V.K. Murthy began his career in cinema as a violinist in a recording orchestra, even though he had trained in photography. He later became an assistant in the camera department and finally an independent cameraman with Guru Dutt. His memorable cinematography of all Guru Dutt’s films, (including Pyaasa, Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam and Kagaz ke Phool) has earned Murthy a place in the history of Hindi cinema. He was awarded a ‘lifetime achievement award’ by the Indian International Film Academy in 2008. This came as belated recognition by the Bombay film industry for the contribution made to its evolution by technicians such as V.K. Murthy.
In this interview with the Raqs Media Collective and C.K. Muralidharan, V.K. Murthy reminiscences about Guru Dutt, lights, cameras, music, technology, the advent of colour and the studio era of Hindi cinema. The interview is edited and excerpted from an extended conversation in December 1999 as part of their India Foundation for the Arts supported research project on the ‘History and Practice of Cinematography in India’.
Raqs/C.K.Muralidharan: Can you start with talking about how you first met Guru Dutt? Was this before you ever shot for him?
V.K. Murthy: I was working in Famous Studios as an assistant cameraman and Chetan Anand was shooting there. V. Ratra was the cameraman. I was assisting him from the studio side. Halfway through the shooting, I noticed a man who kept coming and going, almost everyday. After seeing him several times, I asked Dev Anand who he was.
Dev Anand told me, ‘His name is Guru Dutt. He is making a film and is a director.’ I said, ‘He looks very handsome, fit to be a hero.’ This is the first time I saw Guru Dutt and tried to know him. Then the production of Baazi started. So I began working as an assistant cameraman on that film as well. The cameraman was V. Ratra, a cousin of Dev Anand – a good typical Punjabi person, loud, liked jokes, not particularly interested in work. And the hero (Dev Anand) was his cousin, and since the heroine Geeta Bali was also a Punjabi, the atmosphere was not heavy.
He (Ratra) would always say to me, ‘Murthy, tum kar do na’ (Murthy, you please do the work). That gave me a very good opportunity to do everything. I was doing lighting, camera placement and operation – everything. Ratra was simply enjoying. One day, during a shooting, it so happened that Guru Dutt was trying to find an angle to take a shot of a particular portion of a song. This portion had a lot of music. He was thinking about how the music could be covered up with camera movement. So I told Guru Dutt, ‘If you don’t mind, I could suggest one thing; see there is a big mirror we can use that to create a great sense of movement.’ He asked, ‘How?’ I said, ‘Put the camera on the mirror and make Dev Anand start here from his reflection. I will move the camera as he walks towards it to the dance. I will follow him until he goes and sits on the chair.’ The camera used to have a dolly. I placed the camera according to the music, I rehearsed the timings and all that and said to Guru Dutt that if you like it I will take the shot.
He said ‘Yeh to Ratra se nahin hoga’ (Ratra won’t be able to do this). Ratra was a bit fat, and would have difficulty in executing the kind of movement that I had described to him. Guru Dutt said, ‘Tum Ratra se baat kar lo (you speak to Ratra). If he allows, you can do it. Then he called Ratra and said, ‘Murthy wants to take this shot, do you have any objection?’ Ratra said, ‘No, let Murthy take the shot if he wants to.’
I took the shot. Now I knew that Guru Dutt was also a very short-tempered person. So I said to him, ‘Look Guru Dutt, I will take 3-4 takes and will tell you which is good, and you have to keep the take that I approve.’ He agreed to this. The second take was ok.
Shooting had packed up. In the evening we were standing outside, Guru Dutt came and told me, ‘From the next film onwards you will be my cameraman, we will work together.’ He kept his word and from the next picture we started working together. So this is the first chapter of my life.
Was Guru Dutt different from other directors?
Definitely, other directors didn’t know anything at all. They used to depend on their cameraman. They would ask for a close-up at the most, or after two or three fixed shots were over, ask for a trolley shot. Guru Dutt was not like that, he was very particular. He liked big close-ups, a lot of movement, altogether different. I liked him. I told him also; I said, ‘Guru Dutt, I like the way you take shots.’ Then he said to me, ‘I like the way you do lighting.’
