It’s 3 pm on the sets of Anand Gandhi’s period-fantasy Tumbad. Serina Tixeira sifts through her vanity case, occasionally looking up to watch the prosthetics team at work, waiting for her cue to step in. For the next three hours, the film’s lead actor Sohum Shah is the team’s canvas — Tixeira and the others will help transform this affable young man in a blazer and linen dhoti into a blood-sucking ogre for his role in the film.
The entire department has been up since 2 am and the day is far from over. For the last four days, the 38-year-old make-up artist has been in Saswad, 40 km from Pune, where the film is being shot. At the shoot location, amidst overgrown weeds and under a blazing sun, the team — five men and two women, including Tixeira — discusses the exact shade of red needed for the “drops of blood” on Shah’s wig of matted hair. To an outsider, there are no visible lines here — gender or hierarchy — as the team bounces suggestions off each other over cups of tea. But Tixeira has worked in the industry for over a decade, first as a hairdresser and then a make-up artist, and these ‘lines’ are all too familiar. A Supreme Court ruling that’s expected to be passed in the coming week will place make-up artists like her on a par with their male colleagues. The lines will finally be redrawn, even done away with.
Last Monday, the Supreme Court acted on make-up artist Charu Khurana’s 2009 petition that challenged a 59-year-old rule restricting women from working as make-up artists in the film industry. During the November 3 hearing, the Cine Costume Make-up Artists and Hair Dressers Association (CCMAA), a registered film trade-union body, was told that if they didn’t return with a response promising to scrap the rule by November 10, the next date of hearing, the court would order it to do so.
The court ruling may finally help correct a long-standing bias in the movie industry that has forced women make-up artists, however talented, to work in the shadows, in the anonymity of make-up vans and without ever being able to see their names on the film’s credits.
“Women in this industry can now breathe easy. We have been subverting the rule for far too long, lying to the union saying we are on the sets to meet an actor friend, fearing a raid every single day that we are on the sets. Why should we have to,” says make-up artist Mallika Bhat, who has had several run-ins with the union.
Almost every woman make-up artist in Bollywood has stories of how they battled this bias. While shooting for Yash Raj Films’s Dhoom, Mehera Kolah’s first film as a make-up artist, she remembers how a group of men landed on the sets one day, disrupted the shoot and demanded to see her “card”. Registered with CCMAA, her membership card said she was a ‘hairdresser’. She brought out this card and handed it to them, sure that since she was the association’s member, they would leave her alone. “But they confiscated my card and left, asking me to collect it from the association office later. That’s when I discovered that the association’s rules don’t allow women to work as make-up artists,” recounts Kolah.
The production house was asked to pay a hefty fine and Kolah was told she could work only on the songs of the film, not the entire project. When she visited the association office to recover her card, it was temporarily closed. “And frankly, I haven’t bothered going back,” she says.
Today, Kolah is one of the most respected names in her profession. The 51-year-old has worked in the film industry over the past 15 years without the ‘card’. She has been on the crew of at least 60 films, designing Deepika Padukone’s make-up in films such as Chennai Express, Finding Fanny and Goliyon Ki Rasleela — Ram-Leela. “They do come for me every now and then. But it’s the same story with every woman make-up artist. We hide in the vanity vans as the vigilance team isn’t allowed in there.”
The privacy of a vanity van has for years offered women make-up artists the perfect foil to the situation. Most often, they work with actors inside the van, leaving last-minute finishes and touch-ups between shots to their assistants — mostly men and members of the CCMAA — on the sets. “Hiring card-holders as assistants works in our favour. Firstly, in case of a raid, the male artists can pretend to be the make-up artists in charge. Also, it ensures that the men keep their jobs so their fear of women eating up their jobs is dismissed,” says Divya Chablani who has worked in the industry for over a decade.
But Shabana Latif points out that none of these “tricks” would help unless the production team backs the make-up artist. Talking of her first film, Don, in 2006, she says that when the shoot at Versova beach was stalled by a raid simply because she didn’t have a card, the production paid up the fine and waorked out a monetary arrangement with the union so that she could continue on the project.
