Nov 15 2017

Views: 659


Marcus Bartley was India’s foremost cinematographer, whose poetic use of light illuminated early films made before and after India’s Independence. His images were bench mark for South Indian Film Industry and inspired generations of cinematographers to look up to his body of works as reference.

Bartley was born in 1917, developed interest towards still photography at his tender age and went on to become a photo journalist for the leading newspaper ‘Times of India’ at Bombay. He was also considered to be first among journal photographers of our country.

In his book, historian Shri.Aranthai Manian states that, Marcus Bartley started his career during 1940’s in Madras with a feature film which had three stories titled ‘Mummanigal’ produced by Saraswathi films.

Pragathi Studios produced a film ‘Thiruvalluvar’in the year 1941 and is also considered one among his first full length feature film of Marcus Bartley.

In 1942, Jupiter Pictures produced a Tamil film titled ‘Kannagi’ and Marcus Bartley’s special effect cinematography in that was applauded.  Particularly of a scene where ‘Kovalan’’s character continues to speak even after his head is cut off.

Bartley continued to do films in all south Indian Languages. He joined ‘Vijaya Vauhini Studios’ and became their permanent cinematographer for the films produced by them. 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 shadows of moving leaves on the face of Jayamma in a close up shot.

Being a perfectionist Bartley was very choosy about doing his films right from the beginning of his career and he demanded script details of the film before rolling the camera for shooting.

Special effects cinematography in Indian cinema reached new heights in the bilingual film (Tamil & Telugu) ‘Paathala Bairavi’ produced by Vijaya Vauhini productions. It is one big master stroke from the legendary Marcus Bartley. The film had a lot of special effects and it was appreciated for its technical brilliance. His signature style shots were of moonlit sequences created in studio interiors.

Bartley spent nearly three months with art director Ghokale and Director Kadiri Venkata Reddy in preproduction and ‘Paathala Bairavi’ film production went on for another six months. That cumulative effect of such collaboration brought great images into the screen like flying magical palaces.

It was a difficult transmission time for cinematographers to adapt from Black and white era to Color cinematography. Technological problems were the core issue, especially from makeup, art direction and lighting for color cinema.


In 1965 ‘Chemmeen’,  the first color film was made in Malayalam based on a very famous novel by Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai. It is set along the Kerala coastline, fisher folk community directed by Ramu kariat. Bartley set a new bench mark in bringing rich and natural color tones to the film.

Cinematographer PC Sreeram says he remembers Bartley’s work vividly. ‘The colours were so authentic and the texture so beautiful. He was also the pioneer of soft lighting, something difficult to achieve during those times’.

Chemmeen won national award for Best film and Bartley’s Cinematography for the film was recognised globally at Cannes international film festival.

He also did cinematography for Hindi films like Ram aur Shyam , Saathi, etc.

Marcus Bartley won his national award for best cinematography for his Tamil feature film ‘Shanthi Nilayam’(1969), a musical film which also had great outdoor cinematography.

Select Filmography


Yehi Hai Zindagi(1977)

Shri Rajeshwari Vilas Coffee Club (1976)

Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani(1970)

Shanti Nilayam(1969)


Ram Aur Shyam(1967)


Gundamma Katha(1962)

Jagadeka Veeruni Katha(1961)

Appu Chesi Pappu Koodu(1958)

Maya Bazaar(1957)



Kalyanam Panni Paar(1952)

Pelli Chesi Choodu(1952)

Pathala Bhairavi(1951)


Gunasundari Katha(1949)

Yogi Vemana(1947)



Marcus Bartley also extended his expertise by having a cinema camera service centre. He was honoured with Raja Sandow Award (1989) by the Government of  Tamilnadu.


CJ Rajkumar,