Kannada cinema cinematographer BS Basavaraj awarded the Nandi Lifetime achievement award

The veteran cinematographer, who is the prodigy of VK Murthy, takes a trip down memory lane

February 05, 2024 07:06 am | Updated 11:36 am IST

BS Basavaraj

BS Basavaraj | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

History has always fascinated humanity; especially when it comes to cinema. No matter how technologically advanced the process is today, the past hold a special appeal. There seems to be something mystical about the black and white era, the manner in which the lights were used, shadow effects were created and more. A man well-versed in both old and the new techniques is none other than veteran cinematographer, BS Basavaraj, who has worked in over 120 films till date.

Not only is he a walking encyclopaedia of filmmaking, he also has the rare experience of working with both old and new techniques.

Basavaraj who was awarded the Nandi Lifetime Achievement Award recently, started off his film journey at the age of 17, and was mentored by legendary cinematographer VK Murthy. Coming from a family where, “Most of my cousins were into medicine and engineering, I too was expected to follow suit. But, the very thought of having a stethoscope hanging around my neck or carrying a T board and working in a government job for life, sounded like drudgery,” says Basavaraj, who adds that he was always enthralled by the world of art.

“I would make sketches, paint and would take off to watch plays in my hometown of Kittur. In those days, theatre was huge in small towns. We would see theatre companies like Gubbi Veeranna or Subbaiah Naidu camp in town for six months and stage shows in the evenings. We could get monthly passes to watch every play they performed. Their comedies were brilliant, especially the ones with actors Narasimharaju, Balakrishna and GV Iyer. Their acting would keep us in splits!”

Basavaraj shares that he would skip school to watch the actors at rehearsals and then watch them again on stage. “It was the creation, preparation and final presentation that fascinated me,” says the octogenarian. “All this lured me to the world of cinema. I also believe that art is inherent in each of us, no matter what we do or where we come from.”

Basavaraj says his preoccupation with theatre resulted in his failing his class XII exams and he was sent off to Bengaluru to complete his backlogs at National College, Basavanagudi. It was during his stay in Bengaluru, that he started dabbling in painting and photography as a serious hobby.

“I had a relative who had leased out his theatre and he had a pass where he could watch any film at any time. Needless to say, I made good use of his pass. Around the same time, I had a neighbour who was an artist and I started making portraits with him,” says the cinematographer, adding that the combination of both, triggered the thought of becoming a cinematographer.

With his mentor and guide VK Murthy

With his mentor and guide VK Murthy | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“When I watched films and painted, the colours and the play of lights fascinated me. By then my family had given up all hopes of me becoming a doctor or an engineer. My sister who was sent to talk sense into me told me that if I wanted to pursue cinematography, I should join a college and learn it properly.”

“I asked around and learnt that SJ Polytechnic (SJP) had a course in cinematography. I applied and was selected,” says the man, who also was a press photographer for a Kannada magazine Thayi Nadu and Indian Express for a short while. “I would cycle around and take photographs for them, sometimes even sports images and would get paid ₹5 or ₹10 per picture,” laughs Basavaraj, who had actors such as Senthil Kumar (Jupiter Films) and Sreenath as his peers in SJP and Govind Nihalani as his senior.

Once he was done with his studies at SJP, “I was again at a crossroads. What do I do next and whom do I work with? That was when Sethil gave me Kodak Krisha’s number in Mumbai and asked me to meet him. I asked Krishna to connect me with Fali Mistry (Guide cinematographer), but he said he already had 14 boys training under him and it was impossible to take on any more. Next, we contacted Dwarka Divecha (Sholay cinematographer), but he too had many assistants.”

On the sets with Puttanna Kanagal

On the sets with Puttanna Kanagal | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“Dejected, we were just sitting around thinking about our next move, when a manager from the film set Tumse Accha Kaun Hai walked in. The film was yet to go on the floors and VK Murthy was the cinematographer. I was asked to connect with Murthy, who asked me to meet him at his residence in Sion. We spoke in Kannada and he was thrilled as he also was an alumni of SJP. Murthy was from the 1943 batch while I passed out in 1964. The very next day, I was at the shooting location, working as his apprentice.”

Basavaraj went on to work not just with VK Murthy — from K Bhagyaraj’s film Suvarilladha Chitrangal, Puttanna Kanagal’s Manasa Sarovara and Hosaneeru directed by KV Jayaram to Ravana Rajya with Nagabharana, Basavaraj has worked with most of the actors and directors in the the Kannada and Tamil film industries.

With director Bhagavan (centre)

With director Bhagavan (centre) | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

He credits all his success to his “teacher, mentor and guide” VK Murthy. “In those days, we did not have the technical or technological facilities that we have today. So filmmakers took time to make a film, taking close to two years to complete shooting. Murthy is one man whose work left a strong imprint on my mind. Even today, no matter what I do, I lean on what I have learnt from him,” he says.

Basavaraj, who had earlier made a 15- minute documentary Drishya Garudiga, on the life and works of VK Murthy, is organising a festival in Murthy’s honour in Bengaluru this March, along with his contemporaries in the industry.

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