Murthy Saab

The vehicle that Madan had arranged turned at the Corporation circle at Bangalore. I was woken up from my thoughts by Sampath, ‘Where Sir in Corporation?’ I looked around – the Corporation area that I had known no longer existed. I could not figure out where Badami House was located. Twenty six years back I had gone there to attend a film appreciation course. After circling for around ten minutes Sampath finally located Badami House. I ran upstairs, was greeted by an eager official who asked his peon to add a chair in his boss’s office. Another official ensured that the chair actually went inside. It was only then that I was escorted inside, where around fifteen men had already gathered and I was terribly late.

The top official from the information department was presiding over an informal gathering of National Film Awardees from the state. There were two lot of them – This year awardees; it included me and the last year awardees; they had forgotten to honor them. I was made to sit besides Sheshadri, someone from the last year lot. As I sipped the coffee the coffee that was offered, it registered to me that the person sitting in front was the legendary VK Murthy!

He looked at me inquisitively, maybe wondering who I was. I smiled at him, he did not; there was no need for him to do so. Unable to hold his sharp gaze I shifted mine elsewhere. The man who created magic with the light beams that came in between the characters of Waheeda Rehaman and Guru Dutt was sitting in front of me, and I was afraid to hold his gaze! I now realize that it was a crime, an unpardonable one at that. But then, when my gaze shifted back to him, he had lost interest.

Outside I met Prakash, he informed me that Srikanth should arrive any moment. Raja came; Chikaps and Yasku aunty walked in with daughter-in-law in tow. When Arundathi arrived, both lot of awardees were herded on to the dais. Murthy Saab was from the last year lot – the recipient of the Dada Saheb Phalke Award, the highest film award in the country; awarded to an outstanding achiever in the field of cinema, the first cameraman to receive so. His body crumpled as the shawl got wrapped around him. There was no emotion – I thought he would have been better off taking a track shot with Jonny Walker.

As the chief guest spoke my eyes shifted to Murthy Saab again. He was looking like any other grandfather; simple, humble and seemly bored. With a sense of restlessness he looked around and found an invitation on the vacant chair of the chief guest, opened and fiddled around with it. He did not know that I was gazing at him; there was no need for him to know that I was doing so. But I had to gaze; could not have done otherwise. I thought Sheshadri from the first lot saw me gazing at him. And I thought he too shifted his gaze at Murthy Saab with all seriousness that it warranted.

There was he – the man who refused to light up the faces of the junior artist / dancers in ‘Saheb Biwi Aur Gulam’; the man who followed the singing Dev Anand with his camera on the Marine Lines, the man whose close ups created the careers of so many heroines – the creator of some magical images for an equally legendary director Guru Dutt. He had by then got his shawl, the sandalwood garland, a flower bunch and a basket full of fruits. Soon, I got mine. On behalf of us, Girish expressed his pleasure in sharing the dais with Murthy saab. The audience clapped hard; but the man showed no emotion.

I gave a DVD of my film to Arundathi; and when I came out I saw Prakash chatting with Srikanth. Raja had by then gone. I gazed at my tiny nephew sleeping blissfully in the back seat of the car; in the care of his driver. Chikaps, Yasku aunty and daughter-in-law bid fare well and I wondered why on the earth I did not hold the gaze of Murthy Saab in that conference room then – the rookie that I was.


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