“We had a similar problem with the film I am currently working on that’s being directed by Nikhil Advani. They too have an arrangement with CCMAA so as to retain me as the leading lady Kangna Ranaut’s make-up artist. All this is just the union’s way of making money,” says Latif, who wasn’t as lucky when the union in Hyderabad protested while she was working on a Telugu film. She had to leave the film after working on one song.
At the CCMAA office in Andheri, Stanley D’Souza, the association’s general secretary, sits behind a desk, occasionally stealing glances at his desktop computer that constantly beams CCTV footage of his office. He says the “monetary arrangement” that Latif spoke about was simply the fine the film’s producers have to pay if they are caught working with a woman make-up artist — a staggering Rs 25,000 for the day. “And if the producer wants to continue working with the make-up artist, we charge an additional 20 per cent of the artist’s fee for the entire schedule.”
Given the big money that is to be made by penalising production houses, it isn’t surprising that the association has been reluctant to scrap the rule barring women from working as make-up artists. Most people in the industry point out that for the money the association makes through fines and membership fees — a steep Rs 43,500, which they plan to increase in January once they open memberships to women — CCMAA doesn’t offer any “facilities” to its members, except the promise to settle payment disputes. At best, it has fixed the daily minimum pay for its members — Rs 2,500 for the chief artist, Rs 1,100 for the assistant and Rs 900 for the second assistant.
The dread of the union and its raids has led to the rise of parallel unions in the make-up industry. Run by various political parties such as MNS, Shiv Sena and NCP, these unions offer to “protect the interests” of members harassed by the CCMAA — all this for a membership fee of about Rs 5,000. “Most of us have the MNS’s make-up artist card. If you call them in case the union is troubling you, they land up in a group and tackle the situation,” says Texeira.
While it is difficult to say how many women will benefit from the Supreme Court ruling, people in the industry say the number of women make-up artists doesn’t exceed 300 across films, television shows and advertisements. Compare it to the 2,000 men who are officially registered with CCMAA — many operate without a card — and the patriarchy is evident.
“When the association was formed in 1955, there weren’t enough women. In fact, the film industry was not considered a respectable place for women to work in. With no institutions that taught filmmaking, crafts such as lighting, stunts, choreography and make-up were learnt on the job and skills passed on from one generation to the next. So the sons usually took up their fathers’ jobs,” says D’Souza, the CCMAA general secretary.
This started to change about 15 years ago when the movie industry got its first taste of international fashion and style. Make-up schools thrived and women started trickling into the profession. Some found their way in through ads, others through the beauty industry.
“The situation changed so much in the last 10 years that some of the top artists today are women. But that hasn’t prompted the union to alter their rules. In fact, the union isn’t people-friendly at all,” says Natasha Nischol of Fat Mu, one of the top make-up and hair-artist companies in Bollywood.
Nischol has a point. The CCMAA office shifted from Dadar to Andheri two months ago. But nothing, save a notice pasted on the window of the old office, indicates the move. Many members aren’t even aware of the new location. Outside D’Souza’s cabin, a noticeboard displays the rules for membership. One of the points says those aspiring for membership have to be residents of Maharashtra for 15 years.
In an industry where people come from far and wide to work, the domicile rule seems absurd.
Another clause in the CCMAA rulebook bars men from working as hairdressers. “This was introduced to level the game for women in the industry since back then, hair styling was considered a woman’s prerogative,” says Stanley.
But Khurana says that both the regulations were introduced to safeguard men’s interests. “Styling wasn’t very big back in the day. Only a few actresses experimented with styling. Hairdressing for male actors was mostly about working with wigs and beard and cutting or trimming of hair. But according to the association, all these come under make-up. And if a make-up artist was already cutting an actor’s hair, he would also end up styling it.”
It isn’t surprising then that the number of registered hair dressers is no more than 800. And this includes women make-up artists who get themselves a hairdresser card so they can pretend to be styling hair in case a vigilance team raids a film set.
The bias against women, however, is deep-seated. Kamlesh Shinde has been part of the industry for nearly two decades and has worked with some of the top-earning women make-up artists, assisting them with his fine skill, honed over years of experience with hundreds of actors. While he admits that he admires the work of the women artists he has been associated with, he doesn’t miss out on a swipe. “Many parlour girls who enter the industry start with hair but manage to charm the boys handling production to let them also take up make-up. This robs our boys of their jobs,” he says.
