If you look up to Sonam Kapoor for style inspiration, then Namrata Soni is the one to thank for the actor’s stunning make-up and hair. Soni, who is on Kapoor’s speed-dial and has worked in films like Main Hoon Na, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, and the upcoming Veere Di Wedding, is one of Bollywood’s most prominent make-up artists. With over 17 years of experience, she has been instrumental in fighting against sexism, and the erstwhile archaic clauses by the Mumbai-based Cine Costume, Make-up Artists and Hair Dressers Association preventing women from working as make-up artists, and men as hairdressers.
In a conversation with indianexpress.com, Soni talks about her love for the craft, her defiance towards the Union, what kept her going in a male-dominated industry, and the special bond she shares with Sonam Kapoor. Edited excerpts.
When did the love affair with hair and make-up start?
It all started with seeing my mom and nani (grandmother) getting ready while growing up. I still remember how I would sit on the bed and watch my mom get ready – applying the perfect surma, doing her lips and blushing her cheeks. It kind of showed me the path that I had to take in life. Also, while growing up, I noticed how all the actors looked almost the same, as artists were using the same techniques and make-up. I felt the need to do something different and change the way they look.
Tell us about your journey.
I started off at a time when there were only a handful of women in this profession and we had to fight against the Union, but I was blessed to have some amazing women directors supporting me, especially Farah Khan, and production houses like Dharma Production and Yash Raj Films, which supported women. I have worked with some of the best people and learnt something new from each one of them. It’s been a fantastic journey.
You have always openly spoken about how volatile and violent the Union is. In 2004, when you were trying to fight it, you found very few supporters. You still don’t have a membership card; how does that work out for you?
It was really frustrating when I started out, because we had to hide inside vanity vans when the Union would turn up. I used to ask myself, “Why should I do that? I am not doing anything wrong. I am a woman, we live in a secular country and we even have a female President, so why should someone tell me what I can and cannot do with my career?” I would never listen to them and refused to pay the fines levied on me, because I wasn’t doing anything that is not my right. I have been dragged out of make-up rooms on set, and had to call cops for protection.
Has this experience made you stronger?
Yes. Till date, I don’t have a Union card and I don’t even want one. I am happy with how things are right now, but they still find ways to trouble us. I was once told women are incapable of dealing with the huge amount of pressure on set with 17-18 hours in play – men can handle it better. I would also get threats: “You come to Film City, we will show you what we can do. We will chop off your hands”.
It was scary, but my family’s support kept me going. Also, the huge support from directors and producers, especially Farah Khan, Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra, Yash Chopra and Sajid Nadiadwala. If it weren’t for them, I would still have to hide inside vanity vans.
You have worked with a lot of Bollywood celebrities, but there’s a special connect with Sonam Kapoor.
There is… A bond was created 11 years ago when we started working and we both just understood each other. She was very young and experimental. I needed someone on whom I could try beautiful looks and she needed someone who would be willing to try things without being scared or worry about the feedback and the trolls. I have a special fondness for her Cannes look in 2013, where she is wearing an Anamika Khanna couture with the nathni.
What new trends do you have in store for us with Sonam Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Swara Bhaskar and Shikha Talsania in Shashanka Ghosh’s Veere Di Wedding?
We tried new hair colouring techniques, different types of curls and waves… every character’s hair is different. I am not allowed to talk about the looks, but I will say that each one of them is gorgeous.
Bridal make-up has gone a paradigm shift; it is more toned down now… Your thoughts?
Thank god! I have always believed less is more. It is important for a bride today to feel like herself and my job as a make-up artist is to keep it as natural as possible and still make them look beautiful. We have seen horror stories and I think a lot has to do with the colour fixation we have in our country. I want to start a campaign called ‘Embrace your Colour’, as I feel it’s up to us to get rid of the white skin fixation. Times are changing but we still have people in smaller cities obsessing over it. I have had mothers of brides coming up to me and saying, ‘Please usko do-teen shade gori kardo’. (Please make her two-three shades lighter).
What make-up advice do you have for our readers for the summer?
Drink lots and lots of water. Wear a sunscreen, even if you are sitting at home and use a BB cream or a tinted moisturiser. It’s not about caking up your skin, it’s all about giving it an even tone.
Check out her work here:
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