Did you know that “There are at least 9,000 make-up artists in the Hindi film industry alone and close to 20,000 across the country”? Neither did we until we stumbled upon this fascinating piece on makeup artists by Nandini Ramnath. Apart from being entertaining, the piece is a great case study of how when a broader economy (India in this instance) flourishes, even niche sectors burgeon thus creating space for interesting & lucrative careers.

More specifically, the movie makeup sector is booming in India because of three separate factors converging. Firstly, not only have movie cameras become more sophisticated, the audience too now watches movies on high resolution screens. Quoting from Ms Ramnath’s article: “…big-ticket movies and shows are striving for greater realism and detailing. This has intensified the importance given to the departments that contribute to optimum world-building: cinematographers, production designers, costumers – and makeup designers.

In addition, audiences who have watched international productions on their streaming devices want higher quality, credibility and variety in domestic productions too. Advanced film projection is also playing a part…

“Screen sharpness has increased, and even the smallest detail of makeup is visible,” Jadhav told Scroll. “Home theatres too have high resolution, making it imperative for filmmakers to be more attentive” to makeup.”

Secondly, the quality of make-up material available to make-up artists has improved vastly both due to technology and due to movie budgets burgeoning. Ms Ramnath writes: “In the days when makeup ingredients were more primitive, the effect wasn’t always flattering, Ashokamitran wrote in his memoir Fourteen Years With Boss, about his stint at Gemini Studios in Chennai in the 1950s and 1960s.

“Pancake was the brand name of the makeup material that Gemini Studios bought in truckloads,” Ashokamitran writes. “The gang of nationally integrated make-up men could turn any decent-looking person into a hideous crimson-hued monster with the help of truckloads of pancake and a number of other locally made potions and lotions.”…

Thankfully, things have improved now so that we can see our favourite stars looking like demigods: “Prosthetics, in which moulds made out of silicone or gelatin are fitted over parts of an actor’s face or sometimes the entire body, are becoming increasingly popular in India. Prosthetics can transform actors more convincingly than in the era when specially made costumes or rubber masks were used to obtain a differently shaped face or body.

“Earlier, people used to think that prosthetics meant a facial wound or a missing eye,” said Preetisheel Singh, whose credits include Nanak Shah Fakir, Bajirao Mastani, Padmaavat, Pushpa: The Rule and Jawan. “The proper definition of prosthetics is when you are actually changing the anatomy of the human face or transforming someone completely. It’s a very technical job.””

Thirdly, crazy as it sounds today, until a decade ago women were banned from being make-up artists by the trade body for this profession (which, by definition, would be run by men): “…until 2014, only men were allowed to join the union. In the Hindi film industry, the men – and they were only men until some years ago – were and are still affectionately called “Makeup Dadas”. Female makeup artists were not only debarred from enrolling in the union, they were also classified as hair-dressers.

“Producers who defied this rule had to pay hefty fines and artists were denied credits on the film titles,” the BBC reported in 2014. “Women make-up artists were sometimes brought on the sets surreptitiously, hidden in mobile beauty salons known as vanity vans for fear that if the trade unions got wind of it the production would be brought to a halt.”

The gender-based discrimination was overturned only that year, after a legal battle fought by nine women led by Charu Khurana. In its verdict, the Supreme Court struck down the ban, declaring it to be “constitutionally impermissible discrimination”.”

Ms Ramnath’s article also talks about how the leading make-up artists are combing tech wizadry such as 3D printing to create wigs, masks and prosthetics which blur the line between special effects and make-up. With the cash register ringing for these professionals their main grouse now is that there isn’t a separate category of awards in cine award ceremonies for make-up artists.

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