yasmin menon

I started almost 21 years ago. I come from a family where my brother was a very famous hair stylist in New Delhi. After 7 years of teaching, I had to go for operation of my nodules. Being a teacher, I was not allowed to scream and shout anymore as you know how the classes are in India. Hence, I was thinking that I need to change my job. Sylvie used to tell me many times why don’t I join her salon to learn hair styling. I was not sure because I was a teacher and suddenly to go to something so glamorous is a little difficult. Anyways, I said okay let me try and after a little while I started to look after the salon like a manager. Slowly, I used to watch and say to myself that it looks interesting. He then started to teach me makeup, hairstyling because he used to do a lot of fashion shows at the time. I started learning hairstyling because I had to but I realised that I liked make up more. Hence, I started taking more interest in makeup. Since he was very well connected with contacts, anyone he used to meet, he would say that his sister is a makeup artist. I hardly knew much but whatever he had taught me was good enough for me. People started to call me for doing makeup. Initially, I used to refuse but he was the one who encouraged me. He gave me a makeup kit and it was quite easy as people were very happy. Since I already had some exposure towards art which helped me in terms of make up. People started to call me for shoots. Since that time there has been no looking back. At that time, I used to make normal mistakes but I was very lucky. I had very supportive people like photographers who also encouraged me.
So that was the beginning of your makeup career. How did you move to Bombay?
After I had started doing makeup, I was doing it for 7 years in Delhi. I was in the fashion world and I was doing makeup for still photography shoots. I just felt somewhere that I was becoming stagnant. I was feeling like I was not creating enough. In fashion world, there was not that much scope for creativity. I said to myself that I need training in this because for me it was always that one needs to be trained in whatever one does. That’s how I went for training in Pune, when I wanted to be a teacher. Similarly, I felt like learning more even after getting best from Sylvie. Initially, after watching a few Bollywood movies, I felt that they really do bad makeup especially special effects like very funny burns and cuts. There was an exhibition happening and a friend of mine called me to ask whether I could assist makeup artists who were coming from London because they don’t know Hindi. He also mentioned that they wouldn’t be paying money as they would be coming to Mumbai to promote the product called “Face to Face”. I immediately said yes. I thought that it was a great opportunity as the person whom I needed to assist was 71 years old at that time. He had 30 years of Hollywood industry experience. He came along with his daughter who was 40 years old. They had versatile equipment for makeup which even we didn’t know at the time. I bought my own ticket for Rajdhani Express train from Delhi to Mumbai. During these workshops, my job was to translate their speech from English to Hindi but during this period I learnt a lot about makeup. They were very much impressed with the kind of support I provided to them. They felt very sorry they would not able to pay me instead they gave me a whole makeup kit. I felt as if the kind of knowledge which I got from them meant much more than any payment to me. In addition to that they stated that if I ever came to London, they would teach me but I would have to find my own stay. They told me that they would make fees reasonable for me. After that I was promoting their products and within a year I saved a lot of money. As I had friends in London, they helped me out for stay. All that I needed was to pay for food. I spent a year in London. Actually there was no school though, I was like an apprentice, I was the only one person he taught. I felt like I was the luckiest person on the earth
Is he an expert in prosthetic make up ?
At first, he asked me to show what I knew. Once I started doing makeup, he had a little smile on his face because at that time, I used to do makeup using Kryolan. Later, he asked me to undo everything which I had in mind in order to start from the basics. Hence, he actually taught me makeup right from the basics. I then asked him to teach how to do cuts and wounds without knowing that it is called prosthetic. He informed me that it is called prosthetic and of course he would teach it to me. Once I started, I realised that this is what I loved doing as making everyone pretty is an easy thing to do but prosthetics is much more challenging one has to go with reality. One is supposed to be creative enough to bring natural look with whatever make up equipments one has. This is how they started to teach prosthetics but never went deep in to it because for that I needed to stay there for 3 years which I couldn’t.
Did you pick up the grammar of prosthetics during this period ?
Yes. He taught me about basics. He mentioned also how I could proceed further. He told me that after a while all these materials would change. He said that if I learned it by doing it with complex materials, one can always do better as the materials become better. In fact that is what happened in the last few years as makeup material is getting better and better.
When did you start working in Bollywood films?
