Make-up artist and prosthetics designer Preetisheel Singh, who won huge acclaim for her work in films like Padmaavat and Bajirao Mastani, speaks to Latha Srinivasan about her magic touch.

 

She is one of the few women in the Indian film industry who is a makeup, hair and prosthetics designer. Meet Preetisheel Singh, who has designed the looks for characters in such acclaimed films as Padmaavat, Bajirao Mastani, Mom, Shivaay, the Tamil film 24, as well as the pre-Mughal historical epic Nanak Shah Fakir. She won the National Award for her work in Nanak Shah Fakir and that has kept her motivated to do more extraordinary work in this field. In this exclusive chat with Guardian 20, Preetisheel Singh, who has more than 15 renowned films in her kitty, talks about her work, the challenges she has faced and more.

Q. You are one of the few women in India in this field. How did you get into it?

A. Since my teens, I have been a big movie buff and mostly fascinated by the fantasy genre. I landed up being a software engineer, but in one way or the other, my heart was always into this art form. Two of the initial movies which left an impression on me were Chachi 420 and Planet Of The Apes. The transformation of all the characters was absolutely brilliant. I realised that doing something like that would be like a dream come true for me. I was very lucky that at this juncture, my mother gave me the wings to fly. My passion took over completely and eventually makeup, hair and prosthetic designing became my
career.

Q.What was it like when you won the National Award?

A. What can one say…? It was one of the proudest moments of my life. Moreover, receiving it for my debut independent project like Nanak Shah Fakir was like the cherry on the cake. I am thankful to the film’s director, Sartaj Singh Pannu, for having the faith in me to handle the looks for a film like this. It gave me a strong foundation and I never had to look back.

Q. What kind of challenges do you face in your line of work?

A. Prosthetics has a lot of parts involved in it. You first take the life cast of the actor in 3D measurement, after which you sculpt and make moulds, running silicone pieces in it. The silicone pieces are then applied on the actor and are merged with the actor’s skin so that it doesn’t look artificial. So tomorrow if a filmmaker comes up and has the requirement for an alien creature, we can do it. That said, it’s very challenging to execute prosthetics in India, mainly due to the lack of FX material supplies. So stocking up whenever one gets a chance is always important. Because of this shortage, we have also set up India’s first makeup and prosthetics lab called Da Makeup Lab in Mumbai; a special effects makeup studio, which caters in prosthetics, body painting, tattoo work and character designing. The goal is to bring standards of makeup and prosthetics in India at par with Hollywood.

Q. What is it like working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali on his films?

A. Working with Sanjay Sir has been an extraordinary experience. The kind of detail he demands from every department makes it very challenging, yet exciting. When the entire controversy about Padmaavat happened, my heart sank. I cannot even imagine how Bhansali Sir coped up with the storm. My admiration for him has increased manifold. I should mention that when working with him, one has to be ready to always put in that extra bit, as he has such a keen eye for aesthetics. I’m grateful to him for showing so much faith in my work and always look forward to his next.

Singh working on Ranveer Singh’s make up for Padmaavat.

Q. Some time ago, when a Twitter fan asked Ranveer Singh about how he got his evil look as Alauddin Khilji in Padmaavat, he praised you in his reply.

A. Let me tell you, however naughty and mischievous Ranveer comes across in his movies and interactions with the media, he is one of the most dedicated and highly professional actors when it comes to work. He would embody the persona of Alauddin Khilji the moment we would begin the look transformation. The makeup, hair and prosthetics would take several hours, and most of the time he would patiently stare in the mirror, completely immersed in the character. By the time his look was done, he would walk, talk and behave like Khilji even before he reached the camera. His single-minded devotion and dedication to work is truly admirable.

Q. How was it working with Big B and Rishi Kapoor for 102 Not Out?

A. Mr Bachchan and Mr Rishi Kapoor are all-time superstars and it’s an honour to work with them. Working with them is like an achievement in itself. Their energy and intensity is infectious and exhilarating, so much so that one can compare it with the current heartthrobs. The film has Rishi Kapoor playing a 75-year-old grumpy son to a 102-year-young cheerful Amitabh Bachchan. Its trailer and songs, including “Badumbaa” and “Bachche Ki Jaan Loge Kya”, are already a hit. Once, when I was working on Rishi Sir’s look, he said it was seamless and flawless and called me a magician. A comment so flattering from a person of his talent and stature is something I will cherish for life. I should also mention here that the film’s director, Umesh Shukla, is a fantastic person who understands audience sensibilities very well. The team has been very patient and supportive and we are all very excited and eagerly waiting for the release of the film now.

Q. You’ve made inroads into the Tamil film industry with Suriya’s 24 and now Atharva’s Boomerang.

A. People in the South have a lot of knowledge of makeup design and prosthetics. In fact, their thinking and vision is very new-age. Hence it gives me the chance to get even more imaginative with designs. I get to experiment more and satisfy my creative instincts. The film 24 turned out to be a blockbuster. Looking forward to completing Boomerang, which is going to have something very different for the audiences to see.

Singh with her pet dog.

Q. What are your other future projects?

A. My work will soon be seen in Vikramaditya Motwane’s Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, starring Harshvardhan Kapoor. Its teaser has just released and it’s been the talk of the town. Then there is the Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrer Thackeray, a film on the legendary Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray. Directed by Abhijit Phanse, it offers a unique situation for me, whereby the stalwart politician is being brought to life on celluloid. The magnetic sway he held over his party and the people was phenomenal, and that increases the pressure to get his look perfect. The responsibility is tremendous and I’m grateful to the makers for having shown faith and trust in my work. And last but not the least is another Rishi Kapoor-starrer Mulk, where he will be seen in a very different role of a devout Muslim.

Q. What’s your advice to others looking to get into this profession?

A. It’s a testing and demanding profession for sure and you will have to work really hard to just get noticed in the first place. But yes, after the initial hiccups and the learning curve, victory can be cherished. Keep pushing yourselves and remember that every day is a new day to learn, explore and deliver. The learning process never ends, and that’s the real fun of this line. It’s a never-ending exhilarating journey.

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