My friend and colleague T K Desai expired in the morning of Jan 6, 2007 at his Bandra home, leaving behind his wife, 3 daughters and 2 sons.
T K Desai was a film ‘art director’ in Bombay’s film industry, now known as bollywood. He was a very sought after and popular person, easy to work and deal with. For a very long period he was mainly known to be a Navketan-man; just as I was, for a few years. He was much senior to me, though. He studied in the premier. J J School of Arts, Mumbai. After finishing his education he joined M R Acharekar’s art school as a faculty for a brief period. Mr. Acharekar was art director with India’s leading film production RK Films and Studios. So naturally TKD joined him in this field too and did many films of RK camp, as an assistant, set painter, property assistant etc. He worked in movies like, Jagte Raho, Shree 420, Dil Hi To Hai, Anari, Ab Dilli Dur Nahin. He was also associated with films like Amrapali, Kohra and Chaudhvin Ka Chand. In 1963 still an assistant, he entered Navketan camp, in Vijay Anand’s ‘Tere Ghar Ke Samne’. In 1965 he got his break as an independent ‘art director’ in Amarjeet’s ‘Teen Devian’. In Jewel Thief his work was hailed. He won Filmfare awards for Kohra (B&W) and Des Pardes.
My association with him started in 1972, when I was a recording-assistant in Gogi Anand’s film ‘Darling Darling’. On the sets T K Desai’s energy bowled me over. He seemed to have solutions to every requirement on the set. TKD was a very short man with a pronounced belly. His nose was very large and disfigured. He could be considered fairly ugly in this field of predominantly pretty and handsome. But no one including himself had any time to give it a vaguest of thoughts. TKD must have been one of the busiest and popular art directors of his time in Bombay.
Well TKD would be the person with whom I worked on maximum number of films. We both were parts of Navketan; including most of its sister concerns. I would imagine that out of my measly 30 odd films, TKD and my credits must have shared the screen time in 15 of them.
During ‘Ishq Ishq Ishq’ we spent a whole lot of time together in Nepal. After coming back from Nepal, I too was considered to be a part of Navketan camp. Dev Saab and Navketan were heady with the success of Hare Ram Hare Krishna. His last release Heera Panna’s soft landing on the box office did not affect spirits of the camp. So, many movies were lined up in which we both worked together. Overlapping production of films like Des Pardes, Jaaneman, Loot Maar, Bullet, Kalabaaz etc made us meet every day for many years. That is a lot of interaction. There were more films to follow. We went for an outdoor shooting to Nainital for Kalabaaz and to Coorg for Anand Aur Anand. I remember at Coorg after a few drinks he got a little aggressive with me. He was showing off with his strength on me by hugging me very tight. In defense I managed to lift him; but could not put him down straight. Due to this he fell down. Later in the morning there were a lot of ‘sorry sorry’ and it was all wiped off the slate with ‘good morning’.
My last film with TKD was ‘Kaun Ho Sakta Hai’, which was shot entirely in Lonavala. I worked as a Production Designer in this film. This gave me a chance to work with him, in his own department. Due to this, instead of meeting only during free times we met during work too. I did get some valuable production insights by watching his way of working. At 78, he was energetic, able to think fast and provide alternates to create the required effect on screen. We went for walks during our free times. He was advised some form of exercise to keep fit. He would walk very slowly, but walk for an entire hour. I noticed walking slower made my muscles ache more than walking at my regular speed. He was very fond of flora. It was rainy season. So every corner of this hill station looked fresh and green. He would stop and look at wild flowers and plants and talk about them, sometimes even pick them up to take them back home. He also told me stories about his career, family and life in general. We were meeting in this film after nearly 20 years. There were a lot of gaps in my information regarding him and his career, which I was happy I was able to fill up…
On the morning of Jan 23, I along with Hersh Kohli went to meet TKD’s grieving family nearly two weeks after he had expired. I had come to know about his death very late. But as soon as knew it, I wanted to visit his place. His daughter opened the door for us and offered us seats. In a short while TKD’s very pretty wife appeared, sat near her husband’s enlarged photograph and sobbed softly. While his daughter filled us with details, “he was chatting with the family till 2.30am, he went to the toilet early morning, came out complaining of discomfort, collapsing on the bed, someone running to call the doctor from opposite house and… doctor pronouncing him ‘no more’. She said it was a very severe heart attack and in a matter of 5 minutes he was no more. Lucky, he did not have to suffer.” I totally agree with the lady. I too am happy he did not suffer.
Before leaving TKD’s house, I put my specks on, went to the blow up of his photograph and took a long hard look at his face smiling from behind a garland of fresh flowers. He wore his familiar cap and expression. As a comforting gesture I touched his wife’s shoulders. In response she sobbed a little louder. We said Namaste to all and slowly stepped out…
With this, the formalities were over and then started a mental test for me. Am I going to visit them ever again? I started questioning myself. Was it the usual ‘show your face’ show or will it have more depth? Will I be breaking my friendship with TKD just because he is dead or I should make plans to keep it going? Only the time will tell.
I came home and phoned Mrs. Desai to speak to her, to start a dialogue; but she was not yet out of her depression. She gave me the phone number of TKD’s assistant Ramesh, to get any information that I may be looking for. Ramesh spoke at length, “after working for nearly 50 years in this line, no one from any production house came to see TKD when he died. He was totally bitter about the ways of this ruthless film industry. He was cremated and even after all the other ceremonies were over; no one called up.” He was very bitter about Dev Saab too. “TKD worked all his life in Navketan, at least someone could have come to pay condolences from there or Dev Saab’s behalf. He used bad-words for the association of art directors, who did not bother to send any representative when he passed away.” TKD as I said earlier was very popular among film producers, very technical, artistic, and excellent team member. But when he died he was not in the big league. He was so humble a man that no one felt any compulsion to visit his dwelling to console the family – including me.