I came back to India thinking that I would be going to Bollywood and I would be going to make all the difference about makeup which never happened. I just went right back to Delhi to the world of fashion. In Bollywood, one need to have make up card for doing makeup for which women are not allowed. Meanwhile, my husband came and said that he wanted to move to Mumbai. I said that even I wanted to shift to Mumbai. Later, we came to Mumbai but I used to do this hair dressing only in TVC’s and music videos. At that time there were a lot of music videos. I was not allowed to do makeup because sometimes the makeup unions used to visit location where I needed to hide. I still remember that I called model to the producer’s house and I did makeup over there because the producer knew that union would come to check. As I needed to hide, I was not able to do what I am loving to do. Later like an idiot, I sent all my London certificates to the union office. It said that I was able to teach makeup, do makeup and I am specialist in prosthetics by filling a form. After that there was no response from them. I called many times but they used to disconnect my phone. Finally, I got a hair dresser’s card which meant that I was authorised to work on sets but not touch up and makeup. At that time, some foreign film crew came and shot in India. As I was trained in London, I got a call from a production house and they enquired whether I knew makeup and prosthetics. I replied in affirmative. Later, they informed me that a team would be coming from USA and they wanted me to assist an American makeup artist. I felt very excited as it was another opportunity for me to learn. I thought to myself that working with one more American artist who knows more than I would help me during the course of this this learning process. They came to India and I went along with them to shoot in Jaisalmer. That was my my first foreign film called “Return to Rajapur”. The entire cast was from USA accept Manoj Bajpayee. The make up artist told me that she would take care of all foreigners and I needed to do makeup for Indian artists. Hence, Manoj Bajpayee and I were travelling by chance. Seriously, I didn’t know many Bollywood actors personally at that time but I used to be very down to earth with everybody. Manoj Bajpayee told me that he knew that there was a makeup artist but he wanted me to do his makeup. I accepted and asked him to talk with the main makeup artist so they she would tell me what kind of colour pallet she wanted. Manoj convinced the main makeup artist about his makeup. She was quite upset because he was doing a leading role in the film. There was a major challenge as Manoj was doing a dual role as a father and an a son. Hence, I had to age him. I was so happy because finally I got something to do. Everybody was so happy that I did that aging in the right way.
How much time did it take to make him look like an old man ?
We didn’t do any complex things which we are using nowadays .I used a product called Collodion to age him by doing eye wrinkles and lines. It is just bringing wrinkles on skin so that we can apply Collodion. We need 5 minutes to dry that makeup. Since we need something with which we could save time in terms of makeup for artists yet it needs to look natural. So I hardly used to take 30 minutes to do his makeup like gray hair and wrinkles. I felt very much happy because I got this opportunity where my actor wanted me to do his makeup. The cinematographer was also very happy because he used to say that the makeup looked very natural.
Afterwards, how did other projects come your way ?
After this project, I was still doing videos and TVC. But every time when a foreign film would come to India, I would bag the opportunity. The international branding helped me to get more opportunities. But I have observed a lot of differences between international films and our Indian movies in terms of doing makeup. In the west, we have a makeup van with four seats. We don’t need to go to the actors’ van. They would come and sit. They wouldn’t utter a single word as by the time we start the makeup, we are supposed to know what we have to do.
It’s like you are a doctor and he is your patient. He doesn’t tell you which scissors to use !
Exactly. But at the same time, I used to get a little nervous as there were these Hollywood stars in front of me like Richard Gere, Julia Roberts and Adrien Brody who has been an Oscar winner. Whenever I asked them if it is okay, they used say “why are you asking me, you know the best”. This is the major difference I have identified. Since they were very particular about continuity and other minor details, there is no scope for a mistake.
What about time the factor which you need to manage in terms of make up ?
It depends on the type of makeup we need to do. Generally, an assistant director will come and ask for a particular look and the time we need. Thus, if we say 1 hour, we have to make sure that we are going finish it in 1 hour. The time we need to do makeup depends on whether we need to age the actor, do normal makeup or trim his beard. Sometimes people don’t consider that trimming a beard is a big thing but I did a movie where we have beards throughout and it is very time consuming.
What are the various kind of looks which one can get in make up like aging?
One can change the entire look in current Bollywood which is just opening up. The directors ask us for different looks and even artists are starting to change their looks to get into the character. Generally, in terms of make up, we can change hairstyles, prosthetics and facial hair like beard and moustaches. With all these, we can make someone be totally different. And of course, costumes also play a very big part because we need to have right costume according to makeup or vice versa. It is always the director’s vision. Bollywood is changing these days especially with regards to the coordination between the director and the makeup artist. They have started to give scripts to makeup designers who design entire makeup of the film according to the director’s vision. Hence, after giving the character’s description, the director asks makeup designer about the input namely the kind of possibilities for the character. According to his vision, the director chooses the best out of it.
Which was the most exciting film in Bollywood you have done?
