How the power of prosthetics is reshaping Bollywood tales

Rohan Ambike explores the challenges behind special effects make-up

Since the beginning of filmmaking, the role of make-up artists has been crucial. Skilled artists are responsible for enhancing the look of actors and actresses for the big screen and sometimes making them totally unrecognisable to audiences with the help of prosthetics and special effects make-up. But it wasn’t until 1981 that the first Oscar for Best Make-up was awarded. Rick Baker was the first winner for ‘An American Werewolf in London’ – famous for the use of prosthetics and special effects make-up to achieve some of the most gruesome looks.

Deepika Padukone in Chhapaak
Deepika Padukone in Chhapaak

With the rise of period films and biopic, the need for prosthetics and special effects make-up has surged to great heights. More recently, with RAW, starring John Abraham in multiple avatars, Chhapaak with Deepika Padukone playing an acid attack survivor, and PM Narendra Modi with Vivek Anand Oberoi playing the lead roles making news, there is a buzz over the massive use of get-ups and prosthetics.

‘PM Narendra Modi’ director Omung Kumar, while giving his inputs on the use of prosthetics in films, says that initially, the make-up artists and the designer staff was short on resources and somewhere probably there was a slight fear and hesitation in the usage of prosthetics. However, as times have changed, most of the artists are turning pro prosthetics and pressing for the use of the same. “This is my third film where I have made use of prosthetics. All of them have been successful – Mary Kom was a National award winning film and Sarabjeet also was well received by the audience,” informs Kumar. However, he agrees that the work has to match international standards if one wants to excel at the craft.

Sarah Lele
Sarah Lele

What is special effects make-up?

When asked about what special effects make-up really are, Sarah Lele, a young make-up artist explains, “Prosthetics and special effects make-up is used in film to turn the cast into characters, or advance a storyline with effects like injuries and ageing. It’s even used to create the life-like puppets or dummies, like corpses, you see on screen,” Lele has been working as a make-up artist for over five years now and has worked on films like Tikli & Laxmi Bomb, Totta Pataaka Item maal. She has also had the privilege of working on make-up for artists like Hariharan, Zakir Hussain, Amitabh Bhattacharya and others.

While prosthetics are not just used for biopics or films on living legends, they can also be used to show injuries and ageing. Let’s not forget how Amitabh Bachchan portrayed the role of 12-year-old Auro, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder called progeria. Similarly, Rishi Kapoor who is in his sixties had to use prosthetics for his role as Babulal Vakharia in 102 Not Out. Explaining the challenges of designing prosthetics for generic roles, Omung says that these roles give a lot of freedom to the prosthetics artist. “In generic roles, the artist has some liberty and can use all the resources possible while working on the design and the style. There is no one to question or criticise the work,” he adds.

John Abraham in RAW
John Abraham in RAW

Challenges encountered

Biopics and personality-based films are a bit risky and dicey at the same time. There is a lot of trial and error work involved. It took the team of PM Narendra Modi almost 2-3 months to get the right and exact prosthetics for Vivek who plays the role of Modi. “A lot of time went into getting the nose right and also the facing. All this requires a lot of experience, hard work and precision all at the same time,” expresses Kumar. The make-up artist has to make sure that the actor who will be using the prosthetics is comfortable in doing the scenes with all the prosthetics in place. The expressions should be visible and it should not hamper the acting of the actor. This requires considerable tweaking and reworking wherein the prosthetics is removed, modified and then worked on. This is a continuous process till one achieves perfection.

Omung Kumar
Omung Kumar

Another major drawback of prosthetics is that it limits the shooting time. As prosthetics is not just mascara and make-up, one cannot go on acting as during regular scenes. Explaining in detail on how prosthetics limit the shooting time, Kumar says, “It takes around 4-5 hours to get done with all the set up. So, for example if the script demands a shot at the time of sunrise, the actor and the entire make-up unit is working on it from midnight. Also, with the rising temperature, an actor can start sweating and that can make him feel uneasy. Hence we can only go on shooting for six or at the max 8 hours.”

Prosthetics, adhesives and other materials can cause allergies for the actor. This is something every actor and make-up artist fears. The team has to be very careful while combining the materials. However, it can only be known once the prosthetics is applied to the actor. “Allergies due to prosthetics are an actor’s and the team’s worst nightmare. There are lot of adhesives which are used while pasting and while removing the prosthetics. However the impact that they have on the skin is something that can be checked only in real time. Once we know what is not required, modifications are done accordingly,” shares Kumar.

Rishi Kapoor & Amitabh Bachchan in 102 Not Out
Rishi Kapoor & Amitabh Bachchan in 102 Not Out

In the early days of black and white films, special effects make-up had its limitations and actors had to work hard to bring the character to life. Over time, as technology has developed, new products have come to the market allowing make-up artists to do much more with the tools they have. Reel life now has the power to look astoundingly real.

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