Real-life transformers: From Raabta to Fan, meet Bollywood’s prosthetic artists

Actor Rajkummar Rao turning into a 324-year-old man has once again put the spotlight on the use of prosthetics in cinema. As filmmakers hire international artists, we speak to local talent to understand prosthetics and the need to look West.

bollywood Updated: May 01, 2017 17:55 IST
Prosthetics,Prosthetic Makeup,Bollywood
Prosthetics are used for complete character makeovers. Rajkummar Rao, Shah Rukh Khan, Rishi Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra have been transformed by it.

Actor Rajkummar Rao’s recently revealed look of a 324-year-old man in his next film, Raabta, has left everyone gaping. It has also brought back the focus on the use of prosthetics in cinema.

Other major films in which prosthetics were used to transform an actor’s look are Kapoor & Sons (2016; Rishi Kapoor turned into a very old grandfather) and Fan (2016; Shah Rukh Khan turned into a youth resembling himself). Perhaps the first time Indian audiences got a real taste of what prosthetics could do was with Paa (2009; Amitabh Bachchan turned into a school boy suffering from progeria).

“It was quite tough to patiently sit on that chair every day for six hours, but the team working with me was amazing. It’s very important to use good prosthetics, as it’s all about making your audience believe in what you are trying to portray,” says Rajkummar.

Actor Rajkummar Rao plays a 324-year-old man in Raabta. (Youtube grab)

‘Win-win for everyone’

Shakun Batra, director of Kapoor & Sons, says, “I think prosthetics have reached a stage where it allows you to do more. You can really create characters, you can age people up or down, and it brings a certain amount of flexibility. I think now we have realised its importance and how much it can contribute. Even the quality of prosthetic [make-up] is so good, it’s much lighter and easier for everyone, and I think it’s a win-win [situation] for everyone.”

Rajkummar’s look of a three-century-old man has been achieved using prosthetics by expert Zuby Johal and her team, who work out of Mumbai and Bangalore. But a team of artists was also flown in from Los Angeles, US, to finalise the look. What are prosthetics, how advanced is the technique in India, and why do filmmakers hire foreign prosthetic artists — we went about trying to find answers.

Director Omung Kumar used prosthetics for Priyanka Chopra’s character in Mary Kom (the biopic of boxing champion MC Mary Kom) and Randeep Hooda’s character in Sarbjit (the biopic of a man falsely accused of terrorism). He feels that it is the demand of cinema nowadays that is leading to more usage of prosthetics.

“It’s not about growing [audience] interest, but the demand of the film. Now it’s accessible and make-up artists are more aware of the things they can use to enhance a character — and do it more realistically, too — and that’s why they’re using it,” says Kumar. “I have used it minimally in my films. We could’ve changed Priyanka’s eyes for Mary Kom, but I did not. Advance knowledge has come in and people are using it more. So, it’s good for the films.”

Priyanka Chopra changed her look a little to play the Manipuri boxing champion MC Mary Kom. (HT Photo)

It’s an extensive process

Makeup artists say that the time and cost are very subjective, depending upon which body part the prosthetic piece is created for. “Prosthetics can be anything from a character make-up or an extensive makeover to make the person look like someone else. For character make-up, once the look test is done, it takes about three hours. But for makeovers, the process is longer. We have to take the person’s cast, sculpt it, then again take the cast of the sculpting,” says prosthetic make-up expert Ritoo K Jenjani.

Another prosthetic artist, Rahul Rajpakshe, says, “Make-up application takes two to three hours, but the making of the silicone pieces takes four-five days.”

Make-up artist Subhash Shinde, who branched into prosthetic make-up with the film Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela (2013), says that it is a long procedure before a look is finalised. The steps involved are making several sketches, creating moulds, getting them approved by the filmmaker. “It’s important that people accept the look I have created. The public might ridicule it, so their sensibilities also have to be kept in mind,” says Shinde.

Usually, materials like silicone and latex are used in prosthetics. “We use various materials based on the budget of the client. These are safe to be used near sensitive areas like the eyes,” says Jenjani.

