Conversing with senior make-up artists who have been in the field for over five decades, Uma Kannan discovers some rare behind-the-scenes tales of Kollywood legends and changing trends in the digital age.
R Jayanth Kumar
A Physics graduate from New College, Jayanth Kumar entered the make-up industry in 1968. “My father R Rangasamy was Sivaji Ganesan’s personal make-up artist. He met with an accident and I landed up in the profession,” he says. The family was leading wig-makers back in the day and Jayanth would help his father by carrying his make-up kit when he fractured his leg, in order to ease the burden.
After completing his education, Jayanth graduated to a full-time make-up artist. He says, “My father worked with Sivaji for most of his films, like ‘Thiruvilayadal’, ‘Navarathri’ and ‘Thillana Mohanambal’.”
Definitely a memorable one was on the set of the film ‘Deivamagan’ in which Sivaji portrays a scarred face. Jayanth recalls, “It was a great experience working with my father for preparing that scar!” The responsibilities of a make-up person in yesteryear Kollywood in fact included some PR skills in addition to the art of glowing skin and perfect features. Jayanth informs us, “In my father’s day, we used to also handle call sheets of the artistes. If anyone wanted to meet the star, they would have to go through the make-up man.”
He adds that special make-up seems to dominate the industry nowadays. “We used to make a 25-year-old look 60 without much fanfare at that time.”
He is one of the very few who was closely associated with the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and ‘Makkal Thilagam’, MGR. Selvaraj came to Chennai in 1960 in search of a job and was lucky enough to join the school of veteran make-up artist Peethambaram, the personal make-up artist for leading actors like MGR and NTR.
Selvaraj assisted Peethambaram for 15 years and was a permanent assistant to MGR whenever he went shooting outdoors. He says, “I was very nervous when I first did make-up for MGR. He was a leading star and he could have been harsh but he was always kind and never complained.” Selvaraj (82) has worked with MGR in films like ‘Raman Thediya Seethai’, ‘Arasakatalai’, ‘Adimai Penn’,’ Ulagam Sutrum Vaaliban’ and so on.
In all his time on the job, he recollects only a single incident that annoyed MGR. He reveals, “In the film ‘Meenava Nanban’, MGR pointed out that the wig was not alright. The film was shot after a gap and I didn’t work on the continuity but he remembered the wig continuity.”
He also fondly recalls a day when producer of the film asked MGR how many tickets he needed, and Selvaraj’s name made the list, a gesture that will not be forgotten. “It showed how much he believed in me,” he says. Through his career, he has worked only with three people — MGR, his nephew Sukumar and actor Pandiarajan. Currently, Pandiarajan is doing films and a television programmes, and Selvaraj is his personal make-up man.
His grandfather AV Mohambara Mudaliyar and father AV Ramachandran were the busiest make-up men in their time. Sundaramoorthy elaborates, “My grandfather was working with Suguna Vilasa Sabha and all the dramas they staged in that period and my father was the personal make-up man of PU Chinnappa and Chandrababu.”
Sundaramoorthy himself entered the industry in 1966 and started off as an assistant to his father.
"I was more interested in make-up than studies,” he smiles. His first film was ‘Sadhu Mirandal’. After much time on various film sets, he was spotted by Gemini Ganesan who made him his personal make-up man for the film, ‘Shanthi Nilayam’. In fact, he says, “‘Shanthi Nilayam’ was my first colour film and it was an entirely different experience.” He adds, “Although the procedure of the make-up was the same, the lighting and the impact on the big screen were new at that time.” He then became the make-up man for K Balachander’s films and is still working for the veteran director’s serial ‘Shanthi Nilayam’. He has also worked with Rajini for all his films with KB.
For Sundaramoorthy, darker skin is always more interesting to work with and observation of the character before the makeup for the scene is crucial to the profession. He says, “I still remember when I saw Rajini for the first time. It was for the film ‘Aboorva Ragangal’. When KB asked me to have a look at the actor, I suggested it would be good if the character sport a beard and a coat.” His latest releases were ‘Ilaignan’ and ‘Chikku Bhukku’ and the make-up specialist is now busy with Vijay Antony’s ‘Naan’.
He adds, “I watch Hollywood films and observe the way they do it. Nowadays, everyone seems to know about how to doll up a face. Today actors prefer very light, natural shades.”
Born and brought up in Madurai, VP Rajan never thought that he would become a make-up artist even in his dreams. As fate would have it, he came to Chennai looking for a job and joined Golden Studios in 1960 at the age of just 16. Initially, he worked at the studio canteen where he befriended a make-up man in the studio. Later, he joined as an assistant for Sankar Rao and Subbanna and went on to do a number of films before becoming the personal make-up man for Sasikumar, VK Ramasamy, Srikanth, Major Sundarrajan, Rajkiran and Sathyaraj.
Rajan says, “I remember putting make-up for Rajinikanth for the film ‘Bhairavi’ and ‘Anbulla Rajinikanth’.” Rajan advises that keeping up to date on the latest brands in the market is very important to the trade. He recalls a rather challenging ordeal while working on ‘Naam Iruvar Namakku Iruvar’
“As Prabhu Deva played a dual role, every time we took a single hair and stuck it on his chin and he used to fight, run and dance with the beard and then do the same thing all over again.”
Sticky beard tales indeed.