Ronex Xavier is said to be one of the rising makeup artists in Malayalam cinema today. In a career spanning barely a decade, he has had the cream of projects to choose from (from Kali, Carbon, Aadu 2, Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, Maheshinte Prathikaram, Mayaanadhi, Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela, The Great Father to the latest Maradona).
Currently, his work on Jayasurya’s character in Njan Marykutty is drawing a lot of praise from all quarters for its classy, minimal look with both the actor and director admitting that half their job became easier after the makeover. Ronex isn’t used to interviews and while googling I had difficulty getting any info about him. It took him a while to warm up to the interview but eventually he managed to enlighten me about a lot of things about his job.
What was the reference for Jayasurya’s Marykutty?
To begin with, I was approached at the last minute and in that sense it was a huge challenge. I didn’t really copy any transgender person. I was told not to opt for a typical look, with long hair and garish makeup but to keep it simple and classy. So, I gave him short hair, tweaked the eyebrows a bit and applied some Kajal.
Did the process take long?
Yes, it did. Makeup and costumes together took us an hour every day. We also had to plant artificial nails on him. His lip shape was altered a bit. I had made a sketch and went by that. There have been films which had similar characters going for long hair and we were sure that won’t fit with Marykutty.
Was it love for cinema or makeup that got you in the field?
My uncle, Joseph Sebastian was a long-time makeup artist in Malayalam cinema and that was the inspiration. I began with TV Soaps and later assisted makeup artist Renjith Ambady. It was on the sets of The King and the Commissioner that Mammootty offered me Jawan of Vellimala, my first film. During that time there was no training or special course on this but I think it’s better to do a course and understand its theory well.
Can you briefly take us through your process?
According to the makeup possibilities of a film, we sit with the director and actors right from the pre-production stage. We are also in charge of all the actors in the film, including the main and junior artistes. A budget is drawn, and we outline the number of assistants needed as well as raw materials. The makeup products and tools are provided by us. Usually we go with MAC and Krylon. The look test will be done before the film starts, yet it can be an ongoing process. I won’t be there throughout the film, I will be assigning my assistants or instructing the actors’ personal makeup.
How does it work with the personal make up man of a leading actor?
We work in tandem with them and instruct them regarding the look of the film.
Nowadays a lot of films go with minimal to no makeup. How do you achieve that?
It’s about maintaining the look and continuity in scenes. For instance in Maheshinte Prathikaram, all the actors were asked to go natural; Fahadh we made him a few shades darker. In that scene between Fahadh and Aparna where he accidentally injures himself with a nail, I fixed a prosthetic on his finger and did it. One of the biggest misconceptions about film makeup is that it’s only about beautification of an actor or simply applying layers of pancake, giving the brightest nail polish, lipstick and thick eyeliners. Our job is also designing a character apart from helping with the props needed during a fight scene or an accident scene. Be it applying punch marks, red eyes, bleeding nose or ageing, that’s also our job.
What are the flaws that can be hidden by makeup?
Even makeup has lot of limitations, so large ones cannot be bypassed. We can tone down/ brighten up a face. Facial hair or beard can be touched up, hair texture can be altered. With the availability of prosthetics, we can do a lot more—bring in or iron out wrinkles, try bald looks, shape lips, lengthen nose. In Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela, we used a moulded bald cap for Shanthi Krishna, instead of shaving her head. It took us four hours. Ditto for The Great Father’s villain’s bald look.
What can go wrong with ageing makeup?
The trick is to keep it simple and natural. But when we try and add something that is unsuitable to the face, it would show.
Films to digital, has it also affected the makeup rules?
Yes, digital camera detailing is amazing. So, a little goes a long way when it comes to applying makeup on actors. With films the rule was: more layers of pancake, better the effect.
Which would you say were your most challenging works?
7000 Kandi and Double Barrel. Both required a lot of pre-production work and had very little references to work on, especially the former. It was set in a fantasy background, about people we have no inkling about. They lived in forests, wore peculiar outfits and had large foreheads, noses, fake tummies and quirky earlobes. We had to come up with several sketches and re-sketches to finally arrive at the look. Double Barrel was almost postmodern in styling and attitude. Lijo was crystal clear as to how exactly each character should look and behave and he would give me a background about their character and behaviour, as well as a few references from here and there.
What do you expect from your director and actors?
Absolute co-operation. For Double Barrel, an actress had to opt for a hairstyle with side burns and she sportingly carried the look for a long time. Actors must sit for hours during prosthetics and it cannot be done without their support. Similarly, the director has to detail us patiently about the characters and their background. At times he shows a photo for reference or asks us to come up with something more original. Trust is important, like Ranjith Sankar did with Marykutty.
What’s the deal with dull toned looks?
In Swathanthryam Ardharathriyil, since it’s in the milieu of a jail, we had to make them look dull and sad. So, we dulled the beard and hair with different shades of brown and russet. In Carbon, for that last 15 minutes, we worked on making Fahadh tired, bruised and dehydrated by tanning his face, drying his life and adding injuries. That was added according to the scene order.
What’s one of the most wanted looks for heroines in today’s cinema?
No makeup, minimalistic. In Bangalore Days, Nazriya didn’t have the traditional made-up look, similarly Aishwarya’s persona in Mayaanadhi was organic and simple. They want natural beauty on screen now. When it comes to female actors, the key is to highlight her lips, eyes and eyebrows. Also let’s face it, our audience is well-versed in the nitty-gritties of filmmaking today. They will be the first one to point to anything out of place on screen today. One cannot go with the marriage look for a heroine in every scene. It might work in TV serials, but it won’t in cinema, as it demands more realism as it is for posterity. We won’t go for reruns of serials.
Which actor, according to you, has a chameleon impact when it comes to makeup?
Siddique. Any sort of getup fits his face, any makeover will work on him. Even outlandish wigs. Recently I loved the makeover I gave Vijayaraghavan in Carbon - he gamely agreed to shave his head.
This article was first published in Fullpicture.in and has been republished with permission. You can read the original article here.