June 20, 2002 
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How Shabana became a witch!
More on Makdi, the children's tale

Ronjita Kulkarni

Bollywood now seems to be waking up to the fact that makeup plays a very important role in films.

Take the recent Badhaai Ho Badhaai, which instantly transformed Anil Kapoor into an obese person. Or Bobby Deol in 23rd March 1931 -- Shaheed, where he was made to look like Shaheed Bhagat Singh.

Composer-turned-film director Vishal Bharadwaj knows the importance of makeup too well. In his debut film, veteran actress Shabana Azmi plays a witch in Makdi. And the makeup (by Arun Seal) is so well done that it is difficult to recognise the actress in her new look.

Says Bharadwaj, "Witches have been part of my childhood. For Makdi, I did not actually visualise the witch's face. I only knew that she had to be very old --- she is 100-150 years old --- and tall. But I did have an idea of what she would sound like."

Azmi was a natural choice, according to the director: 'Shabana is as good an actress as Lata Mangeshkar is a singer'. And Bharadwaj did not have to convince her about the role. "She agreed immediately after hearing the script."

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The actress, known for her professionalism, did a lot of research on witches. She also downloaded some images of witches from the Internet. The costume designer Arjun Bhasin (Monsoon Wedding, Dil Chahta Hai), also got some pictures of witches. "We started mixing and matching the pictures to get the right look. We took the teeth from one picture, eyes from another and so on and got our final product," says Bharadwaj.

"Then we had to work on achieving that look for Shabana. After many trials and errors, we finally got what we wanted. The entire process of getting the right look took a month."

Shabana Azmi in Makdi Arun Seal, the makeup artist, adds, "Finally, we came down to two references --- one was a dark, Gothic look; the other was a blue-grey look, which looked dead and frozen. The Gothic look was very scary and would have turned the children off. So we chose the second look. We wanted the children to be fascinated by the character, not to hate her."

Bharadwaj's main aim behind this elaborate makeup was, of course, to scare children. As he says, "Only if it appears scary will they be curious to watch the film."

Seal explains the finer details about Azmi's makeup. "I used wax to hide her eyebrows and change her features a bit. Of course, we did not change too much --- we wanted the audience to recognise Shabana. I used colours to blend the wax into her face. That was the challenging part.

"I used a wig for her hair," continues Seal. "We had to make the hair look tangled, so we braided her hair and inserted wires in them. Then we bent the wires so her hair would stay that way. We then dusted grey powder over her hair. Initially, I kept Shabana's lips natural. I did not paint them. But the look didn't gel. So I coloured her lips too. I made her gums red --- to make it seem she had just eaten [a human], and traces of blood still remained. But I avoided excessive redness because this is a children's film.

"Initially, I also thought of putting moles on her face. But that was very time-consuming. So we dumped that idea," says Seal.

Bharadwaj adds, "I wanted a special lens for Shabana. After some research, I located a company in London, which had what I needed. I got these flame and spiral lens, which cost 500 pounds each. The makeup was expensive, but I did not want to compromise."

This is the first time that Azmi has worn optical lenses. Says Arun, "She was petrified in the beginning, but came around to it. She is very professional. As long as she understands the reason, she does not mind anything."

Shabana Azmi in Makdi The actress wore white scaly gloves to get the eerie effect on her hands, and high-heeled boots to appear tall. The entire process of putting on makeup took an hour-and-half. "But she did not mind at all," says Bharadwaj. "There were times that if the makeup did not come well, she would ask for it to be redone."

In-between, when Seal could not do the makeup because he was also working on Shona Makhija's Chupke Se, artist Vipul Bhagat stepped in. But Seal soon took over --- Makdi is his debut film as a makeup artist.

Makdi is about a witch who turns children into animals if they enter her haunted house. The film also depicts twin sisters, one good and the other bad. One day, the bad girl tricks the good one into entering the witch's house. The witch turns her into a hen.

Now the bad girl has to play a double role, so that no one in the village misses her sister. At the same time, she has to get her sister back from the witch.

The film has been shot in Goa (along the Western Indian coast near Maharashtra), and Alibaug (along the Western Indian coast of Maharashtra). The film was completed in a record 24 days. "I did my homework really well," Bharadwaj explains.

Bharadwaj is also the co-producer of the film, along with Sanjay Rautrai. The film is slated for release during Diwali this year.


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