Women get makeup justice - SC scraps rule that allowed only men to style Bollywood

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  • Published 11.11.14
Women can now rule the make-up industry in Bollywood, just like women director Farah Khan

Mumbai, Nov. 10: The Supreme Court today scrapped an unspoken misogynistic rule in Bollywood’s corridors that barred women from working as contracted makeup artists with film producers or film production houses.

The 1955 rule had been framed by the Cine Costume, Makeup Artists and Hair Dressers Association — a powerful Bollywood trade union. It allowed women to obtain memberships only as hair-dressers but not as makeup artists. The rationale being: if women were allowed to do so, male artists won’t get any jobs.

The apex court bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice U.U. Lalit said today the rule was in violation of the constitutional guarantee granted under Article 14 (right to equality), 19(1)(g) (freedom to carry out any profession) and Article 21 (right to liberty). The ban has no “rationale nexus” to the cause sought to be achieved and is “unacceptable, impermissible and inconsistent” with the constitutional rights guaranteed to the citizens”, the judges said.

The court also held as illegal the rule which mandated that for any artiste, male or female, to work in the industry, he/she must necessarily have domicile status of five years in a particular state where he/she intends to work. The judges gave the association one day’s time to respond positively to its order — if they did not, then by Tuesday (November 11), the offensive clause would be deleted by court order.

“Ninety per cent of the makeup stylists to Bollywood’s top stars today are women — they are hired by the stars personally, and producers pay the stars separate cheques for their personal expenses. And the personal expenses include the fees of the staff the stars hire, including personal makeup artists,” said a top woman stylist who has been associated with some of the biggest banners and stars. The logic behind this convoluted manner of appointing women makeup artists — all of who work as freelancers — is to circumvent the 59-year-old rule of the Maharashtra Trade Union Act.

Though revamped in 1971 as Maharashtra Recognition of Trade Unions and Prevention of Unfair Labour Practices Act, it missed preventing one of the most unfair labour practices denying women equal opportunity to work as makeup artists in Bollywood.

This is not much of a problem for top women makeup artists who work as personal stylists of stars and earn up to Rs 50,000 per sitting, but for the hundreds who work outside the arc lights.

All make-up artists on the floors of Bollywood films — contracted and hired by producers and production houses directly are men — women have no opening in that world — or did not till today.

“Women were allowed to work as hairdressers in Bollywood — but not as makeup artists so they did not face any sort of harassment,” says Sharad Shelar, president of the Bollywood Cine Makeup Artists Association that allows only men to do makeup jobs in Bollywood films.

Shelar claims he is not a chauvinist — only protective about women so he upheld the rule.

The trade unions in Bollywood allow producers to hire only those artistes, technicians or actors — who are members of their union.

All top stars — including the three big Khans are for example members of the Cine Actors’ Association.

“Anybody who isn’t, does not get to work in films — it is as simple as that. If anybody disagrees, they strike work and the producers end up losing money — thus holding us to ransom,” a top Bollywood producer told The Telegraph while welcoming the Supreme Court judgement, but refused to go on record fearing the wrath of the unions.

But Delhi’s Charu Khurana, the young Punjabi woman from Lajpat Nagar who took on the Cine Costume, Makeup Artistes and Hair Dressers Association single-handedly and took them to court for the discriminatory rules, was fearless.

A member of the association — a male makeup artiste — says Khurana came to Mumbai in early 2009, looking to work in Bollywood as a makeup artiste.

“She made numerous rounds of the association, but the president of the makeup artistes’ wing refused to entertain her. Some of us admired her grit — but we were embarrassed to tell her about this rule which barred women — after all who believes in these things in the 21st century, especially in a city like Mumbai. So we used to fob her off, saying there was no vacancy for new memberships,” recounted the male makeup artiste and an office-bearer of the association.

A few months later, the association came to know that Khurana was working as a makeup artiste on the sets of a Tamil film — remake of the Bollywood hit A Wednesday — starring Kamal Hasaan.

“Shelar and some of his henchmen barged into the set, stopped her in the middle of her work and forced her to pay up Rs 25,000 as fine. Later we heard she went back to Delhi and filed a PIL in the Supreme Court. It is a full Bollywood script,” said the makeup artiste.

Additional reporting by R. Balaji