Wednesday, August 18, 2010


V.K. Murthy is the first Cinematographer to be chosen for the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award-2008 on Jan. 19, 2010. Born in Mysore in the year 1923, he obtained his Diploma in Cinematography from Sri Jayachamarajendra Polytechnic, Bangalore, in 1946. Having spent nearly five decades in Mumbai, the ace cinematographer was the cameraman for all of Guru Dutt’s movies and is now settled in Bangalore.

Star of Mysore caught up with the octogenarian (Venkataramana Pandit Krishna Murthy) on Saturday when he visited his Alma Mater, Sarada Vilas College in city to participate in the Independence Day celebrations.

"I am neither a politician nor a good speaker, I don’t know to speak well....." said the 87-year-old Murthy going back to his student days and the freedom struggle movement.

SOM: What made you join freedom struggle?

V.K. Murthy (VKM): Among the fondest of my childhood memories was the inspiration I derived from Mahatma Gandhi. India was fighting for its freedom and Gandhiji was a constant source of inspiration for many youths like me. I still vividly remember being arrested and sent to jail. In fact I remember that day so well as if the canvas has been just there in front of me.

SOM: ... and you found yourself in jail! How did it happen?

VKM: In my student days I was very enthusiastic. I was ready to do anything for the nation. During 1942 Quit India Movement, Tulasidas Dasappa and H.Y. Sharada Prasad were arrested one day. The next day sheepishly I along with a group of some 65 students on a cycle went in front of the Police Chowki (jail) shouting, 'Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai, Bharath Matha Ki Jai.'

The guard standing near the jail entrance stopped and told us to meet the Jail Superintendent. I replied that we are not his slaves and instead asked him to come and meet us. The Jail Superintendent came out and requested, 'Please come inside.' The anti-climax was that when I turned to seek my supporters, there were only thirteen left ! And we entered the jail. I was thinking they would release us by evening, but we were kept inside prison for three months. The Jail Superintendent, an Indian named Sheshu Iyer, was a kind-hearted person who often got us eatables and coffee. He even took us to Indra Bhavan on our way to the Court where we were taken once in 15 days. By the time I was released I had put on 5 pounds weight.

SOM: What was your childhood like...?

VKM: Life was an uphill task, almost freedom struggle for me. My father was a retired Ayruveda Doctor getting a pension of Rs.30. I lost my parents quite early in life. I was lucky to have caring relatives and friends who supported me till I began earning on my own. The going wasn’t that easy. My hobby was to play violin and I was so good at it that I scored 175 out of 200 in the examination. I started teaching students. I took classes for 216 students at a time, for which I got a mere Rs. 9. I spent this money for my studies. I later did a course in cinematography, which benefited me a lot in the industry.

SOM : When did you first go to Bombay?

VKM: I went to Bombay in 1943 when the Quit India Movement was at its peak. I didn’t exactly know where my life was heading. In initial days I played violin for movies. During my third year of Cinematography course, the Institute where I was studying offered us the chance of visiting either Madras or Bombay Studios. I preferred to go to Bombay. I was sent to Prakash Studios which had produced several movies based on mythology, the prominent being Ram Rajya, a popular movie during those times. I used to watch a lot of English movies in 1946-1982.

SOM: So how did you finally become a cinematographer?

VKM: I didn't exactly know where my life was heading, when in 1946 I got a break in Jayant Desai's Maharana Pratap where I assisted cinematographer Dronacharya. Then one day I saw Amrapali and was amazed by Fali Mistry's photography which was as good as English films. Here is where my luck helped me. I had played the violin for some music directors too, and when I went inside the studio to collect my money, I was told that Fali Saab was looking for me. I worked with him for about 5 years.

SOM: Your life took a turn after you met Guru Dutt. Right?

VKM: Meeting Guru Dutt was a radical change in my life. How I met him itself was a chance happening. I first met Guru Dutt while working for Famous Studios as an assistant cameraman. Dev Anand's Navketan Films had hired the studio to make Baazi. I suggested a difficult shot, which Guru Dutt said his cameraman would not be able to execute. I requested him to give me a chance to take the shot and I could do it. After the day’s pack up, he asked me if we could work together.

SOM: What was it like working with Guru Dutt?

VKM: Working with him was a terrific experience. He worked on serious subjects, the intellectual kind of work. He was hesitant to face the camera as an actor, but he did so at my insistence. I was sure because he understood the roles so well. I remember once while we were scouting for locations in Baroda for Chaudhvin Ka Chand, he quoted a line from Pyaasa: Agar yeh duniya mujhe mil bhi jaye to kya hai. I asked him why he said that suddenly and he said, 'Mujhe waise he lag raha hai. Dekho na, mujhe Director banna tha, Director ban gaya; actor banna tha, actor ban gaya; picture achcha banane tha, ache bane. Paisa hai, sab kuch hai, par kuch bhi nahi raha…’

SOM: His death must have been a terrible loss for you?

VKM: Yes, after Guru Dutt’s death in 1964, I worked with several other Directors but working with Dutt Saab will always be a special experience. My last film was with a Kannada director after which I quit rather than wait to be thrown out.

SOM: Kagaz Ke Phool failed in box-office yet it won accolades for its cinematography.

VKM: Not everybody can become a photographer. I was the cinematographer for the first 75mm cinemascope movie, Kagaz Ke Phool which also happened to be the debut directorial venture of Guru Dutt. I tried this as Guru Dutt was encouraging me to do something new. Around that time, 20th Century Fox of US was visiting India and had accidentally left behind two cinemascope lenses, better known as Anamorphic lens.

I tried those lenses on a camera and took the pictures of Geeta Dutt (wife of Guru Dutt). I found some noticeable difference. It was then we decided to do the movie in Cinemascope and completed it successfully. Unfortunately when the film was released, the response was poor, but surprisingly today this movie is a subject for those who learn Cinematography.

SOM: What do you have to say to the aspiring cinematographers?

VKM: It is a very tough job. Cinematography is both an art and science. Keep watching movies, but at the same time also observe the facial expressions of the actors and the locales where the film is shot. Try to understand the kind of lighting and visual depth they are using.

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