There is nothing dramatic about N G Roshan, although for some reason we imagine a makeup artist to look made up! But yeah, he’s got the customary beard that usually goes with anybody you might think of as backstage. Plus he is a Malyalee. That of course doesn’t have anything to do with the beard. But somehow, when you think makeup artist from Kerala who’s been into theatre and offbeat cinema, one look at Roshan simply makes you say; yes, that’s our man.
While he started his career with theatre and meanders between the stage and screen, Pazhassi Raja certainly has pushed his film career several notches up. The grand epic Malayalam film which was the highest grosser last year in Kerala was a makeup man’s challenge. What with having to grease paint at least 50 actors a day! “Since it was a period film and involved several actors and extras, we had to ensure that kind of efficiency every single day of the shoot,” recalls Roshan, who along with 15 assistants managed to make up 700 artistes and extras per day. This is incidentally the first mainstream film he’s done so far. “It was definitely a challenge and not just with the sheer numbers. With period films, you need to put in a lot of detail – be it the hair styles of those times or the skin tone even. Besides the lead actors, even a junior actor had to be given that kind of attention to detail,” he shares. Must have been one maddening project, this one. “Oh yes. But one of the most interesting ones too.”
Before Pazhassi Raja, Roshan was involved with parallel cinema films like The Virgin Goat by Murali Nair, K M Madhusudan’s film on the magic lantern, Paan Nalin and Richie Mehta’s films among others.
Roshan is your quintessential man of few words. So he doesn’t volunteer information pretty often. But ask him about his passion for makeup as an art and science and he seems unstoppable. “The biggest challenge of a makeup artist is to bring out the finer nuances of a character on screen. When you understand the script and what the director wants of an actor, the makeup needs to add value to the characterisation. It’s quite fascinating when you delve into the details and begin to understand how a particular tone of colour on skin looks this way or that on screen. Or on the stage for that matter.”
So has he always wanted to be a makeup artist? “I never imagined I would be one someday! In fact, I was always fond of sketching. That somehow developed an interest in theatre. More than acting, I’ve been interested with things like set design, costumes, lighting. That’s how I developed an inclination towards trying to understand the role of makeup in a performance.”
But let us tell you, Roshan has had an acting stint too. Not on screen but on stage. In a stage show in Delhi titled, The Makeup, Roshan played a makeup artist. “I had to transform this actor into various challenging looks. And it involved prosthetic makeup as well. It all had to be done in real time on stage. I didn’t have a chair to sit down too, since my character as this makeup artist didn’t sit. It was pretty challenging and definitely interesting.” Prosthetic makeup is the sort that Kamal Haasan sported in Chachi 420 or Amitabh Bachchan in Paa. Roshan has been involved with several stage shows in India and abroad apart from the various festival circuit films he’s worked for.
He holds a diploma in film and TV makeup and has also studied at the Grease Paint School of Film Makeup at London. That sounds like a focused pursuit of his passion. “It was and still is,” he says as we wonder why such specialised institutes are a rarity in India. “In India, you can actually count acclaimed makeup artists on one hand. It is certainly not a dearth of talent. I think it’s more a case of not exploring the full potential of an art,” offers Roshan. “When you think makeup, you think saloon! I think that’s where the issue is. But things are gradually looking up. Institutions like Films and Television Institute of Pune and National School of Drama are offering good specialised courses these days,” he says. Roshan also happens to be a visiting faculty at the National School of Drama, apart from The University of Hyderabad and others. He also has a few Malayalam film projects in hand. So is it only non-mainstream kind of films he’s interested in? “Not necessarily. Any project, be it a mainstream film or an offbeat film or a stage show could be interesting as long as it’s challenging enough,” he signs off.