What were the most important challenges that you faced when working with Guru Dutt?
Most important challenge – his filming of songs and scenes was unique. Others just used to keep the camera fixed, have the actors perform the song, walking in or out of frame and have a few cut to close-up shots, that’s all.
But Guru Dutt was not like that at all. He emphasized movements and that too in close-up shots. He used the 75 mm lens. In those days, it was very difficult to focus accurately with a 75 mm lens, in a close-up, in a moving shot. But that was the type of shooting he did. For me it was ok; for lighting also it was ok. I would always go to the light operators and tell them, when the actor goes to this side put this light off and put that one on.
And when we had to do panning and tilting shots with a 75 mm lens, it was quite difficult. You see, the viewfinder is not a reflex camera. The viewfinder is away from the original shooting lens, so in the beginning I used to find it very difficult. Sometimes I would be seeing only half the face in the viewfinder, even though on the camera it would be complete and in the centre. So that was a little difficult.
So you were not always sure about what you were composing?
I used to think about what would be the major element in the composition that I had in mind and make an estimate when I was framing. Later on things like follow focus gadgets and arrangers came and then we bought one, but even that was not very accurate. Another thing was that his shooting was mostly in close-up and in movement. You know that when shooting close-up, giving a fill in light is difficult because another shadow will get cast all the time.
I was thinking about how to solve this problem and then it struck me. I saw a friend of mine who was an artist, a commercial artist; he was working in Walter Thompson [an advertising company]. He had a drawing board for sketching on which he used to have a light with a clip on it. When I saw this, I said to myself, ‘This is the idea, I must use this somehow.’ I borrowed the device from him and I spent the whole night thinking where I could fix it. I was not able to fix it anywhere on the camera. Then I thought about the sunshade for the Mitchell camera which has two rods on it. I made a wooden board and fixed that on the rods. On that I could fix the clips anywhere, and the light worked!
So I was able to exclude the second shadows (double shadows). I behaved as if I had invented a camera! I was using a 100w or 200w bulb. And the main thing was that I was able to connect this whole system to a dimmer.
Did you ever tell Guru Dutt that a particular shot was impossible to take?
No, that’s one thing that makes me a cameraman; I never refused. My attitude was that I must try whatever he wants. And that whatever he wants should be whatever I want.
Why do you think Guru Dutt chose to shoot in the way that he did?
To get proper expressions from the artist, to convey to the audience the intensity of those expressions. Shooting mainly in mid or long shots would not have given those expressions in that way. For him, everything had to be in close shot.
Guru Dutt, V. Ratra and V.K. Murthy are visible in this frame from a sequence in Kagaz ke Phool.
Do you think you had any influence on Guru Dutt’s career?
A lot of influence; in fact I persuaded him to be an actor! I said you look like a hero, why do you want other people to act as heroes in your film. At first, he didn’t agree then I said, ‘Let me take a screen test, you judge for yourself. So in the first schedule of Jaal, when we were shooting outdoors in one sequence, I told him, ‘You come and do this role.’ It was not an important role, just a fisherman. We did the shoot, he looked at the results and they proved what I had said. Before that he had also worked in Prabhat Films. His career was that of a dance director. He started his career as a dance director. Guru Dutt, Dev Anand and two other people used to share a room. Only Guru Dutt had a salary. He supported the others. That is why Dev Anand and Guru Dutt were so close. They promised each other that whosoever became successful would give the others a chance. And that’s how Guru Dutt got a break from Dev Anand when he started his own company. But it was me that convinced him to be a hero.
Would you say that music is directly related to your camera in terms of movements and lighting?
My lighting used to be much better in songs than in scenes, so I think my musical sensibility had something to do with that. Lighting for songs can be more creative and artistic. And also, maybe because of music, there was also more scope for movement, the movements were also set and rehearsed properly. They would also not mind more rehearsals of movements. People used to say, ‘Murthy kitna accha camera karta hai.’ (Murthy does such good camera-work). And I was working with the 75 mm lens. It was difficult for the assistants, but somehow I managed the focusing.
