Before Kal Ho Naa Ho, the name Nikhil Advani was practically unheard of.

Post-KHNH, the 30-something filmmaker is gathering accolades for his first-time effort. To get noticed for a film that has Karan Johar as its writer and producer is no easy achievement.

Bottomline: Kal Ho Naa Ho, featuring Shah Rukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan and Preity Zinta, is a success, irrespective of the controversy about its incorrect portrayal of NRIs or New York’s geographical accuracy.

Voted as the top director of 2003 by rediff.com readers, we profile the filmmaker who is riding high at the moment.


A chemistry graduate from Mumbai's St Xavier's College, Advani began his innings in the film industry as an assistant director for the television serial Naya Nukkad, followed by Sudhir Mishra’s experimental flick, Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin.

“I attribute all my learning to those nights I worked on Is Raat..., including post-production,” he says.


Phase two saw Advani make a complete shift from serious, meaningful cinema to hardcore dreamy entertainment. Karan Johar approached him to assist during his directorial debut, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.

KKHH was a superhit. Karan Johar was the next best thing to hit Bollywood, while Advani waited in the wings. During the making of KKHH, it was mutually decided Advani would direct a film for Johar’s banner, Dharma Productions.

Advani planned a terrorist thriller in his mind.


But the action film didn’t match the Johar clan’s ‘family entertainer’ sensibilities and Advani chose to assist Johar once again in the multi-budgeted, multi-starrer Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. Meanwhile, Advani also assisted Aditya Chopra during another biggie, Mohabbatein.

In retrospect, it was a good move as Advani learnt to handle pressure, lavish setups and big stars.


Both Johars and Chopras acknowledged Advani’s knack for location hunting in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Scotland, Mauraitius), K3G (England) and Mohabbatein (England). For Kal Ho Naa Ho, Advani shot in the five boroughs of New York City: Manhattan, Brookyln, Queens, Bronx and Staten Island.

Advani’s knowledge of the city, which he had never visited before Kal Ho Naa Ho happened, came from watching films made by Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron and the popular television sitcom, Sex and The City. “I have seen most films based in New York,” he says.


November 27 witnessed Advani’s long cherished dream come true. Kal Ho Naa Ho hit the theatres worldwide.

While majority of publications gave it thumbs up, a review in The New York Times said, 'a rich meal that may best be reserved for stomachs accustomed to such bountiful fare.'

But for a first timer, Nikhil Advani hasn’t done badly at all.

Don't Miss! Best of 2003!

Text: Sukanya Verma

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