Yahaan ke log ko trust nahi karte apne logo ke upar. Yeh zaroori nahi ki foreign se laaye log hi kaam kar sakte hain. Humaare yahaan par bhi capable artist hain, chance do unko — Subhash Shinde

On the availability of raw materials in the country, make-up artists feel that better quality products need to be imported. All of the products are not available in India. The cost, as a result, goes up. But basic prosthetic make-up starts from Rs 25,000. “Everything comes into account, like how many days are they shooting — for shorter durations, the costing is higher,” says Jenjani.

These pieces are reusable to an extent, depending on the wear and tear. “If you remove them very carefully, you can use them again. But if it’s a latex piece of a cheaper quality, then you need several pieces for that,” adds Jenjani.

Why go international at all?

Nahush Pise, a prosthetic artist who has worked on films like Dhoom 2 and Black, feels that international artists are preferred because “they have evolved from many years of experience in prosthetic makeup. It’s very expensive and when they [filmmakers] want to spend the same amount of money, they think, ‘Why don’t we get someone from abroad?’ It’s also got to do with comfort. Here, we are still learning from each job we do.”

Shinde says, “Yahaan ke log ko trust nahi karte apne logo ke upar. Yeh zaroori nahi ki foreign se laaye log hi kaam kar sakte hain. Humaare yahaan par bhi capable artist hain, chance do unko. Mary Kom [film] ka trial LA mein hua tha, par main tha naa yahaan pe, fir maine kar ke dikhaya. They liked my work so they worked with me.”

Amitabh Bachchan played the role of Auro, a 12-year-old boy suffering from progeria, in Paa. (Youtube grab)

But he also agrees that in part, it’s about branding, and that adding an international name to the film makes for better news.

“Relatively big filmmakers have worked with [international make-up artists] in the past, and they call them again and again. But we have similar technology available in India. [Filmmakers] don’t understand that in India, too, they can get a similar quality [of work],” says Jenjani.

Actor aur producer log yahaan pe prosthetic make-up ko itna time dete nahi hain. Aur vahaan se koi aa jayega, toh unhe 15 din ka bhi time de denge. But when it comes to us, they rush us and want the pieces to be ready in three-four days — Rahul Rajpakshe

Is there a difference in cost when hiring an international artist? “Farak toh padhega hi. Travelling, accommodation...all these are added costs. They are paid more, woh hota hai naa, ghar ki murgi daal baraabar,” adds Shinde. Do the filmmakers negotiate the cost with them? “Negotiate? Voh toh aadhe se bhi addha dete hain. Humein bhi kaam chahiye, humein bhi survive karna hai industry mein. When we are not paid, it becomes difficult to purchase good materials,” says Rahul Rajpakshe, who has worked in Shaadi Ke Side-Effects, in which Vidya Balan was made to look like a pregnant woman.

Rajpakshe has been in the business for over two decades. He says, “There’s this mentality that foreign artists will be better. Actor aur producer log yahaan pe prosthetic make-up ko itna time dete nahi hain. Aur vahaan se koi aa jayega, toh unhe 15 din ka bhi time de denge. But when it comes to us, they rush us and want the pieces to be ready in three-four days. Humaara value nahi hai. Foreign ke artists hum se mould banvaa ke courier karaa lete hain.”

Scope for homegrown prosthetic artists

Given the situation, we ask about the scope for indigenous prosthetic artists in the country. “There is scope for our artists because many times, [filmmakers] can’t afford foreign artists. Koi bhi chhota kaam ke liye bhi bulayega toh five-star hotel aur gaadi vagerah ka milaa ke 5-6 lakh lagega,” says Rajpakshe.

The need to keep up with techniques and reinvent aesthetics is important to do well in this business. “I keep trying new things, like colour shading, to get as close to getting a natural look as possible. Just like on canvas, I try to paint on the face and see how it looks through the camera. Har baar kuchh naya try karna chahiye, tabhi toh mazza ayega kaam karne mein,” says Shinde.

First Published: May 01, 2017 13:17 IST