The song ‘Jaane voh kaise log the’, in Pyaasa – it is shot in close-up, yet the camera is moving constantly and there are lots of people in the frame; how exactly did you achieve this?
He (Guru Dutt) is seen standing at one place in the corner of this library-like room. His position reflects the fact that he is considered to be an unimportant person. He is not invited, just an employee of the host (Rahman). In that particular shot the camera moves with the rhythm of the song and you know one of my assets was that I had learnt music. So I knew when to stop the camera, where to cut the shot; in all this my knowledge of music helped a lot.
What did you do to make the heroines that you worked with look good on screen?
Good lighting, and some diffusers. Sometimes I used to put two diffusers, A and B or only what we used to call ‘half B’. I also bought one Kodak MP diffuser. In those days I bought one set for Rs 200, now it may cost Rs 25000. I still have that one with me. If I ever sacrificed quality, they (the heroines) would become angry with me. So I had to make them look beautiful. All the heroines were happy with me – Mala Sinha, Geeta Bali, Nimmi, Waheeda Rehman.
But sometimes did you also decide to not make a heroine look glamorous?
Definitely, if the film and the story demanded that the actress not look glamorous, I would not make her look glamorous. Take, for instance, the beginning of Pyaasa. Or the scene when Waheeda Rehman is introduced for the first time as a prostitute. We shot at night in Calcutta on the banks of the Ganga. In one place, there were a lot of pillars; we wanted the moon in the background. It was the ‘original’ moon, not a fake one in the studio. So I had to match the moon with Waheeda’s face. I could not use heavy diffusers. Whatever exposure I gave for the moon was important, and naturally I could not use separate diffusers for the moon. That was one reason why I did not put any diffusers while shooting her. Also, according to the story that was the first introduction of the very ordinary character that Waheeda plays in the beginning of the film, so I didn’t want to glamorize her either. Later on when she became the heroine, I glamorized her at that time.
Were you the first person to shoot outdoors at night? It could not have been a common thing to do, as it must have been quite difficult.
It was not a common thing, you are correct, and it is difficult to shoot at night on the streets, but I don’t exactly remember if I was the first person to do it. The story of the film Pyaasa sort of demanded it, the character of the poet played by Guru Dutt is of a frustrated fellow, staying alone, sitting on his own by the riverside – Ganga Ghat – you see what I mean.
The story might have demanded it, but normally in such conditions you could have created a whole set in the studio.
As I said, the story demanded it, and then Guru Dutt said, ‘We will do it on the actual location.’ We never thought we were doing any great film or that we were photographing something for the first time or anything like that. We just did it. When I was an assistant, I worked on a film called Arzoo. It had Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal. I think the director was Shahid Latif. They had fixed up an outdoor shooting schedule in Mahabaleshwar. I, as an assistant, went there on behalf of the studio. It so happened that the stars were entangled in romantic affairs and as a result they would not come on time. Even for an outdoor shoot they would report at 12 o’clock in the afternoon, that was the sort of behaviour of these artists at that time. So the director couldn’t finish the scene, or do what he wanted to because these people were always arriving late.
You see, in hill stations like Mahabaleshwar what happens is that you can shoot only from the morning to 1 or 2 o’clock, clouds start rolling in as later, so after that we all pack up. And in the morning a very beautiful fog used to come and cover the whole place. Now, I had seen fog in English films; it is like that most of the time in London. I too wanted to shoot in the fog. I told the director and the cameraman that this atmosphere would be good for a particular song, it was a sad song.
They said, ‘No, how can we shoot without sunlight?’ I said, ‘It will look beautiful, just try it and see.’ But, after all, I was only an assistant, so they both refused and packed up. Since I was incharge of the equipment on the shoot, and was very curious, I took some test shots. I took out the camera; the film was with me and took a few shots with the movements of characters against the trees, walking out of the fog. I could do it because no one was there, the cast had not yet come and the director and cameraman had left saying that there was no sunlight. I took it with my light boys and assistants, making them stand in for the actors.
