Krishna Santhi – The Journey Of Visual Character Study
For the people who’ve watched the latest Telugu movie AWE, you can observe the impact ‘designing’ a character has made. It is not just about the colourful pieces of clothes a particular character dons, it’s about communicating everything about that character just by a mere look. Costume designing has thus become a vital part of movies today in any industry. Though the field is slowly gaining prominence, there’s always a fair share of hurdles and hiccups many talented designers go through to make it to the positions where they stand right now.
We at VoxSpace had the opportunity to interact with one of the most promising designers and stylists Krishna Santhi who is slowly carving a niche for herself through her works. With AWE and Rangasthalam being her latest works, Santhi spoke to us about her journey so far in the industry, the struggle and detailing involved in designing costumes for a character, and also a few of the hurdles designers face in this industry that gives everyone space to celebrate and struggle at the same time.
Here we have super talented Santhi with us. Hi Santhi, praises have been pouring for your work in Awe. Congratulations on those character designs. Let’s get back to that later as there is a lot to talk over about it. For now, we want our audience to know you from the very start. Let’s go directly into what triggered you to take up Fashion Designing as a profession? And how has the journey been so far?
Thanks a lot and Sure… I have been inclined to Fine Arts since my childhood. It was like Art is the only thing I mostly thought of. I started drawing at the age of 3 or 4. I started digital art and oil painting when I was in my second grade. I knew and I decided that I’d be a professional artist by my fourth grade. So, art has always been my motive and inspiration. For my career choices, Fashion Design was never my 1st pick. It’s again design and art that motivated me to apply for NIFT and JNTU. I scored good national and state ranks in both. NIFT was a better choice over JNTU. So, I basically had a choice to go into whichever stream had scope for wider perspective over knowledge. Cinema has always been a great influence on me.
I loved cinema ever since I was a little kid. Movies inspired in every way possible. My favourite actor was Chiranjeevi. He’s been a God (Hanuman) to me all my childhood. Shah Rukh Khan was my heroic icon. I have always aspired to work with him someday and I’m sure I’ll do it soon. So, entering into cinema was not planned as such, it just came into my life. You see, universe listens and manifests.
It was in my 7th semester, that I got a call from RGV’s office in 2010. They were looking for a designer who could execute based on a story script. I frankly did not know how things work in the industry back then. I went and heard the script, spoke to RGV and said I‘d get back to with my ideas. Once he loved my ideas, I proceeded. The first challenge was working on the whole film as an independent costume designer without a peck’s knowledge of how things work in Film Industry. It was crazy, but I didn’t lose it. In fact, I got an experience of working on 10 films while I worked on 4 scripts of RGV. The work ethics I learned with RGV and team is still what I follow till date. It’s clear and to the point what exactly we need to do. Irrespective of the artist, if the character demands something in the script it ought to be executed unconditionally. This philosophy I learned back then is still what I follow today. Every career has its own ups and downs. But, then it’s been a really great journey till date without any regrets.
From the time you have taken up this profession till now, how do you think has the sense of fashion progressed both in the market and with the taste of people?
It’s been almost 8 years that I have started here. The fashion Industry has evolved amazingly into cinema. It has a strong influence in cinema today. In fact, people’s choices have become more classy and oriented. People have become socially more aware and their take on choices is more specific with a better choice of style and is independent unlike being influenced like before. Earlier, Telugu cinema’s (as a whole) inspirations were from Bollywood or Hollywood. Today the inspirations are far better. Ramp styles are being introduced. Bigger and better brands have cropped in. Difference between style and design is well understood. You can say this by basic observations. Just check the choices of our stars 10 years earlier, you can notice it. Thanks to the designers’ clan, I guess our existence is making a better Influence.
Presently, you have a pretty good repertoire of designing in movies. What is the approach or exercise you take up while designing for a particular movie? How big is your role and how do you usually add value and so forth.
A movie is a script that is visually expressed. Sadly, the recognition for our role is less than what it ought to be. But then, I think COSTUME DESIGN plays a major role in every cinema. Costume DESIGN is something that defines the characters and narrates the journey of a role in a glance. That is the potential of costumes. Costumes also play a key role in the narrative. They equally face the emotions and feeling of each and every character and its journey. In my recent projects, be it Awe, Rangasthalam or Debbaku Taa Dongala Mutta (DTDM), each story has its own identity. And I had to create so many contrasting characters looks in such a short span. I’m glad they all seem promising.
Let’s take Awe, for instance, you have been seeing the looks. Understanding the script followed by the immense research that went into it and creating such bold characters visually was tremendous. We had to make sure that they are all convincing enough not making them look too cinematic but realistic. I believe in creating real character looks. I want the audience to connect with the character in a glance. Again, not all characters relate to each individual, but then in such instance, they need to believe that this is the best definition of that specific characterization visually. If the audience hasn’t connected, then I have failed.