Artists such as Tixeira have learnt to steel themselves against these jibes. In May this year, while shooting for an English horror film, The Other Side of the Door, at Film City, Tixeira was pulled aside and asked to quit the film. She refused and challenged the union members to do whatever they wanted. Married to a man who gave up his job with a steady income to let her pursue her passion, Tixeira was not willing to let the “petty insecurities of these men” come in her way. “I had decided that if they give me trouble, I will drag them to court. I didn’t want to hide in a vanity van as if I had committed a crime,” she says.
But the bias isn’t reserved for women alone. One of the industry’s top-paid artists, Vikram Gaekwad, recounts a case where the union refused one of his students a card because of his “feminine appearance”.
But Ojas Rajani believes there is only one way to tackle the problem — “stand up to them as the union will target only those who cow down”.
Seated on an ornate wooden chair at his Bandra residence, his left leg delicately placed on the seat, Rajani is on the phone with an Indian bride-to-be from Paris who insists that Rajani style her look for her wedding functions. “I need to see your skin, bone structure, not your clothes. By the time I come for your wedding, I won’t remember what you showed me. I’ll have dressed 300 brides by then. Besides, if you decide to wear a horrendous blue and green, I’m not going to put the same colours on your face to match the outfit,” he rattles off into the phone.
It’s this blunt talk that has helped the 47-year-old deal with an industry biased against people like him. Openly gay, Rajani was always a flaming queen. For most part of his 25-year career, he says, the industry has embraced his personal choices.
But then, there has been the association. “The one time I went to the association office to get myself a card, they turned me away, asking me to come back once I’ve cut my hair. And this, when I am male,” he says. But Rajani stood his ground and got himself a card. However, like most of his colleagues, he finds it useless. “It hasn’t been of any help to me all these years.”
Bhanu has one of the toughest jobs in the Tamil movie industry: turn a genial, balding, 60-plus man into the cigarette-flipping heartthrob that fans know Rajnikanth as. But in an industry dominated almost exclusively by men, Bhanu, the superstar’s make-up artist, is an exception. The Rs 2,300-crore industry, which makes about 250 movies a year, employs 800 make-up artists and hairdressers, of whom less than 50 are women and almost all of them are hairdressers. M Krishna Rao, a veteran make-up artist with over 40 years of experience in the Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam movie industries, welcomed the recent Supreme Court order, saying “male dominance” of make-up artists would have ended anyway “with educated and trained women gradually joining the profession”.
When Papia Chanda enrolled in veteran make-up artist Pandari Juker’s academy in 2001, she was told she had no future in Bollywood. “I was warned by my batchmates that there are no woman make-up artists in the Hindi film industry. I was disappointed because I was learning the craft from someone who had made Yash Chopra’s heroines look the way they did, and to think that I wouldn’t be able to pursue my own Bollywood dreams,” says Chanda. Of the 150 make-up artists in the Bengal movie industry, there are only five women. Yet, Chanda claims, the industry, which makes about 120 movies a year, “isn’t as sexist” as Bollywood. “The women don’t face any obvious discriminations. The wages are decided by the guild, and we get equal wages. Somehow, women decide to be hairdressers here,” says Chanda, who has been working in the industry for the past 12 years. But Chanda has had trouble over floor assistants. “Floor assistants are people who do touch-ups on the actors in between shots. I had a woman floor assistant and once someone from the production house told me that actors have problems if there is a woman floor assistant. I don’t see how it’s a problem,” says Chanda.
The Telugu film industry has seven or eight women hairstylists but no make-up artists. Balaram Balu, secretary of the AP Cine Make-up and Hair Stylists’ Union, says, “Traditionally, women in Hyderabad do not prefer this job. They’d rather work in beauty salons specialising in bridal and general make-up because those are steady jobs that offer a regular pay.’’
On record, there are no women make-up artists in the Kannada film industry. But a number of top actresses are known to work with personal beauticians.
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