As I told you, I was everything in that studio, so when we came back to Bombay, I had the film developed, printed and saw it in the projection theatre. I felt so happy; it was beautiful. Then I called the director and the cameraman of the film. Fali Mistry was also there. Mistry said, ‘Beautiful Murthy, very good shots.’ Then I told him that I had suggested it to the director and he said, ‘Kya karta hai, forget it.’ They didn’t use my suggestion. But all these things came to me, and I could do them because of my knowledge of theory. So that is why when Guru Dutt said to me, ‘Let’s shoot outdoors, at night, by the riverbank, in the fog,’ I could say to him, ‘Why not, we will do it.’
You used a lot of fog in Pyaasa.
Yes, particularly in Johnny Walker’s ‘tel maalish’ song. I wanted to create a sort of shadowy atmosphere, with the prostitutes and their clients appearing and then getting lost in the public park as a backdrop to the song. We did that in the studio.
In fact, in the beginning, Guru Dutt wanted me to do that role of the masseur that is played by Johnny Walker. He said to me, ‘Murthy, you do it; it will look good.’ I said, ‘No, I am happy behind the camera.’
But, as you said, I used a lot of fog.
What is the crucial difference between using fog on the set, and diffuser on the lens?
I was using very mild diffusers because of what it does in terms of what one can call the ‘finishing’ of a shot. Suppose you have two cuts that need to be joined. Now, you don’t want a join between the two shots to draw attention to the harshness of light in maybe one of them. Then you would have a sort of ‘light jump’. To prevent that from happening we used filters. Typically I would use the NP quarter diffuser, though I would not use this in absolute long shots or full long shots, only in mid shots and close-ups.
Where you averse to using diffusers at any point of time?
Many times I felt like that, but for their [the actresses] sake I had to use it. I didn’t want them to blame me and say, ‘Murthy Saab you have not done well.’ For them, good photography meant that they must look good.
At some time you must have seen films with a very different look, in which diffusers were not used, for instance, Bicycle Thieves and other Italian neo-realist films.
Yes I did, but I must say that there is one important thing you have to keep in mind. There is a lot of difference in the light conditions between India (and in tropical countries) and European countries. I have done a lot of shooting in Paris and London and in none of those instances did I have to use a diffuser. The light itself is so soft, because it is cloudy all the time. I was not unhappy to shoot like that, and I never thought it is impossible to shoot like that. Other cameramen and directors refuse to shoot if they see cloud and fog, but theory helped me overcome that. And we always had the meter to rely on.
When I did the outdoor night shoot in Pyaasa, I used tracks. The film speed was 250 ASA. I didn’t mind. Whenever a new stock came to the studio, I was the first cameraman to be given the test roll from Kodak. They used to give me a 100 feet roll. I used to shoot, real shots in real light, I used to take still shots at night, so these things helped me a lot, and it also looked artistic.
Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman walk towards each other in a shaft of sunlight that beams down onto the studio floor in Kagaz ke Phool.
You went for a real wet look in the outdoor night scenes in Pyaasa, didn’t you?
Once, for Pyaasa, we even shot in real rain in Calcutta. My camera was in the car and Guru Dutt was outside in the rain, he started running in the real Calcutta rain. I did it. I asked Guru Dutt, ‘Do you want me to do it,’ and he said, ‘Yeh karenge yaar’ (we will do it). So you see, it’s a combination of director, actor, artist, cameraman. Between Guru Dutt and me, this was possible.
He was also an actor in those films; he was not standing behind the camera, so he had to trust you completely.
Yes, absolutely. But he used to guide me on the camera angle and on the language, the dialogue in his films was often in Urdu, and I did not always understand if someone had made a mistake. But often, I would ask for another take, even if it had nothing to do with camerawork or lighting. Then he would ask me, ‘Why do you want another take?’ and I would tell him, that the expressions were not good and the look was also not good. So naturally he had to depend on me.
