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Confession of a Puneri Theatre Makeup Artist

Punekars speak anonymously about the truth behind their lives and occupations.

The dim lights in the wing, the pin-drop silence and then- the roaring character takes center stage.
As I waited for him to pack up his entire arsenal of cosmetics, I couldn’t help but glance at the stage. An entirely new world. A world where characters play an important part, just like our world. The only difference is that they keep changing their identities.
He walks over to me, visibly tired and flustered. I smile and motion him to sit down with me. Wiping his brow, he apologises for the delay and pops a paan in his mouth.
“Three shows in a day and I can’t feel my toes. There was a time when I could stand the entire day and night and not whine about these things, but times change. Tell me, what can I help you with?” He sounds anxious and confused and I do not blame him.
“Tell me about your occupation, things which people don’t really know.”
“So there’s glamour and then there are people who work hard to bring it on the stage/screen. Makeup artists are those kind of people who directly stand with the actor/actresses in the limelight because it’s our work which enhances their beauty. Every single beautiful face you’ve admired on TV, we have been there, doing our work silently”.

“And why do you think makeup artists weren’t acknowledged so much in your time?”, I question him, subtly pointing to his age. And experience, of course.
“Cinema or theatre hadn’t developed so much visually. We had to keep our makeup to a certain degree of nonchalant, physical aspects weren’t always so important. People actually acted back then, on screen and stage unlike what you people call it these days…?”
‘Eye candy”, I say laughing.
“Precisely! The focus was entirely on something else. Being in this industry for 36 years, the changes have been astonishing. Actors or actresses back then were eager to leave the makeup room, they wanted to get on the stage at the first chance they got! I remember that I had to calm them down so they let us do our jobs.

Nowadays, young actresses especially don’t want to leave the chair. Too worried about how they will look on stage, I guess it’s only natural. It’s a sad feeling, the professional person in me wants to be proud and do my job, the theatre enthusiast is sad that some things are being sacrificed”.
“So you must be working a tough job, an even tougher schedule?”
“More than you can imagine, but it’s my age which is getting to me. Also, there’s a major difference in skill levels. Of my generation of makeup artists and yours, the younger generation is much talented and exposed. We didn’t have makeup schools and so much exposure, we learned from what we saw. I wish I was born in your generation”, he says, laughing.

“But it’s not so bad. I’ve seen generations of actors come and go, the stage is a fickle platform. It’s not just talent and beauty which you need to sustain, there’s a lot more behind it. I’ve seen legends perform in my life, something I tell my grandkids proudly. Theatre is a lot like real life, we all have certain responsibilities. The only makeup we get sometimes is our hard work, dedication and luck.”
We both sit in silence, listening to an actor belt out a powerful monologue. “If the whole world is a stage, our identity is just a costume”, he says. I smile at how deeply it resonates within me.