indian cinema heritage foundation

P Krishnamurthy

Art Director/Production Design
  • Born: 8 September, 1943 (Kaveripoompatinam, Tamil Nadu)
  • Died: 13 December, 2020
  • Primary Cinema: Tamil

Five-time National Award winner P Krishnamurthy is a prominent art director, artist, production designer and costume designer. He worked in Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, French and English films over a span of 40 years. Creating iconic sets, he is known for his work in well-known Tamil films such as Indira (1995), Sangamam (1999), Kutty (2010), Pandavar Bhoomi (2001), Azhagi (2002), Julie Ganapathi (2003), Naan Kadavul Thenali (2000), Bharathi (2000), 1:1.6 An Ode to Lost Love (2004), Imsai Arasan 23rd Pulikecei (2006), and Naan Kadavul (2009). Acclaimed Malayalam films he worked in include Swathi Thirunal (1987), Vaisali (1988), Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (1989), and Perumthatchan (1991). A versatile artist, he brought his painterly talents to the realm of theatre as a director, as well as to the world of cinema as an art director.

Born in the coastal town of Poompuhar in 1943 in the coastal village of Kaveripoompatinam in Tamil Nadu, he was a passionate artist even as a child. He received his formal training from the School of Arts, Madras, graduating in 1966. He ventured into designing sets for theatre plays and dance performances. From 1964 to 1970, he worked as the secretary of Cholamandal Artists Village. 

His entry into cinema was a consequence of his introduction to and interaction with personalities such as writers Jayakanthan, Ashokamitran, playwright and actor Girish Karnad, theatre personality B V Karanth, and singer Balamuralikrishna. 

Girish Karnad had recommended him to G V Iyer when he was looking for an artist who could help them design a logo for their film. He went on to hand-paint 150 invitation cards in just two days with the emblem that he designed. The entire team was highly impressed and it resulted in GV Iyer personally coming up to him and telling him that he was to be his art designer. 

Thus he entered the Kannada film industry with GV Iyer’s Hamsa Geethe in 1975. As a newcomer, he experimented considerably in the film. Based on a novel by T. R. Subba Rao, the film starred Anant Nag and Rekha Rao in lead roles. It was based on the life of 18th century Carnatic musician Bhairavi Venkatasubbaiah. The film received two National Awards post its release, namely Best Feature Film in Kannada, and Best Male Playback singer - M. Balamuralikrishna. He had undertaken intense studies to bring out the themes from 18th century. His stunning eye for detail saw him collect around 180 paintings to be used in one song sequence. There was also a 150-year-old sari, heavily worked with gold zari, that he found at a zamindar’s palace in interior Karnataka to be used in the film.

However, the film had faced opposition and took almost three years to be released after filming. He would later remember this period of three years as being dark days in his life. He couldn't sign any other projects until Hamsa Geethe released. 

His work in Madhvacharya (1987), directed by GV Iyer, won him his first National Award. The two worked together in films such as Adi Shankaracharya (1983), and Ramanujacharya (1989). He won accolades for his art direction in films such as Hamsageethe (1975), Adi Shankaracharya (1983), Madhvacharya, and Ramanujacharya. Adi Shankaracharya was the first Indian film to be made in Sanskrit. The film follows the life and times of Sankara - the founder of the non-duality (Advaita) school of Indian philosophy, while Madhvacharya was based on the great philosopher of the same name. 

He carved a niche for his work in films in seven languages including Sanskrit, working in non-commercial films. He won multiple awards for his art direction for the Malayalam films Swathi Thirunal (1987) about the life and times of the legendary musician Monarch H.H Sree Padmanabhadasa Sree Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma Of Travancore; Vaishali (1988) which revolved around the princess of a country long suffering from drought who needs to please a saint living in distant hills to bring rain; and the epic historical drama Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (1989). He won a National Award for his art direction and costume direction for the Tamil film Bharathi (2000). The film was a Tamil-language biographical based on the life of Subramania Bharati, directed by Gnana Rajasekaran, and won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil for the year 2000.

In the course of his career, he worked with celebrated theatre directors and playwrights such as Na. Muthuswamy, B.V. Karanth, Sankara Pillai, Ramanujam, and Bansi Kaul. He also worked with Hollywood directors like M Night Shyamalan (Praying with Anger, 1992) and Jag Mundhra (Perfumed Garden, 2000).

Having largely worked in period films, he hailed from a school of thought that believes in extensive research and multi-disciplinary approach. He spoke about rummaging through people’s attics to find old vessels, clothes and other such items to study a particular a period, pointing out that in modern times, with everything available online, people did not ‘search’ anymore in the true sense of the word, with the right kind of situation to learn more not being available anymore.

Inspired by Sundara Ramaswamy’s novel, Oru Puliyamarathin Kadhai, he had sketched out a rough script, and a producer had also come forward. However, things didn’t eventually work out. 

P Krishnamurthy passed away on 13 December, 2020, in Chennai due to age-related ailments. He was 77.



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  • Filmography (1)