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Style and Stylisation of Cinema

"Style is one’s own way of approach towards the subject with a distinctive way. To make it simpler, let me apply the same to human beings. If you take man or a woman, there is a definite style of body language, way of speaking, and way of behaviour of each."

V N Jatla : April 19, 2008

This is a topic, which is widely discussed everywhere in intellectual gatherings. Many people talk about this subject at length for hours together! But often clarity lacks in their talks. That is what I felt personally. This is a subject every artist must have a clear understanding about it. One must understand it from its grassroots. Broadly speaking, the subject ‘style and stylization’ can be applicable to any art form. I myself being a film man, will confine to cinema only, by refering to other art forms for better understanding of the subject. I will go step by step to explain the most important and complicated subject in the most simple manner.

What is style?

Style is one’s own way of approach towards the subject with a distinctive way. To make it simpler, let me apply the same to human beings. If you take man or a woman, there is a definite style of body language, way of speaking, and way of behaviour of each. This style is continued till the end of their lives. To make it more concrete, the style is not alike between two individuals. It differs from one individual to another individual. It is as simple as the finger prints of two individuals which cannot be identical!!

Firstly I will explain more about a musician and his particular STYLE of playing his musical instrument. After making it clearer in your mind, I will switch over to a film maker and find out his or her style of film-making and the continuation of same style in all the films he or she makes. The subjects may differ from one artist to another artist, but the style of an artist remains the same even though he is dealing with different subjects.

I will make it clearer by analysing the great violin maestro of yesteryears —Dr. DWARAM VENKATASWAMI NAIDU. This great musician belonged to Karanatic Music. Even today there is not a single violinist who can be called  his equal! His contemporary violinist in Karanatic music named MYSORE T.SHOWAIAH was honoured much more later by Mysore Maharaja, after honouring Dr. Dwaram Venkata Swami Naidu. Choudiah Memorial Music Hall was constructed at Banglore in the shape of a violin and it is where many music concepts have been originated and still originate even today!!

Another interesting thing is that Dwaram Venkataswami Naidu was having very poor eye-sight. Because of his poor eye-sight, he could not continue his studies form his childhood. He could hardly study up to 8th class only. His father was working with English band in those days. So this background helped him to select violin as his won choice. He was the FIRST Violinist in Karnatic music who gave solo performances with his Violin. The most important thing is that even though he was a blind, he continuously listened to the music of great European masters like Beethoven, Mozart, Bach etc through gramophone plates. Another remarkable thing about him was in spite of his poor eye-sight, he watched the photos of great violin players in action and their way of holding the violin bow.

Now let us see his style of playing violin to understand what is style. Do remember that every artist irrespective of his or her medium shows a distinctive style which is unique to his or her. Film Directors are no exception. Karnataic music compared to Hindustani music originally lacked melody. There was a very little loom for ALAAP in Karnatic music which gave a lot of melody to Hindustani music. In Karnatic music, only words had deeper meanings.

Dwaram Venkataswami Naidu was the first musician in Karnatic music who attributed MELODY to it. Playing his violin enriched with melody becomes a part of his style of playing music. Secondly, he strongly felt that violin is an European Instrument and it should be played in European style only even though Karnatak music plays on it. For that he disciplined himself with LONG BOWING which is part of European style. These things made him have a most distinctive style of his own! I can say that his style is unique and goes beyond the comparison with other violists even today!

Before concluding about him I would like to write a most interesting thing about him. In those days, Sri Rajamannar, Chief Justice of Madras (Now Chennai) high court arranged a violin concert of violin doyen AHUDI MENOHIN. He was a great violin maestro and was having the world’s costliest violin called STRADIVARIUS with him. It is a rare Italian violin having no comparison with other brands even today!! STRADIVARIUS violin is a costliest violin and Yehudi Menohin was using it and was taking care of it like his own child. Dwaram Venkataswami Naidu was very keen about Stradivarius violin.

He approached Yehudi Menohin and expressed his desire to see his violin. Yehudi Menohin was unaware of Dwaram Venkataswami Naidu and refused the showing his Stradivarius violin to him.

>>> Scroll down to read rest of the Story


On the same evening Yehudi Menohin was invited as chief guest for Dwaram Venkataswami Naidu’s violin concert. Yehudi Menohin was thrilled with the violin performance of Naidu garu and offered his Stradivarius violin to him and requested him to play on it. It was a great humor to Dwaram Venkataswami Naidu and no one can forget the immemorable moment!!

Here I cannot keep quiet without referring to Odissi dance grandmaster Kelucharan Mahapatra and the unique style of his performance. The greatest thing in his style of dance is that he was maintaining his postures quite close to the sculptures of Puri Jaganath Temple. I salute him with great devotion.

