Maestro of black and white films worked with Guru Dutt
V.K. Murthy who lensed the legendary Guru Dutt’s films from “Pyaasa” to “Kaagaz ke phool,” the first Indian film in Cinemascope, died April 7 in his home in Bangalore, India. He was 90.
Murthy’s work in black and white included a beam shot in the “Waqt ne kiya” song sequence in “Pyaasa” that was achieved with mirrors.
Other films he collaborated with Dutt included “Baazi,” “CID” “Jaal” and “Sahib bibi aur ghulam.” His intricate knowledge of how light fell helped in darker films as well as romantic comedies like “Mr. and Mrs. 1955.”
India bestowed its highest cinematic honor the Dadasaheb Phalke Award on him in 2008.
Born in Mysore, Murthy studied cinematography at the nascent Sri Jayachamarajendra Polytechnic in that south Indian city. Later he went to Bombay to work in Bollywood where started as an assistant to V. Ratra on “Baazi,” which Dutt directed and where the helmer first noticed him.
“When ‘Baazi’ was being made, I suggested to Guru Dutt that one entire song be panned in one shot,” Murthy said in a 2008 interview with the Times of India. “The scene was Dev Anand (the lead) standing at a bar, his back to the dance floor. When I saw Dev’s reflection in the mirror, I followed the movement of the reflection, shot it in close-ups and panned down to Dev, who moves towards the dancer. It was a tracking and trolley movement. After pack-up, Guru Dutt told me, ‘You’ll be my cameraman from my next film.’ “
While the two partnered on several films, Dutt’s favorite heroine Waheeda Rehman recounted that the director was impatient with delays when the d.p. slowly arranged the shot the two had discussed with Dutt sometimes walking off the set. “When Guru Duttji explained a shot he wanted to Murthy, he wanted the shot ready at once,” she’s quoted as saying in “Conversations With Waheeda Rehman” by Nasreen Munni Kabir. “But they were never simple — they often involved complicated angles, trolley movements, close ups, mid shots etc.”
After Dutt’s death in 1964, Murthy worked on other Bollywood blockbusters of the 1960s such as “Tumse achha kaun hai,” and “Nastik” but once films started to shoot in color his star was on the wane. Murthy himself thought there was no difference between color and B&W. “It all depends on the lighting. Filmmakers didn’t understand the concept of color. They’d want many lights and stars with heavy make-up — but I used the black-and-white technique for color too. I would use soft light and tell the artists to use minimum make-up. Otherwise, color throws up all the negatives of the artists.
Survivors include a daughter.