Monday, March 8, 2010

Raise High the Roof Beam- Waqt Ne Kiya, Kagaz Ke Phool


A.G: How did the famous Waqt Ne Kiya song from Kagaz Ke Phool with the light beam come about?

V.K: It happened just like that, one day around 4 or 5 p.m. we were sitting in the studio and from top where the ventilators were, we saw light beaming in. It used to happen every day but none of us had looked carefully. So one day myself and Guru Dutt were sitting idle in the studio and I saw this beam and I told Guru Dutt, “ dekhona yeh kitna acha lagta hai”( see how beautiful this looks), utna hi bola mai and suddenly Guru Dutta ne mujhe pakad liya, he said arre Murthy tum aisa karo na hamare picture mei. So I said mei kaisa kar sakta hoon, it is natural sunlight coming through that hole. Guru Dutt said,I don’t know how but I also like it and you are also appreciating, tum kuch karo. Yeh hamara das din ka schedule hai to tum kuch bhi karke karo, bring that effect. So he inspired me. I started thinking how I should do it. I thought maybe I will bring a huge light and put it through a hole. So I got a 10 kilo watt light from Shantaram’s Raj Kamal Studios. But I could not get that effect because that light gives a divergent beam and I wanted a parallel beam…kya karenge? I needed a parallel beam. Next day during lunch time we were sitting, me and Guru Dutt on a cement bench. Just then our make- up man was carrying a mirror in his hand, passing by. Are you getting what I am saying?

A.G: Ah! the make-up man, yes.

V.K: So the sunlight that fell on the mirror threw a ray like thing on the studio wall, so that gave me the idea, (claps his hands and says) I got it, mei bola. Bolo kya chahiye bolo, Guru Dutt asked me. I said, nothing I need two large mirrors. Dutt told the production manager, bring him the two biggest mirrors. We got two mirrors of 4 feet height and 2 and a half feet wide. One mirror I kept in the balcony, outside in the sun light. I kept the balcony door open. The light reflected from that mirror reflected on another mirror inside the studio that was placed on the catwalk.

A.G: So from outside to a mirror inside?

V.K: You see light is a straight beam no? Light travels straight doesn’t it? So we opened studio ventilator doors, kept a mirror there that captured the sunlight which was then reflected onto the mirror on the catwalk. The mirror on the catwalk was tied in a certain way to capture the reflection and then adjusted to suit my frame. Understood? Did you understand?

A.G: You basically channeled the sunlight from outside onto the mirror on the catwalk which was directed onto your frame, which we see in the sequence?

V.K: Yes, correct. We positioned the light as we needed and then we put some lubhan (it is like a large incense stick that produces smoke).

A.G: What did you put?

V.K: Lubhan, lubhan, woh lubhan dalne se smoke aata hai (Lubhan produces smoke) because if there is no smoke you cannot see the light beam clearly and lubhan smoke is good for health also. Thats how I got that shot, that became a historical shot in Indian cinematography in those days.

A.G: It still is!

V.K: There were many directors and cameramen, there was this cameraman for Mehboob Studio called Fareedoon Irani, he had seen me doing this and he asked me, “Murthy kya kar rahe ho?” (what are you doing?) So I said, “aise hi koi experiment kar raho hoon”. (I am just experimenting). He said “acha”, didn’t say anything more, he was a senior most cameraman. Next day, I wanted this shot to be immediately developed and processed since I wanted to see the results, how it looked. The rushes had come but I was shooting so it was sent to the projection room. You know what, in the meanwhile this Fareedoon Irani went and saw it! (Laughs)

A.G: Before you?

V.K: In the lunchtime I was so going towards the projection room, dekhne ke liye. Just then Fareedoon sahib was coming down the staircase and he said , “ arre Murthy, kya kamal kaam kiya re” ( Murthy you have done such fantastic work) and he came and embraced me and said that for so many years we were not able to do it but you have done a great thing. He said, “go go and see your own work, it is so beautiful”. That was the biggest compliment I got and also I was very happy. But I never thought it would become history. I thought the beam looks good in the studio. At that time it didn’t occur to me that it was such a great thing. Accidentally we did it and said chalo maja atta hai, issi liye kar diya. (We were having fun and we just did it!)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Light travels in a straight line- V.K .Murthy, the (legendary) cinematographer

I read an article in The Hindu last week on V.K. Murthy, the legendary cinematographer of films are like Pyasa and Kagaz Ke Phool. He has just been awarded the Dada Saheb Phalke Award, the highest honour for anyone from the Indian film industry.He is the first cinematographer to be winning the Phalke award. After reading the article I wanted to spend an afternoon listening to his stories. Given that Papa ajoba is in Bombay and I am in Bangalore, entries for this blog have been drying up.I was lucky that V.K. Murthy lives in Bangalore. After a few phone calls I got myself an appointment with Mr. Murthy for Sunday afternoon.

I spent over two hours listening to him. I will try and recount the interview in the next few posts, in the coming weeks.

