Born in a Brahmin household in Mysore, V.K. Murthy was deeply fascinated with the medium of cinema as a child. When he chanced upon an advertisement offering courses in cinema in the newspaper, he quit his education after tenth grade and ran away to Bombay. When he could not secure admission in the course, he decided to stay back in the city and look for work in the studios. A young boy, he was not even allowed past the gates, and finally, a relative took him to Pune and got him a job as a cameraman’s assistant in Saraswati Cinetones. This did not work out either, and Murthy returned to Mysore with a saddened heart.
While he studied cinematography from a renowned college in Bangalore, he used his musical skills to make a living. As an accomplished violinist, he used to play for a Bharatnatyam group, where Mohan Segal spotted him and asked him to play for a film song. V.K. Murthy got his first job to work as an assistant for the film Maharana Pratap (1946). At this time, he had a stroke of luck: the legendary cinematographer Fali Mistry was looking for an assistant. Murthy joined him and worked with him for four years. During this stint, he met Guru Dutt, who was working on Baazi (1951). Dutt liked Murthy’s suggestion for a shot and signed him on as the chief cinematographer for Jaal (1952). This proved to be the start of a fruitful collaboration onscreen and a friendship off-screen that lasted till Guru Dutt’s untimely death in 1964. Murthy received several accolades for his work on Guru Dutt films like Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962) and Aar Paar (1954).
Post-Guru Dutt’s demise he worked with different directors on acclaimed films such as Ziddi (1964), Love In Tokyo (1966), Naya Zamana (1971), and Jugnu (1973). He was also the cinematographer for one of the most acclaimed Kannada movies Hoovu Hannu (1993) and for the 53 episode television series made by Shyam Benegal for Doordarshan, Bharat Ek Khoj (1988). In 2008, he became the first cinematographer to be awarded the Dadashaheb Phalke Award.
Murthy retired from movies post his wife’s death in 2001 and shifted to Bangalore, where he passed away on 7 April 2014.