Though V.K. Murthy, who created magical frames for auteurs is no more, his beam shot is seared in our memory forever

He was the constant companion of director-actor, Guru Dutt. He wielded the lens for auteurs including Dutt and Kamal Amrohi and Pramod Chakravarthy. V.K. Murthy (91), passed away on Monday.

He was not a man to flaunt his achievements. Simplicity was his hallmark. Murthy also worked for Hoovu Hannu-a Kannada film directed by S.V. Rajendra Singh Babu in 1993 based on Triveni’s eponymous novel. “I asked him to create beam shot for my film too and it received accolades from critics,” Babu said. Even in his 90s, Murthy had agreed to wield the camera for a period film planned by Babu. “But, I lost an opportunity to work with him again. Unfortunately, the Kannada film industry failed to make use of his talents,” Babu commented.

Originally Murthy wanted to be an actor. He later decided to become cinematographer. “He acted in a small role in Hoovu Hannu, and proved that his acting was as good as his cinematography,” says Babu.

Murthy was born on November 26, 1923. His father Venkatarama Pandit was a practitioner of Ayurveda. He studied in various educational institutions in Mysore, including the historic Lakshmipuram Primary School. His friends called him Kutti then. When he was young, he was fond of music. His father was against him becoming a musician but relented after lot of persuasion and Murthy learnt violin.

Murthy’s father died when he was doing his SSLC and the family faced serious financial difficulties. At this juncture, he stumbled upon an advertisement of Mumbai Movietone College which claimed to teach acting and cinematography. Murthy boarded train to Mumbai only to be disappointed on reaching Mumbai when he found out the Institute was non-existent.

He returned to Mysore and took part in Quit India Movement in 1942 and was imprisoned for three months. Murthy’s friend M. N. Subbaramayya, advised him to join Jayachamarajendra Occupational Institute in Bangalore. Another friend, Srinivasan, helped Murthy financially. After completing the course, he returned to Bombay with renewed confidence.

He began his career with Maharana Pratap. He worked as an assistant to V. Ratra, who was cinematographer for Guru Dutt’s Baazi. Impressed by Murthy’s work, Dutt asked him to work on his Jaal in 1952. as independent cameramen. And the rest is history.

In his words

This correspondent interacted with Murthy on several occasions. In one of those conversation, he recalled his first meeting with Dutt.

“I met Guru Dutt for the first time while working for Famous Studios as an assistant cameraman. I suggested a difficult shot and Guru Dutt said his cameraman would not be able to execute it. I requested him to seek his cameraman’s permission for me to attempt the shot. Guru Dutt said he would allow me three takes, but I managed it in the very first take. After the day’s pack up he asked me to continue as the cameraman for his film. I told him it was not right to desert his cinematographer in the midst of the film and that I would work with him in his next film.”

Describing Dutt as a great and creative director. “It was a feast to work with him. He was a serious person and did not lose his cool unnecessarily. But like all creative people, he was very demanding of his fellow workers. We fought a couple of times, mostly because I took a lot of time for lighting. We had an argument during the making of Aar Paar. Later he explained how he was under pressure to deliver quickly in view of the failure of his last film and from then on we worked harmoniously. All credit for my success should go to Guru Dutt who not only gave me a chance to work in his films but also an opportunity to do the work I wanted. He was good at detailing but never interfered with my work though I made sure I incorporated his suggestions”

On whether Kaagaz Ka Phool was autobiographical, Murthy had said: “It looks like that, what can I do? It almost seems like he rehearsed before actually committing suicide. Whenever there was a call from his home, I would run to his house with some production staff and rush him to the hospital. The third time we did this, we couldn’t save him. During his last days, he was very tense and people preferred to stay away from him.” Reacting to trend of transforming back black and white films into colour, he said “Such attempts are like changing a Tyagaraja Keerthane. It is difficult to get the lyrical quality of black and white in colour.”

Peer speak

Mallik who worked with Murthy for over 15 films describes him as master of cinematography. “I owe my success as a cinematographer to Murthy saab”, he said. B.S. Basavaraj, who worked with him for Shikar echoes these sentiments.

Murthy’s departure from this world marks the end of a glorious chapter in India’s celluloid history. His beam shot will remain etched in our memory as long as cinema exists in this world.