Cinematographer N Satyen, with a career in films spanning over 50 years, is known for his work in Zanjeer (1973), Laawaris (1981), Haseena Maan Jayegi (1968), Himalay Se Ooncha (1975), and Mohabbat Ke Dushman (1988), among other films. He displayed a remarkable ability to move with the times and deliver according to the changing styles of cinema. He often collaborated with filmmaker Prakash Mehra and was part of many of the latter’s successful films. He is also credited with providing special effects (camera) for Haseena Maan Jayegi (1968) and Anari No. 1 (1999).
Born and raised in Mysore, Karnataka, he moved to Bombay in the 1960s. His career in films started in the 1950s, when he worked as the camera operator for Zimbo (1958). An adventure drama thriller, it was directed by Homi Wadia. Starring Chitra, Azaad Irani and Krishna Kumari, the plot revolved around an adventurer and his daughter who set off on a dangerous mission to find his brother's missing son. They encounter an elusive man who dwells in the jungle, who could possibly be its mighty protector Tarzan.
Among the early films he cinematographed was Samrat Chandragupt (1958). A historical with elements of adventure and drama, it was directed by Babubhai Mistry. Starring Bharat Bhushan, Nirupa Roy and B M Vyas, it depicted the personal life of the king, and his challenges and frustrations as he attempts to reclaim his kingdom.
He next came to attention with Bluff Master (1963), a romance film directed by Manmohan Desai. Starring Shammi Kapoor and Saira Banu, it followed the happenings in the life of a conman who falls in love and, after his mother learns the truth about him, realises the error of his ways.
Haseena Maan Jayegi, the 1968 Prakash Mehra directorial which he cinematographed, revolved around an army officer's wife who doubts whether the man she is living with is her husband or his look-alike. It starred Shashi Kapoor and Babita.
One of the most prominent films in his career was Zanjeer (1973), the Prakash Mehra directorial penned by Javed Akhtar and Salim Khan. The award-winning action crime drama starred Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bhaduri and Pran in a tale about a tough and honest police officer who clashes with a crime boss who, unknown to him, is also the murderer of his parents. The film, a blockbuster success, shifted the trajectory of Hindi cinema of the time from romance to aggression. The film’s success also established the leading man Amitabh Bachchan’s status from a struggling actor to an impactful rising star.
The action crime comedy Hera Pheri (1976) saw him work with Prakash Mehra again on the latter’s directorial starring Saira Banu, Vinod Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. It revolved around two friends, Ajay and Vijay, who become estranged once they learn of secrets about their past.
Laawaris (1981) saw him cinematographing Prakash Mehra’s action drama starring Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman and Rakhee in a tale about a man who is abandoned as a baby and forced to live as an orphan. Later, his biological father unknowingly employs him. The film was a super-hit at the box office.
In 1984, he was credited with cinematographing Prakash Mehra’s Sharaabi revolving around a workaholic businessman who neglects his only son after the demise of his wife. The son grows up and becomes a rebellious alcoholic. A hit film, it also won awards for its music.
Prakash Mehra’s Muqaddar Ka Faisla (1987) saw him cinematograph the action drama starring Raaj Kumar, Rakhee Gulzar and Raj Babbar. At the centre of the plot was an honest Hindu pandit (priest) who is framed for embezzlement and rape and imprisoned. After serving his sentence, he sets off to avenge the injustice against himself and his family.
Other films he cinematographed include the Prakash Mehra-directed Zindagi Ek Juaa (1992) starring Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit; Partho Ghosh’s Dalaal (1993) starring Mithun Chakraborty and Ayesha Julka; Bal Brahmachari (1996) directed by Prakash Mehra and Bindu Shukla and starring Puru Rajkumar and Karisma Kapoor; and Kuku Kohli’s Zulmi (1999) starring Akshay Kumar and Twinkle Khanna.
N Satyen passed away on 26 June 2001 in Thane.