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Make-up men and the business of beauty
- Three generations of dolling up Tollywood

Under the strong lights on the sultry sets of Indrapuri Studios, Sailen Ganguly daubed greasepaint with his fingertips on the most famous face of tinsel town. With unerring skill, he smudged kohl on the eyelids, added a hint of rouge on the cheeks to accentuate the smile that launched a hundred films and broke countless hearts. As Suchitra Sen blazed the giant black-and-white screen, Ganguly let his craftsmanship be eclipsed by the magic he had conjured. Deya Neya, Uttar Phalguni, Mamta, Kamallata, Grihadaho… Tollywood old-timers remember the legendary beauty always insisting on Sailenbabu to enhance her looks.

“I never got the chance to see my father work in the studios,” Ganguly’s middle-aged son Anup (or Ompi, as the film folk know him) slips into the past, stifling a sigh. Ask him how he lent the burnished bronze tan to Konkona Sen Sharma in Mr & Mrs Iyer, and he promptly spells out the London-made foundation base. “I used the Honey Bronze shade to match her skin tone.”

Like his father, Anup has learnt to remain unfazed by the adulation accompanying such a close brush with stardom. Ask him the number of films he has worked in, in his three-decade-old career, and he will dismissively say: “Lots… have never kept a count.” His first Bollywood film' “Samjhauta,” chirps his 26-year-old son Amit, a tad heady with his meteoric rise on the make-up map — Ek Je Achhe Konya, Swapner Feriwala, Sanjhbatir Rupkathara, Patalghar and Nil Nirjane. “I wish I had seen my dadu at work. I want to learn his art.” But that’s only natural, considering the skill of transforming nondescript features into an arresting face runs in his blood.

“But I wanted to be a pilot and not a make-up artiste,” recounts Anup, who joined the Behala Flying Club in his early 20s. Father Sailen didn’t want him in the cockpit and sent him packing to (then) Bombay with Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, no less. “While doing the rounds of the studios, I got hooked on to the art of make-up. I started reading books, watching experts put the finishing touches on stars, and experimenting with looks,” says Anup. Once Samjhauta happened, other films started rolling in and Anup groomed himself to be the personal make-up artiste of Vinod Mehra, Yogita Bali and Navin Nischol. Parinda (where he worked on the entire Nana Patekar-led crew, except Madhuri Dixit and Anil Kapoor) was his last Hindi film.

Family problems brought Anup back to Calcutta and he soon landed the chance to work on Shabana Azmi and Om Puri in Roland Joffe’s City of Joy, in 1991. A string of Bengali films followed, with quite a few creating a ripple. Dahan, Paromitar Ekdin, Dekha seem to stand out and the forthcoming release roster is led by Abar Aranye. A BBC docu-feature and Hollywood blockbuster Nightfall dabbed a dash of global glamour to his profile. But the steady source of sustenance are ad-films for Black Magic, Opus, Tron and others, capped by the Chawanprash spot featuring skipper Sourav Ganguly and his Bengal boys.

Anup is now busy with German Oscar-winning director Florian Gallenberger’s Shadows of Time. Young Amit, too, has had his share of Hollywood hues, working in Crocodile II at Ramoji Film City. “Foreign experts use a liquid base and very sparingly. We have to apply a thick coat (or else the paint melts in the heat) and yet retain a natural look.” A far cry from his grandfather’s trademark “heavy orangish tinge”.

From a Fifties’ Uttam-Suchitra starrer to a Hollywood horror flick, three generations of the first family of make-up in Tollygunge have left an indelible imprint on our world of make-belief.

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