One after another, in succession, he worked as an assistant director in five movies and none of them could see the light of the day. Struggling for a proper meal and accommodation in Mumbai, he wrote a letter to his father, informing him that he couldn't take it anymore and was coming back to his hometown. Father wrote back stating in clear terms not to come back. "You have dreamt of bollywood right from the childhood. How can you leave your hopes so soon?"
That was in 1982. Shivam Nair has traveled a long way since then. Director of movies such as 'Ahista Ahista' and 'Maharathi', Shivam has a rich repertoire of work in TV Industry as an executive producer of several Marathi and Gujarati serials and director of hugely popular serial 'Sea hawks'.
A far cry from the days as an awestruck teenager in Palamu, Bihar, when Shivam's only source of connection to bollywood were hindi film magazines such as Mayapuri and Filmi Duniya. "I was a great fan of Shatrughan Sinha and Mumtaz," says Shivam who had made a huge collage of Shatrughan Sinha at his home.
"There was no TV in those days and watching a film in cinema hall was a strict no-no from parents. I use to save some money I use to get from mothe
r for buying rations and grocery items. On the pretext of attending school, I use to watch the latest releases of Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz during noon shows. However, I could watch a film only till interval and never managed to watch a complete film as school timings use to get over by mid-afternoon and I had to go back home in time," reminisces Shivam about his school days. The passion for cinema grew with time and while doing graduation, Shivam left for Kolkata with a relative to check out job prospects. "The real motive was to meet Satyajit Ray," says Shivam who had decided to leave his studies and join the legendary film-maker to learn direction. He did manage to meet Ray but the film-maker politely asked him to complete his graduation first. Disillusioned, Shivam then knocked the doors of Mrinal Sen, another celebrated film-maker. "Mrinal was ready to take me as an assistant but he said I won't be paid a single penny. I couldn't have survived in Kolkata without taking money from home so I returned to Palamu. I wanted to earn good money for myself so after finishing my graduation, I headed for Mumbai," says Shivam. He stayed in a railway quarters lodge in Bandra and befriended some guys staying in the same place who were assisting other directors. After six months of running around, Shivam finally got a break as a third assistant director in a Bhojpuri film. The film couldn't make it to theatres. Shivam didn't waste time and joined another film unit but the shooting was shelved. Finally he got a chance as a chief assistant director in a Konkani film to be shot in Goa. "That's where I met my wife who had come there with bunch of girls for holiday. High on romance I worked hard with a renewed vigor and learned all the aspects of film-making such as camera shots, use of lights, editing, budgeting etc." Shivam got married and moved in with his wife in Mumbai. But professional woes continued as this film also remained in the can and couldn't see the light of the day. "That was the worst phase of my life. Few months later, my wife was to be operated upon for some ailment and I had no money. I hadn't informed my family about the marriage so asking for financial help was out of question. I approached the producer of the first film (Bhojpuri), Janak Mehta, asking for Rs500. He gave me the money, which covered the operation expenses. I kept on looking for work but started avoiding Janak Mehta as I had no money to repay his loan. Finally, he caught up with me, and to my surprise, he asked me to work for him to repay the money." Those days TV had arrived and doordarshan was flooded with serials. Janak, who had a production company called Media Classic, wanted to make serials. Shivam prepared a proposal for a Marathi serial and submitted it to Mumbai doordarshan. The serial was approved. "I became the executive producer and we went on air in 1987 with a serial called 'Gotiyan'. For the first time after arriving in Mumbai, I entered into the most constructive phase of my life. I learned all the aspects of TV production and assembled a team of professionals. Within a year, Media Classic had five serials (Gujarati and Marathi) running on air." Early 90's were the days of video films and satellite channels. In 1991, Media Classics made a highly acclaimed video film called 'Raman Raghav' with Shriram Raghvan who was an award winning FTII graduate. The film was technically very good and received positive feedback from the industry and critics. Shivam, so far, had been an executive producer, and was itching to become a director. "I knew this was the time to plunge into direction and I expressed my desire to Janak Mehta. He agreed." Shivam went on to direct three highly acclaimed thrillers in video format. They were: Ranga Billa, Auto Shankar, and Feroz Daruwalla. "I was the executive producer, writer, director, and editor for all these films," says Shivam. And the effort didn't go waste. He started getting calls from other production houses and channels to direct their shows. "In 96-97, I got associated with UTV and directed their popular serials such as Sea Hawks, Saturday Suspense, Ankahi etc." Shivam became a name to reckon with in TV industry as a top director but the satisfaction of directing a film still eluded him. "I had decided to direct a film based on Anurag kashyap's script called Informer. But somehow the project couldn't take off." Shivam was resigned to take up TV projects. The big break came finally in 2005 when Imtiyaz Ali (writer-director, Jab We Met) met Shivam with his script of 'Ahista Ahista'. The film got released in 2006 but didn't do well at box-office. Even his recent release 'Maharathi' in 2008 didn't exactly set the cash registers ringing. Ask Shivam about the box-office failures and he says, "I have certainly grown in experience. Commercial bollywood cinema has its own grammar. So far I have made films on scripts written by others. Henceforth I will direct a film only after developing it with a writer. I think it's very important for a director to get involved right from the scripting stage as I used to do in TV serials. The involvement at script stage brings lot of conviction in me while directing these scenes." Shivam's next film is 'Exchange Offer' with Rahul Bose and Esha Deol. A fan of Martin Scorsese films, Shivam lists 'Cinema Paradise', 'Life is Beautiful', and 'Bicycle Thief', as his favorites. Ask him to advise aspiring directors and he says, "A director should also be a writer and know how to write a script, which is the backbone for any film now. Technical craft such as camera angles, set design, and lights are all secondary." So much for a boy, who once diligently searched and dug out the address of Shyam Benegal from Mayapuri magazine and had written a letter to him expressing his desire to assist him. Did he reply? "Oh yes! He suggested me FTII," chuckles Shivam who still treasures his father's letter as a source of inspiration.