But you took a lot of risks with lighting figures, like the scene in Pyaasa where the character is coming straight into the light...
I know that is the ‘Aaj sajan mujhe ang lagaa lo’ song in Pyaasa. To tell you frankly, at that time I thought the shoot would be on the balcony of the set (a different set-up) but then I realized that Guru Dutt wanted it all in one fluid sequence, and that while the character climbs up the stairs, the lighting is different from the time when she comes into frame. I remembered that the moon-light was a constant factor in both set-ups, so I kept moonlight as the main light from the back, and this meant that the character seems to walk into the light.
I think a lot depends on how you frame. In this case another character is standing near the wall. She comes looking for him and she comes as if to touch him, but then she doesn’t. It is quite dramatic, and the lighting (or what may have been considered a ‘mistake’ in the lighting) actually works very well with the dramatic nature of the situation and the song.
You were not afraid of placing the characters in complete darkness.
Sometimes, I have gone as far as is possible.
At that time did anybody say, ‘If you have created a set then everything has to be visible?’
I tried to follow nature. Whenever you enter a studio you don’t see anything for some time. It is almost totally dark and only gradually you begin to see. That is how I begin to imagine the light in a frame.
Often after shooting we, Guru Dutt and I, used to sit together and talk in the afternoon. This was during the shooting of Kagaz ke Phool, which as you know is also set in a film studio. Sunlight used to beam down through a big exhaust fan, high up, close to the ceiling. It was a shining shaft of light, which caught all the dust in the studio. I said to Guru Dutt, ‘See, isn’t it beautiful.’ He asked me if I could show this in the film. I said that I would try. He said, ‘I’ll give you ten days to work out a way of shooting this sunbeam.’
At that time, my idea was to focus a big spotlight, which was available in Shantaram’s studio, and use it to mimic the sunbeam. We tried it. The problem was, the highlight used to come, but it was a divergent light, it could not create a straight parallel shaft of light. One day I was sitting in the sun, thinking about this problem, and I saw a make-up man playing with a mirror. Reflecting sunlight on to a wall from his mirror. I saw that and thought, ‘Damn everything, I will use sunlight and mirrors. I got two big mirrors, each some four feet tall. From outside the studio we used one mirror to bring light inside and the other mirror was placed on the catwalk. The second mirror reflected the shaft of light on to the studio floor, creating that sunbeam that we had wanted. So, naturally, when the sun shifted, one had to keep adjusting the mirrors. But the shots were taken in just one hour. It so happened that on that day the famous cameraman Faredoon Irani was shooting nearby in Mehboob Studio. He heard what was happening, and came to see what was going on.
He said, ‘Murthy Saheb, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘Nothing, we are trying to create a sunbeam in the studio’. Then someone said, ‘But, Murthy, you are using sunlight!’ We sent the footage to the lab and waited for the rushes. Faredoon Irani actually went to the lab before me and saw the results. He told me, as I was going in, ‘Murthy, I have seen it, it is looking beautiful, I have never seen such good effects.’ Till then nobody had used sunlight inside the studio, not even in Hollywood films. I feel proud of it, and that too because it was in India’s first cinemascope film.
It is almost as if Guru Dutt offered you the films or parts of them as gifts for you to extend yourself...
I mentioned how even when he was writing the script for Jaal, he had told me that he was going to make Pyaasa, for me. I remember the shooting of Aar Paar, when things were getting delayed in the shooting, and Guru Dutt came to me and said, ‘Murthy, please do this fast. Once we finish with this one, for your sake I’ll make a film. Then you can do anything you want and take as much time as you want, but for now please cooperate with me and let’s finish this one.’ The film he wanted to make ‘for me’ was Kagaz ke Phool. That is the kind of relationship we had at the time.
So he wanted you to do cinemascope, and then extended that by making sure that you were one of the first to shoot in colour as well. Can you tell us how you dealt with the transition from black and white to colour?
