Updated: September 8, 2021 8:43:36 am
Shivaji Rao’s thunderous interview with CM Balraj Chauhan shook the corridors of State Legislative Assembly onscreen. Two decades down the line, it is a classic in Indian cinema. Nayak might have released in 2001, but its take on corruption and a proactive chief minister has ensured its relevance for generations. Why? Because we as a society continue to yearn for that world.
Nayak released 20 years ago. A commercial failure back then, the experimental movie went on to acquire a cult status overtime. Anil wrote as the film completed two decades, “20 years ago I was the Reel life CM for a day and the rest is history! A lot of people had their views about me doing #Nayak but I knew I had to do this film & believed in its message! And now here we are celebrating #20yearsofNayak!!”
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Nayak revolves around a TV reporter played by Anil Kapoor who questions misdeeds and corruption in the political setup of the state during an interview with the state CM (Amrish Puri). Unable to handle the reality check, CM Balraj Chauhan challenges Shivaji Rao to become the CM for one day to understand his “difficult” job. While Chauhan believes Rao’s single day will go in haste, Rao in turn ends up doing much more than expected, delivering a clean, hopeful system.
Nayak was filmmaker Shankar’s foray into Bollywood. It was a remake of his own Tamil directorial Mudhalvan (1999). He had until then directed Kadhalan (Humse Hai Muqabala), Indian and Jeans, and written The Gentleman. Shankar was on the path to become a bankable director himself. It was way before his Boys, Sivaji: The Boss, Enthiran and 2.0 happened. So to prove his mettle was Shankar’s utmost desire.
Despite a precedence in Arjun Sarja playing the main lead in Mudhalvan, Anil Kapoor chose to observe the popular TV anchors of that time like Prannoy Roy, Karan Thapar, Vir Sanghvi and Rajat Sharma, apart from attending a ten-day workshop with theatre director Feroz Khan. In fact, it is said that Anil Kapoor wasn’t even the first choice, actors like Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan were considered initially. Anil Kapoor told Hindustan Times that he had to pursue Shankar to cast him after the two Khan declined it. “To this date, I’m glad I did,” he said.
“Honestly, all we knew while making the film was that it would be something special. Something for the ages. We had no clue it would gain the kind of traction that it did,” Anil added.
Even Rani Mukerji came on board when Manisha Koirala couldn’t give dates to reprise her part from Mudhalvan, and Karisma Kapoor, Raveena Tandon, Preity Zinta and Tabu turned it down.
But what’s meant to happen, happens. The film got its dream cast, with Saurabh Shukla, Paresh Rawal, Johnny Lever, Pooja Batra, Shivaji Satam and Neena Kulkarni in supporting roles.
Nayak found new audience when it had its television premiere and eventually went on to become one of the most-watched films on the small screen, and a popular one in Anil Kapoor’s filmography. “I think it’s the subject matter that is just so relevant and relatable. The people, the government and the tensions therein will always remain a topic of great interest and personal relevance,” Anil said.
Nayak was the first time a Hindi film incorporated action choreographed in the style of south Indian films. It was technologically advanced too. Who can forget a mud-smeared Shivaji Rao fighting the goons at the car junkyard? The famous 3D action scene was highly conceptualised and edited. IT was the first time an Indian movie was using CGI and 36 cameras simultaneously to film a single scene.
Anil was initially uncomfortable going shirtless. He even refused to shave off his body hair for the shot. That’s when Shankar decided to cover him in mud. The actor went on to workout at the gym for over six months to get the right body shape. “I remember the fight scenes, each of which felt like a film in its own. Back then we did not have the technology that we have now so it was all raw hard work and choreography,” Anil told HT confessing that the particular fight scene was challenging and new to him.
Nayak continues to stay relevant because of the issues it raised. Be it black marketing of ration supplies or stealing of electricity at the system’s basic hierarchy level, problems have persisted for generations in our democracy. We did get some real-life politicians who reminded us of Shivaji Rao, but the risk of bringing these problems to fore undertaken by Nayak back then, is worth taking note.
Just to add, the protagonist’s name – Shivaji Rao was based on Rajinikanth’s real name – Shivaji Rao Gaekwad. That’s because when the film was first written as Mudhalvan keeping the superstar in mind. Shankar decided to keep that in its Bollywood version.