Costume design should blend into the character and make an impact without disturbing the identity of the role. It should not standout once the movie/play begins. All the impact that it should create is in the first glance of the character. Once the movie begins costume should not be a hiccup. The roles should look so believable that the audience should believe the reality of the story without a second thought. That’s when I have done justice to the script.
I am really happy with my recent work, AWE. It somehow turned out to be a magical one. All the characters have a signature of me by its originality. I like taking inspirations and my inspiration could be from the least of your imagination. Once I hear the script, I initially have an imagination in my mind. However, I don’t go by it. The first version is a bit judgmental. Our personal feelings, perspectives, belief system define the way we imagine. Hence, I don’t like the first visual once I read or hear the script. I then start understanding the depth of each character in the story. The way they have been interpreted, their backstories, why a character behaves in a particular way like their body language, what their financial background is in the narrative, the childhood influences on them and so on. I bug the director/narrator with my questions. I would want to understand each and every detail of the creation of the story. Why, What, How and When! Which are my basic questions and apart from many other queries. This gives me the best version of the script’s understanding. The characters created based on this kind of knowledge are beautiful, real and above all the most convincing best form of themselves. That’s how I get the satisfaction of creating a visual character.
Then comes the sketches. I have a huge imaginary world inside, but I can’t show anyone what goes in my brain. So, I sketch. I sketch the characters in their role, body language and with all the detailing required mostly best convincing in the first sketch. I don’t sketch the character sketch until I’m convinced in my mind.
Once the sketch happens, we know what the character needs to look like. I add and remove details, do a lot of DD’s before finalizing the final look. Then another research begins with the hair, makeup, clothing details, body art and so on. Every minute detail has its category of research. I add all the detailing in the most convincing way to make them look realistic. I create my lookbook for the whole script. Lookbook would have every single detail of the filtered brainstorming of each character, so it makes things fall into a clearer perspective.
Here comes the major challenge of convincing the artist with what their look is going to be like. Most of the times, artists are sportive enough to take up any Look. Sadly sometimes you need to convince them to trust me with the look.
Luckily for me, Awe had so many stars and all of them were such a great sport. They believed in the script’s potential. They understood the requirements of the looks and accepted my ideas. I really feel good, such unanimous acceptance is a true pride.
Next is Sourcing, Sampling, Fittings and finally the LOOK Test.
I have taken each character of Awe through all the processes above. Moreover, I know the depths of the back stories of each and every character and why they behave/think/portray the way they are in the script. Sometimes the scripts are challenging. Usually, we have 3 to 4 strong characters, but then scripts like Rangasthalam, Awe, DTDM for that matter have very strong characters which are more than 10 to 12 in each film. So, I had balanced each character’s look based on the script, the strength of their role, the potential (the way they carry themselves or the body language limitation) of the artist being the cast, their screen presence time and their individual role characterization. As I had mentioned before, I like my characters to blend into the story and look realistic. If u read the script and do not watch the movie, your imagination should match at least 85%of the look I have given. If it happens so, then I think I have done justice to my job.
What has been the best or the dearest compliment you received so far?
Hmm… Frankly, I have got a lot, but then some have strongly touched my heart. RGV never compliments, but then if he trusts your work unconditionally, then you have got your impact right there. In the movie Attack, Prakash Raj ‘s look was much appreciated by him. And Surabhi’s look too. He loved the whole idea of my work. Sukumar garu is very appreciative. He means what he says. So heartfully he said that I’ve done 100% justice to my work in Rangasthalam and I have not let him point out a single doubt in the research or my design output.
Ramcharan ji has appreciated my work especially for the ‘periodic sense’ and the balance of character looks I have created for Rangasthalam.
Recently, Rajamaouli garu appreciated Regina’s look for Awe saying, “I don’t know who created her look but it is amazingly done.” It was a proud feeling that my work spoke for me and was recognized by a legend.
What is the level of satisfaction you enjoy in your present role? What’s more that you want to explore?
I’m fully satisfied with my work. If I am not, I would have left this stream long back. I belong here. Cinema has chosen me. I never tried hard to get in here, but this became my destiny. And about satisfaction, yes, I am very happy with my work. And I aspire to go even higher from here. I want to make my mark in cinema. Like any work done by me has to be recognized without even mentioning about that I did it.
I am a creative soul, I would love to explore a lot. For me, art is the essence of my being. And cinema is one of those mediums, I would love to explore to its extent. I write I design, I’m into photography, I may want to explore cinematography, I love dance… so yeah, choreography. And for sure, I would want to direct. Maybe not in the near soon, but for sure some day. I’m in the process of making it all happen.
What is the kind of influence you want to make with your work?
