) (Benegal)


Kalyug (The Machine Age) (Benegal); Akrosh (+ d); Gandhi (Attenborough)


Satyajit Ray—Film Maker (Benegal—doc)


Vijeta (+ d); Ardha Satya (+ d)


Party (+ d)


Aaghat (+ d)


Tamas (Darkness) (+ d; sc—for TV)


Drishti (+ d; sc—for TV)


Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa (Mother of 1084) (+ d, pr)


Thakshak (+ d)


By NIHALANI: article—

Film a Doba (Prague), vol. 33, no. 8, August 1987.

On NIHALANI: book—

Habibulah, Shama, Govind Nihalani, 1981.

On NIHALANI: articles—

Pradhan, Shalini, in Filmfare, 16–31 December 1983.

Masud, Iqbal, in Cinema India International, March 1985.

Cinema in India, vol. 4, 1993.

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Govind Nihalani is more a master craftsman than an artist. His directorial talent is an outcome of his skill and experience as a cinematographer. Having learned all aspects of cinematography at the S. J. Polytechnic in Bangalore, and assisted V. K. Murthy for ten years thereafter, Nihalani was already a respected cameraman when he came to be associated with Shyam Benegal and Girish Karnad. His association with Shyam Benegal, however, chiselled his cinematographic sense and ability. In Benegal's films, art and commerce meet. The features that Nihalani shot for Benegal are among the best of his works. This vast experience also made him an established filmmaker in his own right. And in the excellent films that he has made so far, it is difficult to separate the able director from the ace cinematographer.

While working in texture films, Nihalani also filmed documentaries and advertisements. This trained him to extract and encapsulate the required information into a small time-frame. It was during these 12 years that Nihalani worked hard, experimented and matured as a cameraman. His vision was enriched by documentary observations and a keen sense of the theatrical. The latter probably came from Nihalani's close association with the well-known Marathi playwright Vijay Tendulkar, who scripted his Akrosh and Ardha Satya. His debut as a cinematographer was made in 1970 in a Marathi film, based on a Tendulkar play. The undercurrent of anger and violence that runs through the play also characterizes Nihalani's films, which explore the roots of violence and anger in society. Junoon, for example, by Benegal, set against the turbulent Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, was to Nihalani an ideal camera subject, and won him an award for best colour cinematography.

Nihalani, however, does not, like Subrata Mitra, recapture moods, the finesse of reflexes and reactions, or introspection on celluloid. Action, movement, and aggression attract him more, both as director and cinematographer. This perhaps made Richard Attenborough employ him as head of the second unit of the most ambitious film to be produced in India, Gandhi.

—Shohini Ghosh