Now let us see what is style in films. Every Film Director is having his own style and which is quite different from the rest of other directors. If you examine the works of great film maestros like Satyajit Ray (Inida) Ingmar Bergman (Sweden), Fellini (Italy), Zhang Yiou (China) Majid Majidi (Iran), Giusesppe Tornatore (Italy), Goddard (France) Kurosawa (Japan) etc. They made films of different subjects, but their style of film-making remained the same in all of their films. What is style in films? In a most simple way it can be said like this —the style of a film is an unique way of using film makers’ own tools like Camera, Editing, Sound etc. to tell a story or a thing that creates one’s own style.

It can be more clear in readers’ mind that by observing the style of great film Maestro Satyajit Ray. He was more influenced by NEO-REALISM School of film-making. Neo-realisum was started in Italy in the year 1948. Vitorio Di Sica’s ‘Bicycle Thieves’ belongs to this neo-realistic school. In our country many Indian film-makers are being influenced by Neo-realism even today!! Though Satyajit Ray was more influenced by NEOREALISM, he  went further and created POETIC REALISM in all of his films. So Poetic Realisum is a part of Satyajit Ray’s style of film making. Another aspect of his style is using straight narrative form to tell a story, with all conventions. Another important thing about his style is showing utmost minor details in a shot. Besides, he depicts HUMAN VALUES and an INTERPLAY of characters for creating a perfect drama. His style of film-making being common in all of his films — the content or stories have been different. You will agree with me if you see his films right from the beginning with Ptherpanchali, Aparajito, Apursansar, Jalsaghar, Nayak, Devi, Charulata, Agontak etc. Apu Trilogy is about a Brahmin family and their struggle. Jalsagar is about a decaying Jamindar, Nayak is about a most successful film star and his internal turmoil. Charulata is about aristocratic intellectuals during British raj etc.

The most important thing is that whatever may be the subject, Satyajit Ray’s style of film-making was the same in all of his films and it should be. I am quite sure that my readers are very much clear in mind about the style by analysing the great film-maker Satyajit Ray was and the great musician like Dwaram Vekataswami Naidu.

Now I will explain about STYLISATION in art forms including cinema. What is Stylisation? It can be said in a simple way like this — ‘distortion of reality to such an extent to convey an idea very powerfully and effectively.’

I will take Sculpture to explain as an example. Let us take the idol of Lord Ganesh for the purpose of analysis. The body of Lord Ganesh is in the human form except His head! The artist has attributed an elephant head to the idol of Lord Ganesh. It is a high distortion of reality! But why?

The reason could be that the artist wants to have a separation of Lord Ganesh from the rest of Gods’ images. For this purpose, an elephant head is attributed to human form through the body of Lord Ganesh idol. Further the artist has created a separate identity from rest of the idols of Gods. Because according to Hindu Mythology prior to any work or any pooja, Lord Ganesh has to be worshiped. To create a distinction and to spread the awareness among people — the stylization of the idol of Lord Ganesh helps.

I will take a performing art from like KUCHIPUDI classical dance of Andhra Pradesh for a further analysis of the stylisation for a better understanding. Kuchipudi is a dance drama – ‘BALLET’ performed by a group of dances on the stage. Kuchipudi dancers narrate a story preferably from Hindu Mythology through dance drama. Of course, now-a-days the younger generation are taking contemporary ideas and experimenting in Kuchipudi dance form. There are masters of this dance who have contributed a lot like Dr. Vedantam Stayanarayana Sarma, Vempati China Satyam, Shoba Naidu, Raja Reddy and Radha Reddy etc.

In Kuchipudi dance everything is stylised and exaggerated through body gestures!

But why?

To make a strong point with great importance. In dance, a dancer salutes another person with folded hands with highly exaggerated body gestures known as stylization (instead of saluting in a realistic manner). So Stylisation is needed to elevate certain things.

In dance, high stylisation is needed because the performance is viewed from a long distance with a static position. So stylisation is very much needed in any art-form based on the requirements of the creator.

Now I will explain about stylisation in films. Let us take Akira Kurosawa’s Roshoman court trial scenes. These scenes are highly stylised in picturisation. Unnecessary realistic details are avoided like showing the judge in the court hall and other people. The backdrop is a plain wall and nothing else. The performance of artists are also stylised like delivering the lines and their body language etc. but why?

Kurosawa would like to give more importance to people, who were involved in the crime. Rather than showing unnecessary details like judge in the court room and other people, who are present at the time of the trial. If he had shown other details in a most realistic way the stress of the story would have been lost!! Because of this, Kurosawa has stylised it in such a way that the most important aspect or the story is conveyed to audience more effectively.

If you consider Swedish film maker Ingmar Bergman, his films are highly stylised. His way of stylisation helped him create a world of his own, like a great poet or a painter, making the audience peep into it to have a new experience of life!!!

(Author is a Cinematography Graduate from FTII (Pune) and a Hyderabad based Film Director featured in the Limca Book of Records)



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