Marcus Bartley – Camera Magician

More often than not we see cinema to be enthralled. We love cinema to take us into the world which is often unknown and make us believe which is actually disbelief. There are many films through which we have been taken for a ride by the film makers of yore. They have been assisted by many a technicians who were actually creative men on their own but yet subjecting themselves to the collective decision of the captain of the ship. Such one personality who was a pioneer of cinema in the field of cinematography was Marcus Bartley who was passionate for cinematography and through his art had enriched the south Indian cinema to such extent the modern day exponents thank him for being their inspiration to feel belonging to the field of cinematography.
Marcus Bartley was interested in photography from his childhood. He became a photographer and worked for the news paper ‘Times of India’ in Bombay. During his stay in Bombay, he learnt cinematography and keenly studied the various methods and its applications. He later became a ‘News Reel Camera Man’ for ‘British Movie Tone’ in India.
During his stint with ‘British Movie Tone’, he got a chance to study the Indian and foreign films. He keenly observed the various lighting systems in photography in the films. He also experimented with these new techniques in photography.
He got a chance to work as the cinematographer for the Tamil movie “Tiruvalluvar” in the year 1941. With this movie Bartley settled in Madras as a Cinematographer. Later on, he worked as cinematographer to two more Tamil films.
In 1944, Bartley joined “Vauhini Studios” and became permanent cinematographer for the films produced by the Studio. He made his debut in Telugu with ‘Swarga Seema’.  He showed novelty in his lighting which created mood and expression. In a particular shot, Bartley used the shadows of moving leaves on the face of Jayamma in a close up shot to magnetic effect. This type of photography was new to Telugu films and he was appreciated for his innovative work.
Bartley was choosy in his work and did not agree all the offers which came to him. He believed in perfection and presided over all of his movies than leaving the work for his assistants.
Bartley worked as cinematographer to the films ‘Yogi Vemana’ and ‘Guna Sundari Katha’ on ‘Vauhini’ banner. And under ‘Vijaya Films’ banner “Sowcaaru, Pathala Bhairavi, Pelli Chesi Choodu, Chandraharam, Missamma, Maya Bazar, Jagadeka Veeruni Katha, Gundamma Katha “ and others. 
His trick photography in ‘Pathala Bhairavi’ is worth remembering where he used shadows in the song sequences to convey different moods in this film. Bartley created an illusion of flying Maya Mahal in the climax of the film. In actuality the setting was arranged on the stable in Studio.  
Bartley’s cinematography in the film ‘Chandraharam’ was one of the mile stones in his career. The dance sequence ‘Kaluvalu-Chandrudu’ in this film was telecasted in the BBC Television in those times when India didn’t have any television facility.
Maya Bazaar’ also stands testimony to the amazing scenic sense of Bartley. The scenes of Young Sasirekha becoming a woman and the filming of the song “Lahiri Lahiri Lo” in moonlight in the studio, and fire engulfing the chariot of Abhimanyu and the introduction of Ghatotkacha and various other scenes in the movie stand out for the amazing Cinematography laced with Trick photography.  Some of the trick scenes in this movie still are shrouded in mystery even for technicians of the day.

With the advent of color in Indian films, Bartley opined that moonlight can be more effectively shown but the colors may be blurred. He worked for the Malayalam classic ‘Chemmeen’ and used color in the film. The film was based on the lives of fishermen near the Ocean. The director of the movie Ramu Cariot opined that Bartley was the true cause in the success of this film. “Chemmeen” won several awards of which were National Awards. Bartley won the best cinematographer national award for his work in the Tamil film ‘Shanthi Nilayam’.
Bartley was a disciplinarian and maintained strict silence on the sets. His assistants and crew have to be silent on sets and not shout loudly as was the practice on a film set. Such was his discipline code in the sets that big stars like Dilip Kumar were punctual for the fear of him. Dilip Saab once even remarked during the shoot of “Ram aur Shyam” that he would not be late as he would be pulled up by Bartley. Stalwarts like KV Reddy used to maintain his code of not touching the camera without his prior permission. 

He was a perfectionist and took time to set up a shot. This attitude led to the comment of him being slow in work by some producers. However, Bartley maintained the schedule and completed the work as per the call sheets. He did not crave for publicity and for that reason he hardly gave interviews. He used to repair cameras during Sundays and preferred not to shoot on the day.
The cinematographer who brought vivid images of nature on to the screen and made the audience feel the magic of cinema with his work may have left the mortal world, but his contribution to the medium of Cinema is still alive and is still inspiring youngsters to take up the profession.
Krishna Chaitanya.

About krshychait

A working individual who has a great passion towards arts of India. The literary and cinema field have captured my imagination like no other.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Wonderful one. Why don't you contribute this one to english wiki. He is a treasure, and every one who loves good old Telugu movies must remember him. I just checked out, therez not much about this legend on wikipedia.

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