“You worked on his face, added a white beard to make him look old. But what about his hands?” asks Shailendra Kumar, 49, sitting in his apartment in G D Colony in East Delhi’s Mayur Vihar Phase III.
Kumar, a freelance makeup artist, was referring to the incident of September 8, when Jayesh Patel, a 32-year-old from Gujarat, was arrested from New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport for impersonating an octogenarian while boarding a New York-bound plane with a fake passport. The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which guards most of the country’s airports, stated in a press release, “The appearance and skin texture of the passenger seemed to be much younger than mentioned in the passport.”
During the investigation, Patel reportedly confessed that a makeup artist had visited him in his hotel in Paharganj for the makeover. Following an intense search operation, police arrested Shamsher Singh, 42, a makeup artist who goes by the moniker “Billu Barber” and runs a parlour in Patel Nagar.
Police have accused Singh of working with a gang that has been helping people to illegally emigrate to other countries. According to DCP (Airport) Sanjay Bhatia, “Singh has helped at least 10 other people, including two women, change their appearance and conceal their age or gender… The officer (who arrested Patel) also realised the hands didn’t look like that of an older man either. He was then taken into police custody.”
Kumar says he too has on many occasions made young men look much older. “Of course, those were for roles they were playing in various soap operas,” says Kumar, handing over a photo of a client he worked on years ago. “If he (Shamsher Singh) was tricked into this, he should be released.”
Kumar, who has been a makeup artist for over two decades, doesn’t own a parlour and usually visits his clients, mostly television personalities and models, at the venue of the shoot. He also takes on assignments for bridal makeup. “If someone walks up to me and asks me for a makeover, I will not do it. It doesn’t happen like that. I visit homes and hotels only when I have to do bridal makeup. But I am more interested in doing makeovers related to fictional characters. And today’s bridal makeup is somewhat similar to that,” quips Kumar, adding, “At times, we apply even three layers of makeup, changing the very colour or tone of the skin. There are situations where the groom fails to recognise the bride after the makeup is removed.”
Kumar began his professional career with a two-year-long stint with Doordarshan in 1994, where he worked as a junior makeup artiste on numerous shows. He says it was his long association with a TV channel, from 2000 to 2018, that helped him not only hone his skills but also befriend many known faces in the Indian media and film fraternity.
“I was very close to Farooq Sheikh, who often asked me to shift to Mumbai. He used to tell me that I would excel there,” Kumar claims, flipping through the pages of a photo album that has pictures of him with prominent Bollywood celebrities including Rani Mukerji, Jackie Shroff, Shilpa Shetty and Manna Dey.
“I never had the courage to leave my family in Delhi and shift to Mumbai. And I don’t regret it. However, last month, I travelled to Mumbai to learn about prosthetic makeup. It was an enriching experience,” he says, stroking his moustache, styled in the now-famous ‘Abhinandan Cut’.
Kumar says that every year, ahead of the Ramleela season, he sports the gunslinger moustache look, made popular by Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. “I play the role of Raavan at the Ramleela and I grow my moustache this way to fit into my role. But it’s a wonderful feeling when people tell you, ‘Abhinandan jaise lag rahe ho (You look like Abhinandan)’,” Kumar says.
During the Ramleela season, Kumar adds, he usually takes a break from regular makeup assignments. “This year, the Ramleela assignments start from September 29. Besides playing my role, I need to do over 150 makeups daily. My 23-year-old daughter Chandni and wife Sapna help me,” he says.
Chandni usually plays Sita, while Sapna, 41, is Sunaina, Sita’s mother, in the Ramleela, he says.
Kumar says makeup is a skill that has passed down generations of his family. “My grandfather, who gave makeovers to others as a hobby, owned a jewellery shop in Lahore, which was frequented by legendary actors and singers such as Om Prakash and K L Saigal. He shifted to Delhi following Partition in 1947. He passed on the skill to my father Rajen Kumar Verma, who worked for Doordarshan as a news producer. However, for my father, makeup was never more than a hobby and he didn’t want me to become a makeup artist either since the profession lacks good money. But maybe I was destined to become one,” Kumar says.
He now hopes to start an institute where he can train makeup artists. “The art form is dying. It has to be revived. Those interested should have access to quality training programmes,” he says.
However, Kumar admits, the returns from his job are unpredictable. “Some months, especially during the marriage season, the earnings are high — a bridal makeup for a Christian wedding costs about
Rs 30,000 and it takes only a few hours. I am also called by various production houses as well as studios, including news media houses. I get work about 15 to 20 days a month,” he says, adding, “In all these years, I have learnt that life is peaceful if you don’t have EMIs to pay and I don’t have any.”
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