PART 1: Meeting Guru Dutt

Mr. Murthy was the first employee of Famous Studio in Bombay. In 1948 Mr.Murthy had gone to meet its Marwari owner Mr. Rungta who had just taken over from Siraj Ali Hakim. Hakim who had wanted to start Bombay's first air conditioned studio, built Famous but had to leave India soon after partition. Mr. Rungta who had financed the building of Famous Studios, now had to take over. He knew little about the intricacies of film making but when Murthy demanded Rs.250 as assistant cameraman, the Marwari flatly refused. Murthy who had been sent there by Fali Mistry struck a deal with Rungta saying that if Fali-Sahib said he should be paid Re.1 he would agree to even that. Finally Rungta employed Murthy for a monthly salary is Rs.175. Murthy's first task at Famous was to double check the film equipment that had already been bought. Murthy says, " according to the list, there were supposed to 25 lights but there were only ten and four Mitchel cameras had been purchased but there was only one!"

For four years Murthy worked with Famous as an assistant to Fali Mistry, Jal Mistry. He says,"in those days one had to work with which ever producer worked with a certain studio.But later some people started bringing their own cameramen. So one day Dev Anand and Guru Dutt came to Famous. They had an understanding (Guru Dutt and Dev Anand) that whichever one of the two would become successful first, that person would help the other get work. So naturally Dev Anand being an actor became successful faster than Guru Dutt and he gave Guru Dutt his first opportunity to direct Baazi."

Murthy continues, " the cameraman for Baazi was Dev Anand's cousin a certain Mr. Ratra and I was to assist him.Ratra was a happy go lucky fellow. During Baazi I watched very closely how Guru Dutt worked, with careful attention to characters, script and I enjoyed working with him very much. While we were shooting Baazi, I made a suggestion to shoot a song interlude in a certain way. Guru Dutt loved the idea and asked Ratra to shoot it that way.But Ratra was hesitant to take that shot since it had complicated camera movement. I wanted to ask them to let me shoot it but how could I? But Ratra himself said since it is Murthy's idea let him shoot it. So there I was shooting for Guru Dutt. But before I started shooting I told them I would go on with as many takes as I needed to get it right. I was lucky I should say, since the very first take was OK and for safety we took one more. That evening after pack up Guru Dutt came and said to me, Murthy yourself and myself will work together from the next picture onwards, for always. So that's how I got a break...all Guru Dutt films I did, from A to Z."


Monday, February 15, 2010

Two Plays

I found the first page of two plays written by Yeshwantrao Tipnis on the IISC, Bangalore website. The preliminary indication of where his other plays might be.

The first play is called Shah-Shivaji (meaning Shah- Sivaji) and the second is called Sangeet Chandragrahan (This literally translated means A Musical Lunar Eclispse, however I must understand the context of the play to know what it is a metaphor for.)

My grand father's father

Recently papa ajoba, took a long road trip deep into the Konkan region of Maharashtra. He and the rest of his siblings went to Mahad. While some of his siblings had grown up there, Papa ajoba was going back for the first time since 1935. The occasion, the auctioning of their ancestral land. Mahad is a small town in the Raigad district of Maharashtra, best known as the place where Ambedkar delivered his historical speech, giving the Dalit movement an impetus.

Papa ajoba's father was Madhavrao Tipnis and his uncle was Yeshwantrao Tipnis, one a successful actor and the other a well known playwright and director had started their theatre company, called Mahatrashtra Natak Mandali in Mahad. The theatre company was well known for its socially relevant plays, that were often banned by the British. While my great grandfather often played women characters, my great-grand uncle was known for the explosive dialogues he wrote.

I found to my surprise on the Maharashtra Government website's Gazetteer Department page, the mention of Madhavrao Tipnis. It listed the men who had significantly contributed to the region called Kolaba, now known as Raigad District. It said :

Thus a vacuum was, as it were, created in the social life of Kolaba, and although a number of illustrious persons, who later distinguished themselves in Bombay, hailed from Kolaba, the region did not get the benefit of their leadership. The late Mr. Rambhau Mandlik of Pen (1881-1958) who was for many years a member of the Bombay legislature was known to be a fearless constitutional fighter against the British Government, and he often made the Government officers uneasy in their seats by his persistence in pursuing a cause once taken up by him. Amongst some of the men of literary fame, we may note the late Mr. Sankar Balkrsna Diksit of Revadanda, the author of 'Jyotir-vilas', the late Mr. Balkrsna Anant Bhide, a well-known Marathi Scholar of Murud-Janjira and the late Principal G. C. Bhate, an active advocate of social reform coming from Mahad. The late Mr. S. M. Paranjape, champion of revolutionary nationalism and the editor of a weekly Marathi journal 'Kal' belonged to Mahad and the famous actor of Maharashtra Natak Mandali, Madhavrav Tipnis also belonged to the same place. In recent years Dr. Am-bedkar made Mahad as if it were his home town and started his famous satyagraha of the untouchables in 930 for asserting their right of being allowed to take water from 'cavdar tale'. It was a historic incident. It may also be noted in passing that Mahamahopadhyaya D. V. Potdar, Mr. C. D. Deshmukh. the ex-Finance Minister of India, also belong to Kolaba district.

In an attempt to trace my past and family history I had started recording stories that my grand father told me. But what lies virtually undiscovered is the history of his father's traveling theatre company, the Maharashtra Natak Mandali. From now I will try to piece together the history of this company through the photographs, documents and of course (cell phone) conversations with papa ajoba.