Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 14 October 2019

After long ban, women in India can soon work as Bollywood make-up artists

Female make-up artists have challenged a 55-year-old rule that prevents them from pursuing their profession in Bollywood. And India's Supreme Court seems to be on their side.
Left, the make-up artist Charu Khurana during the filming of Raavan in 2010 in Ooty, south India, with Abhishek Bachchan, before the union banned her from the set. Courtesy Charu Khurana
Left, the make-up artist Charu Khurana during the filming of Raavan in 2010 in Ooty, south India, with Abhishek Bachchan, before the union banned her from the set. Courtesy Charu Khurana

One of the biggest controversies to hound Bollywood is the ban on women working as make-up artists. Ever since the first union for film industry employees was created 55 years ago, the rule has effectively kept women out of the profession.

This bit of freemasonry has been challenged in the Indian supreme court by Charu Khurana, 32, a make-up artist who trained at the Cinema Makeup School in Los Angeles in 2008 and returned to India with dreams of working in Bollywood. But Khurana found herself being confined to doing bridal make-up, fashion shows and commercials in New Delhi and unable to find work in Mumbai because the Cine Costume, Make-up Artists and Hair Dressers Association turned down her application in 2009.

“They rejected me, saying only men could work as make-up artists. It’s my basic human right to work in any field I wish. They can’t exclude women. I, too, have children and a family to support,” says Khurana.

Indignation prompted her to contact the New Delhi lawyer Jyotika Kalra, who took up the case and also asked the National Commission for Women – the state organisation that protects women’s rights – for support.

Kalra says she did not know whether to laugh or cry at the explanation she received from the Association.

“They wrote saying that the rule was intended to protect a man’s livelihood because, if women were allowed to do make-up, no actor would ever choose a man to do it. What kind of logic is that?” asks Kalra.

Khurana believes many actresses would prefer a woman doing their make-up. “I think, given our cultural sensibilities, they would be more comfortable with a woman. These days, their costumes tend to be revealing and it means getting up close and perso­nal, particularly when body make-up has to be done,” says Khurana.

Ironically, Bollywood unions reserve hairstyling for women, an area in which males were, until recently, not allowed. It was why the industry’s most famous make-up artist, Mickey Contractor, had to give up his dream of styling the hair of famous stars. Given no choice, Contractor, who pioneered the lighter, more natural look for female stars, ended up learning make-up and rose to the top.

The actress Isha Kopikkar says that she sometimes sees women make-up artists on the sets and confesses to actually having her make-up done by them. “I have had women doing my make-up and I prefer it – they understand me better. Any such rule banning them on account of their gender obviously is wrong,” she says.

Sharad Shelar, the president of the Cine Costume, Make-up Artists and Hair Dressers Association, who is expected to meet with labour ministry officials in New Delhi over the case, confirms the men-only rule. “We can’t let women work both as make-up artists and as hair stylists, it would put men at a disadvantage, so we have divided up the two jobs among men and women to be fair,” he argues.

Khurana calls this gender segregation silly. “Why keep men out of hairstyling? Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan all have male hair stylists, so that tradition is being eroded. We need the ‘no women in make-up’ rule to be abolished. Why not let men and women work in both?”

For the filmmaker Sudhir Mishra, known for his films such as Dharavi (1991) and Chameli (2003), the custom is “archaic and dated”.

“The matter is simple,” says Mishra. “By excluding women from working as make-up artists, you are violating their fundamental right to work. It goes against the law of the land which provides for equality in the workplace.”

From initial comments made during a recent supreme court hearing, the chances of Khurana’s petition succeeding look bright. The court has ordered the information and broadcasting ministry to explain how such a rule has been implemented for so long.

Calling it a case of “gender insensitivity”, the judges said: “The differentiation made by the association, despite the Registrar of Trade Unions taking objection to it, is not only humiliating but also an affront to their [female make-up artists’] constitutional rights. They have every right to be treated equally.”

The court is expected to rule on August 26. It seems likely the women will win, in which case Khurana plans to pack her bags and move to Mumbai.

“That’s what I trained for in LA,” she says, “but haven’t been able to do for five years.’


Updated: July 19, 2014 04:00 AM