Limelight is on him at last

Limelight is on him at last

Phalke award: Master cinematographer gets his due

Limelight is on him at last

V K Murthy at his residence with daughter Chhaya (left)and biographer Uma Rao in Bangalore on Tuesday. dh Photo

Murthy, the first ever technician to win the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke award in its history, had dreamt of such a reception, not for his work as a cinematographer, but as an actor.

So, how did he feel about winning the prestigious award?

“I was surprised at first. Someone gave me the news in the afternoon and I turned round to ask, ‘What did you say?’ It is good. I am happy. A positive thing has happened for the first time.”

To make it big as a hero, 14-year-old Murthy ran away from his Lakshmipuram home in Mysore to Bombay. He soon came back to Bangalore - to be a student of the very first batch of cinematography at the Sri Jayachamarajendra Polytechnic.

At the behest of Lakshminarayan, the principal, he returned to Bombay to do his apprenticeship. In his spare time he chose to play the violin, compose music for and act in plays staged by the local cultural associations, his efforts bringing him Natak Academy awards.

Meantime, the trained cameraman assisted many stalwarts, including Fali Mistry. Says Murthy, “As a cameraman, Fali Mistry has been a great influence. He was the person who inspired me. When he took to photography, he took me as an assistant.”

After working from morning till evening the first day, Mistry took the young man aside and told him, “Murthy, 23 assistants have worked with me till today. You are the 24th and you are the best.” “Only one day’s work and he says I am the best! I don’t  know whether I am the best. I don’t call myself the best, either. One can never feel he’s done good work.”

Murthy’s association with Gurudutt started in ‘Baazi’, where the former was an assistant cameraman. When Guru wanted a tricky shot, the young cameraman gave his opinion and shot the same. An impressed Guru promised young Murthy that he would be cameraman for all his films, beginning with ‘Jaal’ - a promise cut short by Gurudutt’s untimely death.

During the making of ‘Mr and Mrs 55’, the story goes that Gurudutt, who was shooting on a tight budget, asked Murthy to hurry things up. Murthy complied, only to collapse in tears. Gurudutt then had to assure the cameraman that he would make him the hero in one of his films some day. That film was ‘Kagaz ke Phool’. After the film was screened, it is said that Shammi Kapoor demanded to see the cameraman and then praised his work. It is another matter that Murthy got the Filmfare award for it.

To the ace cameraman that meant more work and more opportunities to work with the best people. “An award always meant that I should work better and better. If people have liked my work, then I am happy.”

Murthy has handled some of the most beautiful faces of the time on camera. So whose face made an impression? “I don’t know. I have treated everybody to the same style. May people came to ‘maskafy’ (cajole) me. There was this actress who called me and said, ‘Murthy, I look beautiful if you give me light on the right side of my face… It developed into an argument and I told her never to talk to me like that. It is the cameraman’s job to make you all girls to look beautiful.”

“I have tried to make all of them look better. Meenakumari told me after seeing the rushes of ‘Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam’, ‘Murthy saab, thank you so much. You made me look more beautiful than ever.’ There are different types of faces, but it is my job to beautify them.”

The legend who finds no marked difference between black & white and colour photography prefers the former. The man who respected Waheeda’s professionalism had this to say in conclusion, “Some people know the art of making people look good. Some don’t.”

Film director

Murthy is an excellent cinematographer who has understood the medium of photography very well. Camera is just a gadget, but  only an artistic eye can orchestrate elements in front of a camera.

He played so well with light and visual elements that he captured inner turmoil of characters. He used all elements — lens, light, graphics, composition of elements, textures — so well that viewer can have artistic experience.

Govind Nihalani was his assistant. Though Murthy worked in Mumbai, he has been available to those in Kannada film industry and is a guiding force for us. It is good that the Centre has recognised the talent and contribution of a technical expert such as Murthy.


We, cinematographers, are happy that a senior, talented person such as Murthy has been honoured with the award. I still remember how in Kaagaz Ke Phool, he had removed a roof tile of a house to allow sunlight on the subject. At the same time, he matched the sun light with artificial light and it blended so well that it created the perfect ambience. Some years ago, Kabeerlal, Murthy’s colleague used the same technique in a Subhash Ghai movie.


I admire Murthy most because he is from Karnataka, is an accomplished cameraman and a wonderful person.

He is the first cameraman to introduce cinemascope in India. He learnt this particular technique in London. He is known for his lighting scheme.

Anybody can shoot sunrise and sunset. But creating a visual which is appealing using artificial and available light is something difficult, and Murthy has expertise in this. As a cinematographer he was very strong. He used to have a say like any director or actor.

Technically he was superb. Without being consciously aware of bounce light technique, Murthy had used it.

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