In today’s time, any film criticising the law and order would have to face a rigorous road before it gets released. That’s why many filmmakers are opting for OTT (Over the Top) platforms such as Netflix or Amazon Prime for more independence. There are hardly any filmmakers like Govind Nihalani whose every film is a deep reflection of society. He presents his outlook visually with great theatre actors like Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Smita Patil and Amrish Puri as protagonists in his films.
Aakrosh (1980), his first film as a director, brings court trials and tribal stories in the limelight. The exploitation of people by the system and higher authorities is well-established in the film. The performance by brilliant actors Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah and Smita Patil have added on to the realities long forgotten.
The screenplay was written by Vijay Tendulkar and dialogues by Satyadev Dubey with a timeless quality. While the film haunts the lawyer till the very end to get into the details, we all get the reason behind the attack and why no proof will ever be produced in the court. This exposes the loopholes in the judicial system too, and the uncertainty of lives of those who want to bring change in society.
Ardh Satya (1983) is another hard-hitting story of a policeman (Om Puri) who finds himself handcuffed when he decides to catch the real breakers of the law. He is punished for taking action against those culprits, resulting in his suspension. He is fighting hard against those oppressors but fails again, and is always reminded of the condition of the suspended police officer Mike Lobo (Naseeruddin Shah) who has now turned into an alcoholic.
Tamas (1988) is a period film based on Bhisham Sahni’s story on Partition with the same name. The film provides uncomfortable truths regarding the historical event. The movie revolves around Om Puri as the protagonist. It couldn’t have been made without the support of the artists, writers and other activists Nihalani worked with. The film was also screened as an eight-episode long series on Doordarshan.
Nihalani’s next film, Party, showcases a satire on Mumbai with its activists, writers and their realities. A discussion takes place on the protagonist in absentia, Amrit who has turned into a political activist for tribal areas. Some praise his poetry, some quote his lines, and others criticise his political approach. The film offers a platform to debate whether a writer can write without undermining the political stands he holds; will it not be reflected in his work? Is poetry just an art or is it a weapon to break down the status quo?
Nihalani has won many awards and international recognition due to his work. He has also served as a cinematographer in his early days with Shyam Benegal in films including Manthan, Ankur, Nishant, Bhumika and Junoon, all of which have won him a National Film Award for best cinematography. He is a brilliant director, cinematographer and writer who has crossed boundaries of cinema and led a revolution through his films.