Kannada’s own V.K. Murthy is one of the finest cinematographers of the country. This quiet man, who created immortal images for Guru Dutt, was felicitated in Mysore
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.”
V.K. Murthy, who worked on almost all the films of the maverick actor-director Guru Dutt (with the exception of “Baazi”), recalled his first meeting with the man. He was in Mysore at the “Divyarshmiya Anusandhana”, an interaction programme organised by Mysore Film Society at the preview theatre of Central Institute of Indian Languages in Mysore recently.
An excellent cinematographer, Murthy is still revered in film circles for his lighting techniques in “Pyaasa”, “Kaagaz Ke Phool” and “Sahib Bibi Aur Gulam”. His famous “beam shot” in the “Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam” sequence from the outstanding film “Pyasa” is considered a classic moment in celluloid history. Inspired by a light boy who was reflecting a light beam with the help of a mirror, Murthy achieved it by using a pair of ordinary mirrors. This got him the Filmfare Best Cinematographer Award for 1959.
Unfortunately, Kannada film industry has failed to make use of his talents, with the exception of Rajendra Singh Babu, who had Murthy work with him in “Hoovu Hannu”, a classic in Kannada cinema.
He has created some of the most magnificent works of the black and white era of Indian films. While he was being trained in London to work on colour films, he worked with the crew of “The Guns of Navarone”.
Murthy then worked with Kamaal Amrohi on his masterpiece “Pakeezah” and “Razia Sultana”. In the later years of his career, he worked with directors like Pramod Chakraborthy (“Ziddi”, “Love in Tokyo” “Naya Zamana”), Shyam Benegal (“Bharath Ek Khoj”, “Antarnaad”) and Govind Nihalani (“Tamas”)
Born in Mysore, Venkatarama Pandit Krishnamurthy, studied in Lakshmipuram School and learnt violin, where he chose music as his option. Attracted by the visual media, he deserted his studies and went to Bombay. “Maharana Pratap” was the first film he worked and “Jaal” was his first cinematographical venture. Fali Mistry was his guru. For old timers in the film industry, he is “Kutti” and just Murthy to his friends. For his admirers, he is “Murthy saab”. He was instrumental in promoting Mysore Association in Mumbai.
For many of those, who assembled in the preview theatre to live those nostalgic moments of great cinema days with V.K. Murthy, it was like reliving those glorious films all over again. The audience, most of whom who couldn’t get over the climax shot in “Pyaasa”, rained praises on him. But the humble Murthy saab, attributed everything to his very dear friend, Guru Dutt.
Describing Guru Dutt as a great director and as a very creative one, he said: “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 quarrelled 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 he we worked harmoniously.”
On whether “Kaagaz Ka Phool” was autobiographical, Murthy 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, along with some production staff I would run to his house and rush him to the hospital. The third time we did this, we couldn’t save him, he died. During his last days, he was very tense and people preferred to stay away from him.”
Reacting to bringing back black and white films in colour, like the “Mughal-E- Azam” experiment, he said “any attempt of the kind is just like changing a Tyagaraja Keerthane. It is difficult to get the lyrical quality of black and white in colour.”