Cinema Make-Up

I am an NRI, translated into: no-real Indian. I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears. I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati and other languages.

Producers hire all kinds of people to enable directors to do their work properly, i.e. transform what is on a piece of paper into an illusion of reality, the completed film that is. People who work in hair and make-up form part of that team. Nobody knows who they are because they don’t make headlines like the director and the cast, but they are very important because of all those lights.

Brides with light skin
Painful as the story was in Vivah, the make-up department applied so much make up on Poonam (Amrita Rao) to make her look lighter, it achieved the director’s aim of giving the impression that white skin increases the prospects of a successful arranged marriage. The make up department also successfully made us angry at Rama (Seema Biswas) for subjecting her daughter Chhoti, (Amrutha Prakash) to all kinds of daily face packs and powders so that she should be lighter. Rama herself had layers of skin lightening creams on her face.

Indeed, in one scene Rama confronts her husband Krishnakant played by Alok Nath about the elaborate preparations for Poonam’s wedding. She reminds him that Chhoti is yet to marry and releases her pent up frustration. “I’ve spoken to all kinds of people about Chhoti, but I have not been successful because she is dark.”

Natural beauty
Dulhaa Mi Gaaya which was released in 2009 is another film where the make-up department excelled. I would not have bought a cinema ticket if I knew what the story was all about. Briefly, Tej (Fardeen Khan) a rich boy from Trinidad flies to Punjab to marry Samapreet, a girl his late father chose for him. The will said no marriage to this girl, no inheritance. He goes back to Trinidad to enjoy the bachelor life he’s famous for.

Samapreet follows him only to be thrown out of his ranch by his security men. Shimmer (Sushmita Sen), a super model who lives in Trinidad comes up with a plan that she would make her so gorgeous, Tej, who loves women will fall for her not knowing that she is his wife. You know the rest of the story so I will skip that.

However, I was pleasantly surprised that the make-up department in Dulhaa was true to Sushmita’s skin and beauty, a far cry from the film Sirf Tum, where there was a disagreement between face and neck, the main flaw in make-up, where the face is glaringly lighter that the rest of the body. I mention Dulhaa Mi Gaaya because that disagreement was present in Sushmita’s other movies such as Main Hoon Na.

I had to screen Taal, directed by Subhash Ghai again for some research I was doing. Mamsi (Aishwarya Rai) a small-town girl falls in love with Manav (Akshay Khanna), the son of a rich man from Mumbai. Parents don’t want the marriage so she ends up with the flamboyant Vikram Kapur (Anil Kapoor). Mamsi and Vikram win at the MTV awards held at the Skydome in Toronto.

There is a scene at the waterfront where Vikram tells her that there will be a big airport reception for them when they go back to India. That is when I saw Aishwarya’s true skin colour because for the greater part of the film Taal, make-up had blanched her skin white. Make-up is very minimal in that scene making her skin black, as it is in real life. It made me realise why they say she is one of the most beautiful actresses in the world.

Excessive make-up
Kajol, who is also breathtakingly beautiful, is one actress who has borne the brunt of excesses of the make-up department in films such as Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, ISHQ and Hum Aapke Dil Mein Rehte Hain. It is possible to enhance her natural beauty, the way Dulhaa Mi Gaaya did with Sushmita Sen. My understanding of make up is to complement what nature provided, and not destroy it as if nature was having a bad day when it made Sushmita Sen, Kajol and Priyanka Chopra.

Make-up should not be an impediment to the story. It should enhance it. What comes to mind is Dhaai Akshr Prem Ke, and the scene where Karan (Abhishek Bachchan) is taking Sahiba (Aishwarya Rai) home. She realises that she loves him when they get a lift from a wedding party. Karan has no clue how attractive he is to Sahiba. Make-up complemented Karan’s beautiful skin as it is, black and Sahiba loved it.

I only realised how beautiful Rani Mukherjee is, in Shaad Ali’s film Saathiya, where make-up was not perfect but showed her true skin tone, making her eyes even more dramatic. She is grossly overdone in most of her films.

The make up department in Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman went overboard with Helen’s (Kimberley Elise) make up, especially in the scene where she slept alone, despite the fact that she had attended an awards dinner, which honoured Charles Richard Harris) her husband. This is an obstacle for me because when I’m in a cinema, I want to play house, maybe I should say I want to play reality. I’ve come to watch some reality, for those 100 or 200 minutes. Make up that is out of context disturbs my concentration.

When all is said and done, the make-up department has evolved over the years. Make-up is no longer a paint job like in earlier films such as Mughal-Ezam where actors looked as if they were really painted. The release of Dulha Mi Gayaa, where the make-up did not dwarf Sushmita Shen’s natural skin indicates that make-up will reach a point where people don’t get disappointed when they see actors in person. “He doesn’t look like on television,” they sigh.

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness The Novel.


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