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Mumbaiwale: The buzz on haircuts

Local barbers have upped their game, taking inspiration from Instagram, footballers, rappers and surprisingly, hirsute Arab men

mumbai Updated: May 21, 2018 12:21 IST
Rachel Lopez
Rachel Lopez
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Mumbaiwale,Rachel Lopez
The handheld massage machines, hot towels, alum astringents and once ubiquitous tin of talcum powder of the old barber shop are no longer in demand.(Getty Images)

Girgaum resident Rajat Desai is a computer-peripherals salesman, but for this column, he’s asked me to call him a “beard enthusiast”. What else would I call him? Rajat owns three combs – two are for his beard – and he has been buying beard wax long before Urban Lumberjack became the de-facto look for hip young men.

Desai heads to a brand-name hairdressing establishment every two weeks for upkeep. What he’d like is to also try a trendy haircut. “But all the styles today need a ton of hair on top, defying gravity, a buzz cut on the sides, and thick eyebrows to hold the look together,” he says. “If you’re not blessed in that department, life’s hard.”

If you do have volume and length to play with, Mumbai’s barbershops are happy to oblige. They gave everyone puffy Dev Anand-Rajesh Khanna haircuts in the 1970s. They let it grow long like Sanjay Dutt and Rahul Roy in the ’80s and ’90s. They trimmed chin hair into little triangles after Aamir Khan’s Dil Chahta Hai in the 2000s, and they let men grow greasy bangs because Salman Khan did it in Tere Naam in 2003.

Today, Bollywood actors are only part of the inspiration. “The younger the customer, the wider the options,” says Raghubir Kumar, who runs HairGroom a four-seat barbershop in Tilak Nagar, offering haircuts from Rs 150. “They sit in the chair and throw names: Zayn Malik, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zac Efron. I have to keep up with the foreign celebrities. Or they have a picture of an Arab man on their phone and they want his super-detailed sharp hairline.”

This means, of course, that hand-held massage machines, hot towels, alum astringents and the once ubiquitous tin of talcum powder of older barbershops are no longer in demand. Instead, there are precision trimmers (to shave neat lines), styling scissors (Japanese brand Mizutani separates the men from the boys), eyebrow razors and plastic stencils (to create neat hairlines along the neck, jaw and forehead).

One newly popular ingredient has been borrowed from ladies’ salons: hair-removal wax. “Men are looking at online videos of Arab men getting their faces waxed and are becoming comfortable with waxing their own cheeks, neck, forehead and even nostrils,” says Kumar.

Yes, nostrils. They apply the wax with cotton buds and yank them out when cooled. “Everyone thinks they’ll do selfie videos, but then they feel the pain.”

Barbershops have been facing competition ever since the safety razor was developed in 1904, allowing men close shaves in their own homes. As manufacturers add more and more blades and create trimmers for personal use, several customers have stopped outsourcing their grooming.

Artistic looks, however, need experienced hands. “Older people want newspapers, the TV, a massage and other frills,” Kumar says. “But kids, they just want quality work. They’ll come often. Make new demands, bring friends, even country cousins, and don’t want loyalty discounts – I prefer them.’

First Published: May 19, 2018 18:01 IST