Nitin Desai, art director
Desai served as art director and production designer for a number of Bollywood and Marathi movies.

Nitin Desai, 'Lagaan' art director, found dead at his studio near Mumbai

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Renowned film art director Nitin Desai, a four-time National Award winner, was found dead on Wednesday (August 2) at his studio in Maharashtra’s Raigad district neighbouring Mumbai, a senior police official said.

Prima facie, it seems to be a case of suicide, the official said, adding Desai was found hanging at his N D Studios in Karjat area of Raigad, located about 50 km from Mumbai. After being alerted, police rushed to the spot, the official said.

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A probe was underway into Desai’s death from all angles, he said. Desai served as art director and production designer for a number of Bollywood and Marathi movies.

He was known for his art work in films like “Lagaan”, “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam”, “Jodhaa Akbar” and “Prem Ratan Dhan Payo”.

Defaulted on Rs 252-crore loan

Desai had defaulted on a Rs 252-crore loan to its financial creditor, and a bankruptcy court had admitted an insolvency petition against his company last week. His company, ND’s Art World Pvt Ltd, had borrowed Rs 185 crore through two loans from ECL Finance in 2016 and 2018, and troubles with repayments started from January 2020.

He had opened this sprawling studio in the Khalapur taluka on the outskirts of Mumbai where films like “Jodhaa Akbar” were shot. His company ND’s Art World is engaged in the business of organising, maintaining, operating replicas of historical monuments and providing facilities and services related to hotels, theme restaurants, shopping malls and recreation centres.

On July 25, the Mumbai bench of the National Company Law Tribunal had admitted a petition filed by Edelweiss Asset Reconstruction Company to initiate a corporate insolvency resolution process.

As per the order passed by NCLTs Member (judicial) HV Subba Rao and member (technical) Anu Jagmohan Singh after hearing both the sides, Jitender Kothari was appointed as the interim resolution professional. Management of the ND’s Art World will vest in Kothari during the process, the order had said.

Typically, the insolvency professional is entrusted with ensuring that all the creditors get their dues as per the amounts realised by selling the securities and also has to take care of day-to-day business operations. The order had said that on March 31, 2021 the account was classified as a non-performing asset (NPA) by the creditors, and the total default amount was Rs 252.48 crore as on June 30, 2022.

In its reply before the passing of the order, Desai’s company had said that there was a fire incident at the studio on May 7, 2021 which resulted in loss of property and blamed the creditors for sending a recovery notice on the same day.

As per a report in local media, the financial creditor had approached district authorities in Raigad to take possession of ND Studio a few months ago.

Tributes pour in

Film personalities such as Riteish Deshmukh, Siddhartha Basu, and Neil Nitin Mukesh paid tributes to Desai, calling him a “genius” and a “positive soul”.

Basu, who worked with Desai on popular reality shows such as “Kaun Banega Crorepati” and “Dus Ka Dum”, said he was shocked to hear about the passing of his “friend and artistic collaborator”.

“He made sets for so many of our shows – KBC, Kamzor Kadi, Heartbeat, Bluffmaster, Dus ka Dum, Sach ka Saamna.. Conjuring world class installations on an industrial scale. Om shanti,” Basu wrote on Twitter.

In his career spanning over 30 years, Desai closely worked with directors like Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Rajkumar Hirani, and Ashutosh Gowariker. Neil said it is difficult to accept the heartbreaking news of Desai’s death.

The late art director worked on “Jail”, the 2009 film starring the actor. “Our beloved #nitindesai has left for his heavenly abode. He was simply a genius. A visionary artist with grace, style who understood not just his craft but people. He was a positive soul who spread only love to all. My God give his family strength. Om Shanti,” he wrote on the microblogging site.

Actor Riteish Deshmukh remembered Desai as a soft-spoken visionary. “Deeply shocked to know that #NitinDesai, a legendary Production Designer who has contributed immensely to the growth of Indian cinema in no more. “My heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones. I had known him for years.. soft spoken, humble, ambitious & a visionary you will be missed my friend. Om Shanti (sic),” Deshmukh tweeted.

The news of Desai’s demise is “devastating”, said filmmaker Sanjay Gupta. “I can’t believe this news. Nitin Desai was the best at what he did. We worked on a few films together. Always smiling, always making life easier on set. This news is devastating. Rest In Peace my friend. You will always be missed,” Gupta tweeted.

Actor Parineeti Chopra said she was “heartbroken” to hear about Desais passing. “His groundbreaking work, wisdom and artistry will be remembered forever. Rest in peace sir,” she wrote.

(With agency inputs)

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