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Supporting CAST

With the help of prosthetics,Bollywood dares to give unconventional roles a shot.

With the help of prosthetics,Bollywood dares to give unconventional roles a shot.

In 1986,Sridevi slithered as a nagina (snakewoman),dressed in pristine white ghagra-choli and looking very human in Nagina. Unlike her,Mallika Sherawat,who recently made her debut as a snakewoman in Hisss,goes the whole hog. This beautiful actress turns into a furious reptile whenever the script demands — albeit with some help.

Accepting this role meant taking a huge risk. Still,for Sherawat,the bigger challenge was sitting through the lengthy prosthetic make-up session. The make-up involves a meticulous layering of an actor’s face or body using silicon rubber,foam latex,gelatin and other materials. “It is a tedious and painful procedure,” exclaims the actor,who had to get into her snake suit for most of her scenes in Hisss. “Because of the texture,it becomes difficult to wear it for long hours. It is terrible under humid conditions.”

Till Bollywood discovered advantages of prosthetics,actors had to depend heavily on their make-up artistes. But the magic of greasepaint was restricted to a few deft strokes of eye-liner or rouge and the make-up artistes’ tricks mostly included use of wigs or fake moustache. As the Indian film industry evolved,these tricks failed to meet the demands of an unconventional role,like that of Amitabh Bachchan’s in Paa. This film required the sexagenarian actor to look like a 13-year-old. More recently,Priyanka Chopra opted for prosthetics as her upcoming film Saat Khoon Maaf,directed by Vishal Bhardwaj,shows her growing old. Akshay Kumar and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan too have embraced this technique for Vipul Shah’s Action Replayy.

Though this make-up technique has been around for a long time now,mainly in Hollywood,it gained prominence with the Oscar-winning The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and Paa. In India,Southern superstar Kamal Haasan has popularised it in his films like Chachi 420 and Indian. Make-up artiste Vikram Gaekwad — one of the few Indians who specialises in prosthetics — traces its origin in the mainstream Hindi cinema. “I first used it when I did Sardar with Paresh Rawal,where he had to look like Sardar Vallabhai Patel,” says Gaekwad. According to him,prosthetics work best with biopics and horror films.

“A prosthetic can be anything from a subtle nose tip,a bullet wound,slit throat or a scar,” says Dominie Till,an expert in prosthetic makeovers. Till,however,had to do much more than this along with Christian Tinsley while helping Bachchan become Paa’s Auro,who suffers from progeria. “The advantages of prosthetics as compared to normal make-up is that you are creating a realistic 3D skin,” she says. But it has limitations,believes Gaekwad. “India is very humid and the glue used in prosthetics doesn’t work well in this climate. So I use prosthetics only if the filmmaker can do the touch-up later with computer graphics,” says Gaekwad.

Another major difficulty with the use of heavy prosthetics is that it is very easy for those not used to them to forget that it is a sort of make-up and make a mess of it while shooting. “Lighting and camera angles are of utmost importance. For example,silicon used in a lot of prosthetics does not absorbs light the way natural skin does. So changing the light dramatically during a scene can have an adverse affect,” states Till. “The advantages of prosthetics often outweigh any disadvantages. But each film that we do as make-up artistes needs to be approached as an individual case,taking into account the actor,the sequence and environmental conditions.”

This make-up makes tough demands on actors. Chopra — who plays a character who progresses from the age of 20 to 65 in Saat Khoon Maaf — considers this one of her most difficult films till date. “The make-up took five hours every day. While it is being applied,you can’t move,talk or eat. They use alcohol,latex and other harsh products on the skin and I used to feel like I am wearing a clay mask the whole day. Then,after shooting,it used to take another hour and a half to remove it,” recalls Chopra.

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Despite the challenges involved,prosthetics have made storytelling easier for filmmakers. “Paa wouldn’t have been possible without the prosthetics,” says director R. Balki,who feels it made Auro’s character convincing. Vipul Shah,who has used the technique in Action Replayy,says that “When we have the option now,why not explore it.” Notwithstanding the advantages,says Gaekwad,prosthetics are good only when there is a good actor to support the moulds and casts.