He has an enviable distinction in Oriya film industry. He has worked for 35 directors and more than 100 films in three languages - Oriya, Bengali and Hindi. His association with famed filmmakers includes Aparna Sen, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Manmohan Desai, Amol Palekar, Prasant Nanda, Biplab Roy Choudhury, Nitai Palit, Govind Tej and Raju Mishra. He has also been thrice winner of the State film award. He is acclaimed art director and production designer Nikhil Baran Sengupta - popularly known as Nikhil Da among the film fraternity. Based in Bhubaneswar now following his graceful retirement from the film industry a few years ago, this pioneer was born in pre-independent India’s Chittagong town - now in Bangladesh - but Cuttack was his home for most of his creative life. He had his schooling at the Ranihat High School in Cuttack. He later studied science in Ravenshaw College but his heart was with the world of art - his childhood fascination and passion - that took him to Kolkata to study art in Government College of Art, there. Upon completion of the course, Nikhil Baran joined a number of theatre groups of Kolkata as an actor. He then moved to Ahmedabad to work as a textiles designer. But he shifted to the picturesque Missouri with the dream of being a painter. He held his solo show there but the struggle for livelihood brought him to Delhi where he worked as an illustrator with a magazine. However, as he was about to settle down there, he had to be back in his home town of Cuttack to look after his family following his father’s demise.
But how did he join the film industry? ‘‘During my days in Delhi, I had befriended actors like Om Puri, Nasiruddin Shah and Bijoy Mohanty who were students at the National School of Drama. Prior to exposure in theatre during my Kolkata days, all these contributed to my growing interest in cinema. But the break came through my friend and noted cinematographer Surendra Sahoo who was impressed with my set designing for a stage play in Cuttack and offered me to act as art director in the first Oriya colour film Gapa Helebi Sata ,” recollected the self-taught art director who was later recruited by well-known Hindi filmmaker Manmohan Desai for his film Naseeb.
Winner of three State awards for art direction - H akim Baboo, Janani and Hisab Nikas - Nikhil Baran was cast in a major role in Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Bagh Bahadur besides being its art director. He was also a favourite art director for three of Aparna Sen’s films - Yugant, Paromitar Ek Din and Mr. and Mrs. Iyer. “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Oriya filmmaker Prasant Nanda’s magnum opus Sesa Srabana . Raju Mishra was another such filmmaker and cinematographer who respected the aspect of art direction. But today’s directors and producers hardly care for the relevance of art direction,” he rued.
But age has not wiped away his childhood passion for painting. “I was told by my parents that I used to paint well as a child. I have started painting again at this age and I thoroughly enjoy it. As much as I enjoyed art direction,” confided Nikhil Baran.