AT THE INAUGURATION of the Apeejay Literary Festival in Kolkata this January, as visitors flitted around keynote speaker Shyam Benegal, festival director Maina Bhagat took her 49-year-old son across to say hello to the filmmaker. “You haven’t changed at all, sir,” said Nikhil Bhagat, a wide, boyish smile peeling years off his face. Trim and youthful-looking, Bhagat himself hadn’t changed all that much since 1985, when he played a small but important part in one of Benegal’s finest films, Trikal.
Bhagat’s star had shone briefly in the firmament of 1980s parallel cinema. His only other feature film appearance had been in 1984, in Prakash Jha’s Hip Hip Hurray, as the rebellious football player Raghu, locking horns with a discipline-seeking sports coach. But an entry on the Times of India blog notes that he “induced nationwide hysterical squeals from pretty young things” after that film. Aged just 20, he was nominated for a Filmfare award for best supporting actor, losing to the more experienced Anil Kapoor. Today, it is difficult to find a photo of Bhagat online.
Having coincidentally watched both films recently, and perhaps swayed by filmi narratives myself, I had wondered if there was a tragic story behind his disappearance from the industry. But these notions dissolved that evening in Kolkata. Bhagat, still strikingly handsome, seemed very comfortable in his own skin. Speaking with him then, and on the phone later, I got the impression he was unused to being interviewed, and that his movie career had been more a result of chance than a deep desire to be in the spotlight.