One afternoon in 2000, alone at her Lajpat Nagar residence in Delhi, Charu Khurana was sifting through her mother’s closet when she came across her vanity kit and decided to take a peep. She was surprised to find cosmetic products by some of the biggest brands like Christian Dior and MAC. She knew her mother used to be an independent make-up artist, a career she gave up when Khurana was a toddler.
Khurana, who was then a college student and couldn’t afford “even a regular lipstick”, decided to test the cosmetics on herself. The result left her amazed. The incident opened up a world of possibilities for Khurana, today a make-up artist who has worked with stars from the Hindi, Telugu and Tamil film industries.
“I was an amateur then, yet I could see how a bit of skill and use of quality products could enhance one’s appearance. It drove me to follow my mother’s footsteps,” recalls Khurana, 32.
After completing her degree in business administration, Khurana trained under Delhi-based make-up artist Vidya Tikari for two years. But unlike her mother, she wanted to travel and experiment with her craft — not limit herself to bridal make-up or freelancing for events. She knew that working in the film industry would allow her to spread her wings.
However, her dream was thwarted when she moved to Mumbai in 2009, after a post-graduate diploma from the Cinema Makeup School in Los Angeles. For months, she tried to get a membership card of the Cine Costume Make-up Artists and Hair Dressers Association (CCMAA), but she was refused on some count or another. “I would be told they were not issuing new memberships or that I should opt for a hair dresser’s card. I was being misled,” she says.
In late 2009, when she was working on the Tamil remake of A Wednesday!, Unnaipol Oruvan, the union raided the film’s sets. They humiliated her and slapped a fine of Rs 25,000. That’s when Khurana discovered the union’s rule that bars women from working as make-up artists. She was forced to quit the film, although the lead actor, Kamal Haasan, tried to intervene on her behalf. Khurana paid the fine but decided it was time she took on the association and get the archaic rule scrapped.
Her five-year-long battle is now nearing its end. The Supreme Court on Monday said the 59-year-old rule is “constitutionally impermissible discrimination”. Khurana, the chief petitioner in the case, was assured that if the CCMAA didn’t come back with a “positive response” by the next hearing (November 10), an order would be passed for the clause to be deleted.
“I was getting good offers and opportunities in the field of make-up when I came to Mumbai after completing my diploma. I was one of the few local artists equipped to handle prosthetics, like the kind used on Amitabh Bachchan for Paa. But the rule closed many doors on me. If I was not going to fight for my bread and butter, I knew no one else would,” says Khurana.
She first tried to pressure the association by filing police complaints regarding the discrimination. After the move failed to yield results, Khurana approached the National Commission for Women, which took up her case and liaised with CCMAA and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. In 2013, the NCW approached the Supreme Court.
The much-debated rule dates back to 1955 when the CCMAA was formed. With no women make-up artists then, “the bylaw naturally revolved around men,” says Stanley D’Souza, general secretary, CCMAA. Similarly, “in order to offer equal opportunities to women”, the association passed a rule that no men would be allowed to work as hair dressers — nobody has raised a voice, but the association promises to change this too.
As the years passed and women entered the make-up profession and men started to work as hair dressers, no move was made to amend the rule. In fact, the previous committee members running the association tried to reinforce it, raiding sets and penalising women make-up artists.
“The raiding team isn’t allowed to enter vanity vans. So often, women make-up artists work with the stars inside and keep a male assistant with a membership card on stand-by. Also, the women carry their hair dresser cards to the sets and pretend to work on hair in case of a check,” says Khurana, who has worked in Mani Ratnam’s Raavan and Shoojit Sircar’s Yahaan.
D’Souza says the current committee is waiting for the court to pass the order so it can be implemented. “The association heading the committee changes every three years. Ours is a new committee, elected in June this year. It’s not in our power to take pre-emptive steps. We will gladly delete the clause once the order comes through,” he says.
Khurana’s colleagues — both men and women — have welcomed the court’s stand. Khurana, however, feels shortchanged. It’s been a lonely battle for her, with not many willing to taken on the association. “The committee was vindictive after I dragged them to court. They would flex their muscles and make sure I didn’t get films — between 2012 and 2013, I lost out on projects in the south, incuding the Telugu period film Rudrama Devi,” says Khurana, currently a full-time mother to her 18-month-old son. “Who can assure me the same will not happen after the Supreme Court passes the order on Monday?”