Ms Transformer

Making someone look bald and beautiful or old and endearing is Preetisheel’s forte as she’s the queen of prosthetics and make-up, writes Rajiv Vijayakar

Preetisheel Singh D'Souza

Preetisheel Singh D’Souza, truly the pioneer of advanced make-up and prosthetic design in Hindi cinema, has some fresh ambitions even as she is in the busiest phase of her career: one of them is that she wants to start classes in her subject for students who would like to learn the art.

And what’s her subject? Well, in recent times, the three hugely popular bald men on screen — Akshay Kumar’s character of Bala in Housefull 4, Ayushmann Khurrana as the hero in Bala, and Sunny Singh in Ujda Chaman — owe their look to her.

Says Preetisheel, who is now 36, “I don’t see it as competition, but it is nice that people are getting interested in work that, trust me, is not easy at all.”

Preetisheel has designed the look and executed the make-up and prosthetics for all the actors in the period setting of Housefull 4, the plump body-suit of Maanvi Gagroo in Ujda…, Bhumi Pednekar’s dusky look in Bala and her va-va-voom avatar in Pati Patni Aur Woh, the complete look, design of every actor in Chhichhore both in their youth and middle-aged versions and even the recent Tamil hit Bigil featuring Vijay in a dual role.

Making up her mind

Her past triumphs are legion: Bajirao Mastani, Shivaay, Padmaavat, 102 Not Out, Mulk and PM Narendra Modi among them. She has annexed the National Award along with Clover Wootton for Best Make-Up Artiste for one of her earliest films, Nanak Shah Fakir in Punjabi.

In short, very few artistes have had such an exceptional innings in a challenging and (for Indian films) new field within just seven years. A now confident and assured Preetisheel recalls her rather remarkable journey into a field in which she had no predecessor in contemporary Indian cinema.

Born to a Sikh family in Pathankot, Preetisheel calls her parents “brilliant” for their unconditional support and encouragement at all times. “After I completed my B Tech in Engineering in 2004,” she says, “I was hired by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), but I soon realised that I was not wired for such jobs. I told my mom I wanted to quit, and she just said, ‘Do whatever makes you happy.’”

Preetisheel’s parents are film fanatics and one of the movies that flummoxed her was the 1997 Chachi 420. “I was blown by Kamal Haasan’s look as a woman. I came to know that they had to call in foreign technicians for it. I also started digging online into what goes into prosthetic make-up, initially only just for knowledge. And then I thought, ‘What if I do all this?’”

At that time, TCS had posted her in the US, and Preetisheel resigned and invested all her savings into an expensive six-month course at the Cinema Make-Up School in Los Angeles. In 2010, Preetisheel arrived in Mumbai, putting up with her sister while she made strategic rounds of producers each day.

Predictably, the response was disheartening. Most filmmakers had no clue about her special skills, and no requirements either as they did not understand how different she was from the average make-up artiste. But make-up veteran Anil Pemgirikar, saw her work, praised her and said that he would put in a word for her wherever possible.

In 2012, came her first small assignment: of a swollen eye for Akshay
Kumar in Joker. That portion was shot in Chandigarh, and then came the designing of the mutants in Krrish 3, under make-up whiz from abroad, Mike Stringer.

Gradually, word-of-mouth spread and she got the entire work of Nanak Shah Fakir and Haider. The former needed six months prep and she was given a bungalow where she set up a full-fledged lab. “I was supposed to give an aged look to some men, make someone’s face look fat, another a leper or even depict a portion of the body as chopped off.”

After these two films, there was no stopping Preetisheel, but she rues that her profession has yet to get its due. “IIFA gave me an award and then took away the category itself,” she says wryly. “In most awards, the focus is on the star-cast and glamour.”

Challenges

The challenges Preetisheel still faces, even as she now works out of her state-of-the-art Da Make-Up Lab, include the need to constantly study and research different prosthetic materials and their properties. An additional hiccup is that a lot of products still have to be imported, though she has even begun to manufacture some of them on her own, that too after constant study and relentless research into the latest developments and techniques that change and upgrade very fast.

Silicone remains the base for her work, as she makes a 3-D replica of the head and other aspects from a 3-D photography technique. “Faces need softer grades of silicone, as they have to look natural during facial movements. Others may need hard grades.”

In all of the designer’s work, science and art must blend beyond the merely technical. “We were taught anatomy, and racial differences in skin,” she says.

“We have to keep in mind things like how working in the sun or drinking too much of alcohol can affect the texture of the skin. Innovation is always the key, like me trying to give a look to Amitabh Bachchan without two teeth as he is 102. This enhanced the cuteness element. A character like Mummy in Chhichhore could have a typical combing like a docile mamma’s boy.”

The make-up ace is also, therefore, doing character design, in conjunction with the director and writer. For Ranveer Singh’s look as Khilji in Padmaavat, she decided the look of his hair, the size and shape of his beard, the soorma in his eyes, the texture of his skin and so on. “Body painting, tattoo, moustaches, prosthetics, wigs, character design, fake teeth — I am now doing everything under one roof,” she says.

Starry tantrums

Most actors, she says, are extremely cooperative and respect her work. On the flip side, she quips, “There have been troublesome stars, but I firmly have to put them in place and ask them to respect our hard work.” How many assignments can she take up at a time, and how does she manage each one? “There is no blanket rule,” she replies.

“Initially, I would offer a selection of the look to a director on Photoshop and act on what was chosen. I had two or three guys working with me. Today, I have a full team, and mostly, they execute what is finalised. Materials and machines are upgrading by the day, so I like to have more time in planning a look. And if there is going to be a 60-day shoot for a character, I have to fabricate 60 sets of the prosthetic set, as none can be reused.”

Preetisheel believes in rewarding work for work’s sake. “Adding nuances that might not even be noticed, like veins or capillaries on faces, are what make the difference between the ordinary and the truly good. Prosthesis is a bit like background music — it will be noticed if it is extremely good — or very bad.”

So what is the best compliment she has ever received for her work? “My best experience has been with Sanjay Leela Bhansali,” she says. “He understands my work and gives me space. When I took my mom to meet him, he told her, ‘She does not need people like us. We need people like her.’”

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