Influence is a strong word. Influence is a responsibility if we take it up. Right now, I’m working on an idea of how to influence or I can say create awareness on handlooms with my work. I appreciate handlooms and their existence. But then they are dying or being exploited. I want to save them and I am struggling with the idea for now. I have done my share by financially supporting the sector using a lot of handlooms in my film Rangasthalam. But awareness and creating an influence may be still in process. There are some other aspects I would love to create a mark about. I’ll tell you soon once I start with them.
Who are your biggest inspirations?
Personally and professionally my dad and my mom are my strongest inspiration. They are the best idols for me. They stand strong no matter how big or small the challenges are. They inspire me in every instance of my life.
Ram Gopal Varma is another strong influence I have. He is a man I look up to. When you think what a normal guy from our state can do, I wonder what all can be done if we just think like him. He changed the phase of Indian cinema and the industry’s mindset.
Late Bapu Garu – He had a brilliant way of taking a film. All his characters are full of life. I love the way his characters blend into his movies which are so realistic. His illustrations make a strong impact on me. His women characterizations were very strong. I have always wanted to be a part of his film, but unfortunately never happened.
James Cameron – He is one living legend I look up to. Who else can make films like him? Someday I aspire to work for his film. He influenced the highest level of cinema. BRILLANCE at par.
Do you follow Telugu cinema closely? What are your comments on the current scenario in the industry?
I do follow cinema. Not specifically Telugu. Telugu cinema today has dropped down by a great margin I say. Telugu Cinema has had the potential of legendary impacts. But then, we are in a shortage of good filmmakers and writers. More of knockoff (copying in Fashion terms) culture has taken the shift. More real and creative stories should happen. Change is needed. Too monotonous scripts are the present scenario. I believe it will take time, but I must say that slowly the change has begun. The audience now is accepting new ideas in the films. They are appreciating new storytellers and visionaries. Hope it makes a major impact soon.
Who are your favourite fashionistas in Telugu cinema?
I like Kajal Agarwal’s style. She has a beautiful body language and diva grace. She carries herself with ease and got her own style. I like Regina Cassandra’s bold yet gracious style. She experiments a lot and yet stands gracefully carrying it with ease. Avanthika Mishra has very sporty and free-spirited style to look up to. Ram Charan has a classy personal style. He has his own charming way of carrying a simple conventional style too. Nani has a very defined style of carrying himself. Very Graceful.
Do all the designers in the industry catch up? How are your equations with other designers?
I don’t know if they do. I’m not a much of social person. But yes, I have a few friends who are designers in the industry and we are very good friends. We hang out at times.
What is the scope you estimate in future for designers in the film industry and as well as otherwise in our country?
Costume Designer/ Fashion Designer/Fashion Stylist. This position is a key role in cinema today. But then respect and recognition towards this role are not yet up to the mark. Though the whole film needs costumes as important criteria, the recognition towards the creator of those costumes has been neglected or left unrecognized I can say. It is because we as the position holders are maybe not doing the justice as impactful it ought to be or no awareness on how important it is to acknowledge the role (the industry has been following the same old title slides ever since which is sad but true).
Either way, it is affecting the professional’s role. So, I would say from our end as professionals, taking our work seriously and understanding how much impact we create by creating the right look, right style, and giving the right clothes to the characters in the films is very important. If we take our work seriously, people will start taking you seriously. Respect your job. People will respect you and your work. This problem is especially in Telugu film industry. Here people respect the talents who come from other states but fail to recognize the local.
This discrimination should be wiped out. For that, all we can do is create your impact. Make your work show. Show them that your work is far better than the other state’s talent. For that, working on self is important. Just showing some reference images and buying them from a mall and putting the clothes on the artist is NOT costume design for heaven’s sake. Costume design is something that defines the characters. Not randomly styling according to colours. Respect the profession. Bollywood has some amazing designers who create wonderful looks and characters. Follow them, know about the role a costume plays. Understand the impact it creates for a film, then you will do justice to your role. Anywhere, be it South or North India or anywhere in the world, when you create something out of passion, it will be your best and it will be appreciated.
Any tips, tricks or pieces of advice for aspiring fashion designers from your side.
Tips.. Well, I would say if you respect your profession, people will automatically respect you. Be genuine with your work. Do not steal the ideas or credits for someone’s work because today you may walk away with it, but when you have to recreate the same or create something new and if you fail to portray the talent you claim yourself to be, you lose the whole of it.
If you are working with someone, unlearn your interpretations. Respect their experience and learn the art of work. Tantrums do not feed you, work does. Morally and physically.
Tricks.. Haha.. Be quick. Be on your toes. Think of alternatives ahead and be prepared for them. When dealing with stars, maintain more options for one as they like choosing. Maintain very good rapport with costumer bhaiyyas, they are more experienced than you are, respect their experience.
Maintain costume files. That’s it I guess for now. Thank you so much for the support guys. This was an amazing experience of answering these questions and knowing myself.