indian cinema heritage foundation

Nitish Bharadwaj

  • Born: 2 June, 1963
  • Primary Cinema: Hindi
  • Parents: Janardan C Upadhye, Sadhana Upadhye
  • Spouse: Monisha Patil (divorced), Smita Gate
  • Children: Arrush, India, Devyani, Shivranjani

Synonymous with Lord Krishna, Nitish Bharadwaj has played the beloved deity and other avatars of Vishnu on the small screen in serials such as Mahabharata, Shri Krishna, Geeta Rahasya, Vishnu Purana and Mana Hai Hai Vishwas. He is also a theatre actor and director, screenwriter and producer, and has essayed leading roles in Marathi films such as Khatyal Sasu Nathal Soon (1987), Nasheebwan (1988), Anapekshit (1990), Pasanta Ahe Mulgi (1989), the Hindi film Trishagni (1988) and the Malayalam film Njan Gandharvan (1991), as well as key roles in Mohenjo Daro (2016) and Kedarnath (2018). He made his debut as a director with the Marathi film Pitruroon (2013), which was well-received by audiences and critics, and also won the Maharashtra State Film Award as the second-Best Director of 2013. He has also been a former Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha. 

He was born 2 June, 1963 to Janardan C Upadhye, a Senior Advocate of Bombay High Court and labour lawyer, and Sadhana Upadhye, who was the Head of the Marathi Literature department of Wilson College, Mumbai. She was also an exponent of the Bhagvad Geeta and Dnyaneshwari, which Nitish absorbed from a young age. After completing his schooling, he acquired a degree in Veterinary Science in 1983. Inclined towards acting since his college days, he acted and directed many plays. He also trained in a children’s theatre organisation called Little Theatre. He came to realise that one discovers oneself after every new play, and decided that acting was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. 

His acting career started in Marathi theatre, training under veterans such as Sudha Karmakar, Dr Kashinath Ghanekar and Prabhakar Panshikar. Moving on to professional Marathi theatre with Sai Paranjapye, he also explored the wider realm of Hindi theatre thanks to his good friend Ravi Baswani, who introduced him to Dinesh Thakur. Bhardwaj was inducted by Thakur into the latter’s Ankh, and performed in many of his plays till 1987. In more recent times, Bhardwaj essayed Lord Krishna in the Hindi mythological play Chakravyuh, which depicts Abhimanyu's martyrdom, and brings out various issues relevant to today's times. It was one of the most successful plays of Hindi theatre. He also performed in a musical, Moti Roti Patli Chunni (1993) with the UK’s well-known Theatre Royal Stratford East. The play bagged the London Time Out Dance & Performance Award, and also toured Britain and Canada. 

In 1987 Bhardwaj made his debut in films acting in the Marathi film Khatyal Sasu Nathal Soon, followed by Nasheebwan, Anapekshit, and Pasanta Ahe Mulgi. He debuted in Hindi films in 1988 with Trishagni, directed by Nabendu Ghosh. The film was based on a historical short story inspired by Buddha's Fire Sermon, set some time after the Asokan Missions, Moru O Sangho written by Saradindu Bandopadhyay. It also starred Nana Patekar, Pallavi Joshi and Alok Nath in the lead roles. The film received critical acclaim, and was awarded the 1988 National Film Award for Best First Film of a Director, “For excellent exploration of complex philosophical theme for the first time in Indian cinema”. Other films he acted in include Sangeet (1992), Gruhpravesh (1992), Prem Daan (1991), Prem Shakti (1994), Nache Nagin Gali Gali (1991), Mahabharat Aur Barbareek (2013), Mohenjo Daro (2016), and Kedarnath (2018).

The year 1988 also saw Bhardwaj play the lead role of Lord Krishna in B R Chopra's hugely popular television series Mahabharat. Just 23 at the time, the serial made him an overnight star, with his performance winning immense love and appreciation from audiences. The serial made him the poster boy of Indian mythology, with his smiling visage adorning calendars, diaries, and notebooks and even carried along in female fans’ wallets! He went on to act in more mythologicals such as B R Chopra’s Vishnu Puran (2000) in which he played the role of Lord Vishnu and his various incarnations, B R Chopra’s Ramayan (2003) with Smriti Irani playing Seeta, Man Mein Hai Visshwas (2006-2007) for which he was the presenter, and Ajab Gajab Ghar Jamai (2014) in which he played Krishna. He was also the producer, director and co-writer of the philosophical Geeta Rahasya (1999) with Irrfan Khan. He also did a cameo in the popular TV serial Buniyaad, and featured in Apraadhi for Star TV, and a few documentary films. He also judged a Marathi dance reality show on ETV Marathi titled Jallosh Survanayugacha, along with Sudha Chandran and Ramesh Deo.

Bhardwaj debuted as a film director in 2013 with the Marathi film Pitruroon. Starring Tanuja, Suhas Joshi and Sachin Khedekar, it was based on a novella by Sudha Murthy. The film explored the pain and anxiety of cherished secrets and unfulfilled desires. Critically acclaimed, it received many nominations and awards, also bagging Bharadwaj the prestigious Maharashtra State Film Award as the second-Best Director of 2013. 

Venturing into radio, Bhardwaj did two radio shows for BBC Radio 4 (London, UK), namely Bhagvad Geeta and Ramayan. His work in the latter, Ramayan won him a nomination for the Sony Radio award in the UK in 1995. In recent times, he ventured into the OTT space, featuring in the webseries Samantar (2020). 

On the strength of his popularity garnered by his Lord Krishna avatar onscreen, Bharadwaj contested the parliamentary elections from Jamshedpur in Jharkhand and Rajgarh in Madhya Pradesh as a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate. He was elected to the Lok Sabha as a Member of Parliament from Jamshedpur in 1996, defeating Inder Singh Namdhari. Bhardwaj lost to Laxman Singh, brother of then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijaya Singh, from Rajgarh constituency in the 1999 Lok Sabha election. He also worked in BJP's organisational unit of Madhya Pradesh and was also its Spokesperson for a while, till he voluntarily retired from active politics.

In 2002, he co-authored a book, In Quest of God – A Journey to Mansarovar. He also held the post of Chairman of the Board of Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation from 2004-2005. 

Bhardwaj married Monisha Patil, daughter of erstwhile editor of Femina magazine, Vimla Patil, in 1991. They had two children – Arrush and India. They divorced in 2005. Bhardwaj married Smita Gate, an IAS officer from Madhya Pradesh cadre in 2009. They have twin daughters, Devyani and Shivaranjani. 

  • Filmography (1)