Yes, the time has come to ask for women makeup artists. With the apex court dismissing an archaic rule banning them in Bollywood, the future looks bright
By Vanessa Rebello
A smudged eye or a pale cheek on the sets of a Bollywood film have always been fixed with the shout of one word: “Dada!” Within seconds, a man would appear from the shadows with a sponge in one hand and a trusty makeup bag in the other. And soon, the kohl crisis would be averted. For 59 years, this role has always been played by men because of an archaic rule by the Cine Costume Makeup Artists and Hair Dressers Association (CCMAA), which didn’t allow women to be employed as makeup artists in the film industry.
Finally, makeup artist Charu Khurana and the National Commission for Women took up the cause and petitioned the Supreme Court (SC) to do away with this rule. And on November 10, the SC lifted the ban saying: “We are in 2014, not in 1935. Such things cannot continue even for a day.”
Many a dream and aspiration has been crushed by this outdated, biased rule. Piyu Palkar, for example, started her career on the sets of director Ashutosh Gowarikar, who allowed her to assist other makeup artists and hang around them to learn the tricks of the trade. Palkar assisted the likes of Mickey Contractor and Kapil Bhalla, who supported her wholeheartedly. Things were looking up, but it didn’t last long. She was eventually shown her place as a woman in the industry. “Jaywant Thakre
(well-known makeup artist) was on a set and had started work when I asked permission to enter the makeup van. Much to my surprise, he refused to let me in,” says Palkar. He informed Palkar that she should become a hairstylist like other girls, because they weren’t allowed to do makeup in this industry. “I was so angry. I asked him the reason, but he ended the conversation by saying that the union (CCMAA) would make trouble for him.”
He wasn’t far off the mark. Affiliated with the Federation of Western India Cine Employees—the mother body of all Indian cinema associations—the CCMAA is responsible for regulating membership of hairdressers and makeup artists in the industry and has refused membership to women for the last 59 years. Union members regularly visit film sets to check if anyone is violating the law and charge a hefty fine of `50,000 on people working without a union membership.
But what was the reason for the existence of such a rule? While the common answer is that it was done to protect the interests of male makeup artists in the industry, there are other reasons. Palkar’s guru and makeup veteran, Pandhari Juker (fondly called Pandhari Dada), has been in the industry since 1961. “I asked Dada the reason and he said that women have never been able to work long hours, and perhaps that’s why the rule has been passed down,” says Palkar.
However, Asha Hariharan, a veteran with 32 years experience in hair and makeup, says: “Earlier, makeup artists were not affluent or educated. It was important to keep in mind the security of the women who were employed, which is why a rule like this might have come into play. But those days are gone.”
But there were ways to beat the system. Many women became personal makeup artists to celebrities. This allowed them to work with them across editorial and advertising genres. However, when it came to working on a particular film, it was not legal. “When people from the union came around, these women make-up artists would hide in the bathroom or pretend to be yoga instructors or such,” informs Palkar. Hariharan reduced her chances of trouble with the union by positioning herself as a “Look Expert”. “I’m responsible for the actor’s entire look, not just hair or makeup,” she explains. “I only get into makeup when absolutely required.”
Actress Bhavna Ruparel confirms the presence of these artists in the industry. She has worked with a number of make-up artists, women and men. “Let’s face is, no one understands the shapes, contours and textures of a woman’s face as well as a woman,” she says. “It comes from the sheer number of hours we spend looking at ourselves in the mirror. Personally, I prefer working with women makeup artists, of whom there are a fair number in the industry. This SC ruling will make it easier for a new crop of women artists to enter Bollywood. Also, the existing ones need no longer hide.”
Women have been working only as hair stylists in Bollywood
The future of women makeup artists looks promising. “The film industry has been unfair and biased for far too long. It’s about time things changed,” says Palkar. Hariharan feels that creativity and talent are not exclusive to the male gender. However, he doesn’t consider the SC ruling a landmark one. “It has come too late for it to be called a landmark one.” The last word on this is Bhavna’s. “The days of the makeup artist always being a ‘Dada’ are gone.” Time for the make-up didis?