Childhood & Early Career
Nanabhai Bhatt was born Yeshwant Bhatt, on June 12, 1915, in Porbandar (modern-day Gujarat), British India. He was the second-born child in the family and grew up with an older brother named Balwant Bhatt.
Balwant Bhatt grew up to be a sound recordist and worked at ‘Prakash Pictures.’ Nanabhai was inspired by him and started working as his brother’s assistant.
Nanabhai observed the entire filmmaking process and soon became more interested in filmmaking. He began writing scripts and stories for feature films, using the alias “Batuk Bhatt.”
He was 27 when he first exhibited his interest in directing films. By then, he was working for Homi Wadia’s production house, ‘Basant Pictures.’ After writing many stories and screenplays for the company, he eventually donned the director’s hat for the 1942 film ‘Muqabala.’
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Nanabhai made his directorial debut with the film ‘Muqabala,’ which released in 1942. He co-directed the film with Babubhai Mistri. It was the first Indian film to portray a tale of identical twins, which later became a highly used plot device in Indian films. Fearless Nadia played the leading double role in the film, and it was a big critical and commercial success. Nanabhai was credited as “Batuk Bhatt.”
After a successful beginning to his directorial career, Nanabhai co-directed another film with Mistri. The film, titled ‘Mauj,’ was released in 1943.
After becoming sure of his talent as a director, Homi Wadia allowed Nanabhai to direct his next film all by himself. Titled ‘Hunterwali ki Beti,’ the film starred Fearless Nadia yet again. The film was a sequel to the 1935 film ‘Hunterwali,’ which had Nadia playing the lead role.
Nanabhai started his own production house, named ‘Deepak Pictures,’ in 1946. The first film that was released under his newly established production house was the 1946 movie ‘Maa Baap Ki Laaj.’
The 1949 film ‘Shaukeen’ was the last film that Nanabhai directed under the alias “Batuk Bhatt.” Following this, he used his real name, “Nanabhai Bhatt,” in the credits of all his films.
He had a highly successful career as a film director. However, most of his films did not star any well-known movie star of that time, and all of his movies were budgeted moderately.
In 1949, he directed the film ‘Veer Ghatotkach,’ which was based on a mythological character from the ancient Indian epic ‘Mahabharata.’ The film also marked the beginning of a string of films based on Indian mythologies that Nanabhai would go on to make.
Over the next few years, Nanabhai directed multiple films per year. In 1950, he released films such as ‘Veer Babruwahan,’ ‘Janmashtami,’ and ‘Hamara Ghar.’ Of the three, the first two were mythological films. He had apparently found a strong crowd-pulling element in such films, and throughout the decade, he made many such mythological films.
He released four films in 1951, namely, ‘Lav Kush,’ ‘Ram Janma,’ ‘Daman,’ and ‘Lakshmi Narayan.’ Of the four, three were based on Hindu mythology.
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He changed his preferred genre slightly in 1952 and released two films, ‘Sinbad Jahazi’ and ‘Baghdad,’ both of which were fantasy films based on Arabic folk tales. With that, he became a pioneer filmmaker in the Hindi film industry, who explored multiple genres.
However, he continued to experiment with genres throughout his life. In the mid- and late 1950s, he directed films such as ‘Mr. X,’ ‘Kismet,’ ‘Ustad,’ and ‘Madam XYZ.’
In the 1960s, he directed films such as ‘Bhootnath,’ ‘Naag Rani,’ ‘Baghdad ki Raatein,’ ‘Rocket Girl,’ and ‘Teen Ustad.’ He was practically one of the busiest film directors during the 1950s and the 1960s. In the 1970s, however, he slowed down a bit.
He did not direct any film in the early 1970s but made a comeback in 1974, with the film titled ‘Jeevan Rekha.’ He then made ‘Balak aur Janwar in 1975 and ‘Dharti Mata’ in 1976.
By then, the Hindi film industry had seen the arrival of many big stars and film directors. Hence, Nanabhai’s style of filmmaking started to appear outdated. This was one of the reasons behind his last few directorial ventures going unnoticed.
In the early 1980s, when it seemed to him that the Hindi film industry was not his place anymore, he moved to his native state of Gujarat, in an attempt to revive his sinking film career. He released two Gujarati films, titled ‘Jaya Parvati Vrat’ and ‘Gajara Maru,’ during this time. However, both the films failed at the box office and did not gain any recognition. He quit film direction after 1982.
He returned to the industry in 1985, this time as a producer, releasing the film ‘Kabzaa.’ It was the first film of his that starred major actors, namely, Sanjay Dutt and Raj Babbar. The film was written by Salim Khan and directed by his son Mahesh Bhatt. Although it failed to create a big impact at the box office, it received positive reviews from critics. Following this, Nanabhai took a permanent break from films.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Nanabhai Bhatt was married to Hemlata Bhatt. However, he had a notorious affair with a Gujarati Muslim woman named Shirin Mohammad Ali in the 1940s. He had nine children from both his wife and mistress, including filmmakers Mahesh Bhatt and Mukesh Bhatt (with Shirin).
Mahesh Bhatt said in an interview that Nanabhai was an absentee father and rarely came to visit them. He however, paid for his illegitimate children’s education and well-being.
Nanabhai passed away from heart failure on April 24, 1999. He was 83 years old at the time of his death.