We first worked in colour in Chaudvin ka Chand. Guru Dutt was the producer of this film, but not its director. It was made to compensate for the losses of the earlier films, and it was a hit all right. Sadik Babu was the director and Nariman, who at that time was my first assistant, the cameraman. But whenever there was a song sequence or scenes related to a song sequence, Guru Dutt and I would take over.
Now, after the silver jubilee of the film, Guru Dutt wanted to re-release the film with two more songs. And this time he wanted the songs to be in full colour!
In those days the concept was that in colour film all you have to do is to put a lot of colour on the set and light up evenly so that everything is visible. The art directors were especially of this opinion at that time. But I approached colour exactly as if it were B&W. I didn’t find any difference. This was the case even though the people from the lab always used to come and tell me to give more light and people said that I must make sure that the lights were of correct and constant colour temperature. But only 50 per cent of the lights in our studio were of the right and constant colour temperature. We had a meter to indicate the colour temperature of the lights. Not a single light was give more than 3000 kelvin.
So I decided to use nitro-flood lights, which are used for still photography. They have a colour temperature of about 5000 kelvin. I used them on the sets for the face light and was the first person who thought of this. Now these were white lights, so I used them in combination with the old Mole-Richardson lights that were in the studio. I did all the experimentation in Chaudvin ka Chand.
And then, one of these songs was sent to the Kodak festival in London. Now this festival featured colour photography and colour sequences shot by many cameramen from different countries. It was very well appreciated and we even got letters from London, saying, ‘V.K. Murthy is our VIP. You can get whatever facilities you want from Kodak.’
But was there a notion that you had to change the lighting or the framing pattern when colour film came? Suddenly from the in-depth photography of the B&W days, you had flat frontal framing and lights blaring on the set. Why was that?
Oh, there was a lot of that when colour first came in. They would shoot with lots of top lights because they thought that in colour that was one way you could make dark people fairer, so that whenever you tilted up you would get the glare of three or four lights in your lens. Or, they would use lots of make-up, theatre make-up which was not correct for colour photography at all. It would lead to all sorts of strange colours registering on the film instead of the correct skin tone. When I once suggested to Asha Parekh that she should just use some simple society make-up she said to me, ‘Murthy saab, kya bol rahen hain.’ (Murthy saab, what are you saying). But when I explained it to her and her make-up man, they started doing what I had told them. They didn’t understand that in colour film things registered differently. I told them – no thick make up, no theatre make-up. All this happened because Junglee which was one of the early colour films became a super hit. In that film they used red and pink make-up on everybody, so that became like a fashion. Now this just doesn’t work with our (Indian) kind of skin. The glow of the skin doesn’t feel right. That is why I insisted on light make-up and kept saying, don’t use these very bright lipsticks and don’t put rosy and pink shades on the skin. In fact, I was the first person to say, ‘Just use normal society make-up, don’t use these bright shades.’
Were there any technical innovations that you made, any devices that you designed?
Nothing in particular. I once improvised a table-like thing on which you could put a light. This way one could put a light in a higher place. Earlier, you just took a high stool and then placed a light on it, and everybody followed this method. But the problem with this was that you could not easily reach and work with the lights, change their position or anything like that. So I thought that if one cut a groove on two legs of the high stool, lower it down and then place a plank on it, a person can easily stand on it and manipulate the lights, even at that height.
I did this in Madras where I was shooting two films and then we introduced it in Bombay as well and then people started calling it ‘Murthy ka ghora’ (Murthy’s horse). Whenever I needed things like this I made them myself.
Tell us about the parabolic reflector that you made.
See, the problem arises when characters are very close together and standing against a dark background, then one needs a softer light to match with the background. If I give a reflector from up close there will be too much intensity, so I have to position it from afar. Now, to create an even sort of spread it made sense to curve the reflector so that you got a dispersed, less intense throw of light. This way I could get soft light beautifully spread in a bigger area.
See, every time I did something like this it was because of some shortage or some problem. So that is how I made this curved, bulging reflector. And two months later I saw in the American Cinematographer magazine a design for something new called a ‘parabolic reflector’. I saw that it was basically my design; someone else had also been working on the same problem. Only the word ‘parabolic’ was new for me.
