Will the ‘no-make- up look’ sustain? Or is it a passing phase?

Film stars, make-up, hairstyles and costumes are inseparable. They are melded into each other in a way that makes it impossible even to imagine that film stars can decide suddenly to give up make-up and allow their natural or 'no-make-up look' to be seen in media outlets like magazine covers and fashion coverage in general and on screen in particular.

However, in recent times, several stars like Kate Winslet, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman and even Kim Kardashian, known for her fondness for tons of make-up on and off public platforms recently espoused the rightness of the 'no-make-up' look movement in Hollywood. Today, many Bollywood stars are ready to face the camera without any make-up. But the question is not whether ‘'no make-up look'’ makes a person look prettier and/or handsomer. The question is, can and should make-up be done away with altogether?

Make-up cannot be done away with because actors in films need to get their faces, bodies and total personalities specially made up to be able to bear the artificial lights necessary for the right look on screen as captured through the movie camera. Make-up should not be done away with because it is necessary to add to the reality of the character an actor has to play. Make-up has two sides. One side is to sustain, enhance and enrich the glamour of the person facing the camera or the audience or both. The other side is to add ‘flesh and blood’ to a character that demands a definite kind of look. A character picked out of the pages of history cannot do without make-up and the right costume to fit into the period the film represents. No make-up on the other hand, could also be backed by the theory that at times, a given character in a film could be made more convincing and authentic without make up than with it.

Besides, as the director is the captain of the ship, it is for him/her to decide whether the actors will make up or not for their roles on screen. More than 50 years ago, filmmaker Satyajit Ray asked Bengali cinema’s numero uno Uttam Kumar not to wear any make-up for his role in Nayak which means “hero.” The actor, a matinee idol, was shocked! But the committed actor that he was, he agreed. When he saw himself on screen, he thanked the director for giving him the freedom to act because make-up tended to restrict his freedom to express himself ideally.

On the other hand is Nutan, who won four Filmfare awards and did not wear glamour on her sleeve on screen or off it. But when Bimal Roy told her that she had to wear dark make-up to suit the role of an untouchable girl in Sujata, she was very reluctant. After some persuasion, she agreed. The dusky look made her look more beautiful than she ever did in her other films! Besides, her performance in Sujata became a benchmark for other actors to follow.

According to noted photographer Atul Kasbekar, in the 1970s, several artistes like Jaya Bachchan, Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi and years later, Nandita Das were very comfortable without make-up for their screen appearances. “Today too, actors like Vidya Balan and Sonam Kapoor are quite comfortable in their skins. But celebrities, especially those from the film fraternity, are seen as larger-than-life figures. So, there is constant pressure on them to look perfect even when they wake up from their sleep. Existing without make-up is very difficult for them but several of them are now ready to face the challenge.”

Some new directors insist on their actors not using any make-up at all. In Haraamkhor for instance, not a single actor wore any make-up including Shweta Tiwari who played the female protagonist and yet the director and the actress together managed to make the character look 14 when she is actually 31! In Masaan too, Tiwari has not donned any make-up and yet looks the bubbling teenager she is supposed to look. Realistic films shot on actual locations do not demand much make-up for the actors to make them an inseparable part of the story, the film and its backdrop as most of the film is shot in natural light and does not call for much painting of the face and figure.

Mickey Contractor, a leading make-up artist in Bollywood, says, “I am totally for the initiative to appreciate beauty in its natural form. I think those who want to be true to the cause will pose for the camera without make-up. And those who aren’t too confident or comfortable with how they will look will dab on a wee bit of make-up.” But a female make-up artist, Mallika Bhat insists that the “no make-up look is also a manufactured look when they are appearing in public.”

Some actors portraying specific characters must go through the painful process of prosthetic make-up. One classic example is Paa for which Amitabh Bachchan had to spend four hours when he was 67 to look like a 13-year-old suffering from a rare condition like Progeria and another two hours to take it off. But the best example of the most painstakingly researched and executed make-up are the ones Hrithik Roshan donned in his different disguises in Dhoom 2 – the statue in the museum, the Lady in the royal train, and the doddering old thief. Ben Kingsley’s costume and make-up in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi is another classic example. Kamal Haasan played an 89-year-old Hindu lying on his deathbed in Hey Ram. He played 10 roles in Dasavathaaram, released in Hindi as Dashavatar . He played former US President George Bush and an ex-CIA agent in two of the ten roles. These challenging characters that made cinematic history would never have been created without make-up.

Makeup artists are storytellers. Whether the script requires actors to look beautiful or ragged, younger or older, or like monsters or other fantastic beings, makeup artists and hairstylists help audiences believe that what they see on the movie screen is real. Movie makeup is a combination of art and science. It is both corrective, covering flaws and emphasizing attractive features, and creative, enabling actors to inhabit almost any type of character. Movie makeup that is used to hide pores, wrinkles, and other facial imperfections must withstand close scrutiny when magnified on screen. Makeup and hairstyles must look natural, but be durable enough to last long hours under hot lights while actors fight, kiss, and sweat. Good makeup design requires research, experimentation, and sometimes inventing makeup products or appliances.

Farida Rizwan writes “a makeup artist has faces the challenge of working on a canvass called the human body; moreover, this body belongs to a film star who is going to shine on the big screen. The bald get hair, the wrinkles are erased, the lips develop a beckoning curve and time runs backwards when the makeup artist begins to weave his/her magic. The audience swoons over the looks of the actors who look young even after decades, but never bother to find out who is responsible for their youth.” In Mother India, Radha, portrayed by Nargis, aged from a teenage bride to an old woman of eighty. Would this have been possible without make-up?

Make-up as a profession is a male-dominated industry. It took a six-year-long legal battle by make-up women in Indian films to break the gender barrier in April 2015 because the Cine Costume Make-Up Artist & Hair Dressers’ Association did not and would not permit them membership. The women make-up artists would work with a man sharing the credits and used as a ‘front’ man. At the same time, there is no denying the fact that make-up artists, both men and women, are invisible and relegated to the background, ignored and marginalized. Men were not allowed to do the hair earlier but that no longer exists. The National Award for the Best Make-up in films was introduced only in 2006 and it continues to recognize make-up as a necessary art which cannot die and should not die. Other award-bestowing institutions have also installed an award for the best make-up artiste. Top male actors often decide on their own screen look themselves and Amir Khan is the best example. And female stars take great care to use ‘no-makeup makeup’ to look natural to substantiate their claim that they are very comfortable in their skins!

Why blame film stars for their heavily painted faces and weird costumes? Ask Charu Khurana, the first woman member of the Cine Costume Make-Up Artist & Hair Dressers’ Association and she will tell you that she has worked her make-up magic on the historic faces of PM Narendra Modi and the former US President Barack Obama!

  • Written byShoma A. Chatterji

    Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author based in Kolkata. She has 20 published titles, has won the National Award twice and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rotary Club of Kolkata Metro. She has done her post-doctoral research on cinema and has juried at national and international film festivals over time


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