I did a movie called “Warning” which didn’t do well at the box office. It was a film from Anubhav Sinha production house and directed by Gurmeet Singh. He was the one who was really responsible for getting me into Bollywood. He had total faith in me. He was a debutant director at that time. He always used to discuses things very well with me. Actually the first film on which I worked with him was “Sharafat Gai Tel Lene” which is yet to be realised. The director was little worried because he doubted that the hero Zayed Khan might say no for me. But fortunately, I had already worked with him previously for a music video. Hence he immediately said okay. Zayed Khan was very sportive. Sometimes I used to do makeup like a boy next door since the character demanded that. He asked me : “Yasmin, I am the hero. I must look like a hero” but the director used to explain the roll and its requirement to him. I specifically asked him to come to the set without any makeup. Sometimes he used to tease me like “See Yasmin, I came without makeup”.

Then after that we worked for the film ” Warning”. He briefly narrated the plot to me that there are few people on the boat who by mistake get stuck in the sea. They jump into sea and then one after another people will drown.’ I asked him what is there for me to do in this ? He explained the challenging part in the script to me. This entire thing happened in 42 hours but we were shooting it in 42 days. Hence, there was a big challenge for continuity and prosthetics. This film shot has been shot in 3D. Hence, this was quite a challenging job for me. They provided me good budget and an assistant to me but I had to use all material from India only. I was very lucky because by that time “Krylon” was available in India. I got a good name for this movie even Anubhav used to say “Yasmin, you did a great job.” As he knew how difficult it was. When he came there it, was very hot in that location. The shoot was near a yurt. Every 5 minutes, artists needed to come out of water to avoid sickness. Hence, it was difficult to maintain the make up continuity. I also had to use makeup where water won’t effect. There were a lot many challenges like a broken nose makeup, white lips, shark bite on a leg etc. For shark bite which was a underwater shoot, I needed to keep in mind that the makeup must be visible underwater and the blood coming out of that wound must not flow very quickly because they needed some time to shot it after the artist has put his leg underwater. Hence we needed to increase blood thickness. I felt very much happy for that kind of work. I got good recognition and prize for it. This is all I want at the end of the day. I made that difference in makeup especially in Bollywood. Now we are lucky because young filmmakers recognise the importance of prosthetics.
Tell us how did you meet Rupin Suchak, your working partner ?
I was in Goa working for a movie called Zid. I got a call from someone who informed that a German film would be coming to Kolkata. They would want a prosthetic belly.
I was called by Mandira who was working as a costume designer for that film. She told me that they would want to see the belly but as a costume designer it was not in her hand to do anything. Hence she asked me if I could do that.I immediately said Yes. I never did that before but for me it was an opportunity to do that so I thought I can do. Then she put me on to the line producer Dilip Singh who had already worked with me for return to Rajapur. In this manner, the production designer on our set in Goa called Rupin Suchak who is very talented. He has worked under well known art director Sabu Cyril He actually helped me for some prosthetics parts in the movie. I asked him how he knew about all these things. He told me that Sabu sir ensures that we all know all these basics. He also stated that he knew moulding. I was really thrilled as the only thing which I lacked is moulding, something which he knows well. In London too where I got trained, there were special people for this job but in India the person dealing with prosthetics also needs to do moulding. I just knew some basics. But for prosthetic belly, I needed a proper moulder who could do that. For this reason, when he came to know that I needed to do it, he told me that he could mould it. I thought to myself that I must be the god’s chosen one. I asked him what product he would use. He said he would use Dragon skin flesh. I was really surprised and happy because that was the latest product in market. I asked if we could get that in India. He said there was one supplier who would supply it. Thus, he started working on it but I was little worried whether he would be able to do that or not. Then I asked him to send the pictures. After seeing the pictures I was amazed. And in the meantime Dinesh asked me to show the pictures which I had sent. He also felt in same way. Later, I went to the set for the movie where I needed to put makeup for actress. She was an young lady from Bengal. In reality, they were making a documentary about surrogacy in Bengal. The main part here is that the belly colour needed to match with actress’ colour tone, I did it perfectly. This is how I met Rupin who received his training from Sabu sir and NIFT. I could never look out for anyone better than that. He is just filling the space where I lack. He is moulding not only in terms of business also he is very good about it. It is because of his background, he is very particular about many things
Do you want to offer any guidance to the new generation which is looking to make a career in prosthetics or make up ?



I request anyone who wants to become a makeup artist irrespective of the gender to firstly have the need to know technical knowledge. I wish that every makeup related material should be available in India including its manufacturing. I want to mention that there is a makeup dada from India called Bako. He has made a glue which we use to stick beard. Now, he was also trying to make his own colour pallet. Most of the makeup artists use that glue these days which they call Bako beard glue or something like that. There is nothing like the foreign products are the best. I really appreciate his effort. I wish more people came to create in future which will help makeup artists. Whatever junior make up artists are out there, they need support and one should encourage this kind of people.

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