You should have patented it and earned some money!
(Laughing) There was no time to think about anything like that. But, seriously, time was a real constraint. It is very difficult when you are shooting in a situation where there are a few big stars, too many productions and too little time. Once Amitabh Bachchan was working in a film that I was shooting. He was doing two shifts a day. And the second set was outside Bombay, some 50-60 kilometres away. So he would say, ‘Please, at two-o-clock I have to go for another shoot. Can we be a little faster?’ At the same time he would say to me, ‘Murthy Garo (Garo is sir in Telugu), what superb photography you have done in Kagaz ke Phool.’ How could I tell him that I had time when I was doing Kagaz ke Phool, and that I had no time any more?
So it was the studio system that made all these things possible...
One could do a lot of experiments in the studio. We had time, we had to go there every day, even if there was no shooting. Make-up man was there, assistants were there, props were there, the carpenter was there, lights were there, properties were there and the lab was there. We could try things out, print and see the results. This made a lot of difference to the work. We could do what we liked. All this is possible only when you have everything at your command, otherwise it is not possible.
Now the studios are all closed. The studio system is over. No producers have their own studio except the RK people.
What has happened to Guru Dutt’s studio now?
It got broken down when the highway [Ali Yavar Jang Road] was built.
So there’s no trace of it now?
No trace at all. That studio had gardens, trees and landscapes for outdoor shooting. Afterwards, after Guru Dutt, a Delhi man came and built a well maintained air-conditioned studio. But it fell in the middle of the land where the highway was supposed to be constructed. So...
The studio sequences in Kagaz ke Phool, with whole scenes on the film-shooting floor, do you think they reflected the atmosphere of the studio?
A studio is a studio; always the same. A big hall with a backdrop of the sky. But when a studio is lying empty, all there is are some lights standing in the corner, or tables. Sometimes the studio has a few flats. That’s all.
In that song ‘Waqt ne kiya, kya haseen sitam’ Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman are seen alone in the empty studio floor. In that song I also used that beam from the exhaust fan. The floor was empty, there was just one bullock cart lying there, that’s all. It was a property – there was nothing else. I used the bounce light system in that song. Bounced sunlight off a mirror outside, then bounced it off another mirror on the gallery in the second floor, then it entered as a strong highlight on to the floor. I described this to you earlier as well, in connection with the scene of that earlier meeting between them in the studio.
There was nothing else on the set, it was empty, you could see the walls, no backdrops, just odd bits of wiring. And I had time. So in that sense the lighting was easy for me. Guru Dutt liked it immensely and you can see that he used this throughout the film.
And then we see the heroine come, sit down and she imagines that song. When we cut to a closer shot I used a reflector’s light from a lower angle, as if it was a reflection from that ‘sunbeam’ highlight coming from the door.
Afterwards a lot of people started saying, ‘bounced light! bounced light!’ whenever they talked about camerawork. But I used it as early as in Kagaz ke Phool. I even used it when a set was done outdoors; I would ask for a white cloth to be put as a kind of ceiling for the outdoor set – to get better soft illumination all over.
In Kagaz ke Phool are there any shots of camera operation?
Yes, yes, there is a sequence. It is when Waheeda accidentally walks into a shoot and gets screen tested by mistake. Guru Dutt is supposed to be directing, he is on the crane, and with him is Ratra (the cameraman I assisted in Baazi) – he plays the part of the cameraman, and you can also see me behind Ratra, with my camera, for a little bit, acting as the assistant cameraman...
And the end of Kagaz ke Phool...
The end of Kagaz ke Phool was also in the studio. The aged Guru Dutt returns and dies in his sleep on the empty studio floor. The next morning we see him lying in the same shaft of light when the door opens, they don’t even know who he is. Then someone recognizes him...it was very moving...
Almost like what really happened to him...
[V.K. Murthy broke down and asked for the tape recorder to be switched off. It was the end of the interview.]