Interview Hindi

Working in India has taught me to be more resourceful: Clover Wootton

The National award-winning makeup artist speaks about her career and recent work experience in Chhapaak (2020) where she transformed star Deepika Padukone into an acid-attack survivor.

Photo courtesy: Clover Wootton

Sonal Pandya

Beginning with Krrish 3 (2013) nearly eight years ago, makeup artist and prosthetics specialist Clover Wootton has carved out a niche for herself in Indian cinema. In 2015, she shared the National award for Best Makeup Artist with Preetisheel Singh for the biopic Nanak Shah Fakir (2014).

Working to transform top stars into avatars much unlike their glamorous selves, Wootton has aged them, given them drab makeovers, and even bloodied and bruised them up.

It’s all thanks to her clever skills and some correct prosthetics to alter their appearances into those of the characters they are playing. In 2020, Wootton’s most challenging project, Chhapaak, was finally unveiled on the big screen in January. She painstakingly created many different looks for star and producer Deepika Padukone after her character Malti’s face is splashed with acid in the film.

Wootton spoke to about the trials of Chhapaak, and also about how she began working in the Indian film industry and her experiences since. Excerpts:

Deepika Padukone in Chhapaak (2020)
Photo courtesy: Clover Wootton

When did your interest in the world of professional makeup begin?

I grew up doing makeup on my friends. I was always plucking their eyebrows and making them look ridiculous most of the time. I studied fine art as well, so I had that background in sculpture, art, painting and colour. It felt like a natural progression for me.

How did you come to join the Indian film industry then? I read you were travelling through India.

I had been in India since 2012, but I had travelled through India in bits before. I worked on a [Indian] film a long time ago as an assistant, thanks to a lovely girl called Virginia who had given me the job. That was like my first foray into makeup and filmmaking.

How did you stay back in India then?

After that I realized I really wanted to do makeup, so then I went and studied prosthetics in Leeds [in England]. The guy that I was studying under, Mike Stringer, he got a 'Bollywood' film and took me out as his assistant. That was Krrish 3 (2013).

Over the years, you have worked on very different projects, from Sui Dhaaga (2018) to Pari (2018), Revolver Rani (2014) to Krrish 3. Which has been the most challenging project in your filmography?

Chhapaak [as] there were many aspects that we had to take into consideration. For the design, we had to follow Laxmi’s [Laxmi Agarwal, the real-life heroine on whom the film's story is based] actual recovery progressions. There are a lot of myths surrounding what happens when acid is thrown on your face. We wanted to get that understanding, and it does vary from person to person, and what that recovery process is like.

Laxmi’s skin, for example, became very patchy before evening out as it healed. After her major skin transplant, the skin was very dark as a result of the trauma and took time to lighten. We had to think about how to show that progression and how we can use it to tell the story. We also had to discuss how graphic we felt the makeup should be and the best ways to shoot it, so that it is true to life but still appropriate in a film.

I think [writer-director] Meghna [Gulzar] has really got that balance absolutely perfectly. Also, what happens with acid-attack survivors is that they lose mass on their face. Some of the muscles and bone will be damaged, particularly in the noses, ears and jaw. So the face actually gets smaller.

So with Deepika, with prosthetics, you are actually adding mass to the face. That’s a challenge as well. And, of course, on top of that, you have the weather and how much time it’s going to take on set. These [are the] limitations as well.

Because of the time progression in Chhapaak over the years, around how many looks of Malti are there?

There is her young look, then there’s right after it [the acid attack] happens, so we had labelled it all, from 1A, 1B to 3A, 3B onwards so you can probably say seven, approximately.

How did you go about creating the prosthetics for the character of Malti? Do you have a team with you?

No, I do it all myself in my studio. It’s a long and complicated process of moulding and sculpting. It involves taking a facial cast, sculpting on that and creating a resin two-piece mould for the final prosthetic. You then layer in an encapsulant and fill it with silicone. It’s just science.

If it’s required on set the next day, how far in advance do you have to make it?

Each prosthetic only lasts for a day. You do it so that you dissolve the edges of the prosthetic into the skin and once the edges are ruined, you can’t reuse that piece. We need to know how many days exactly we are going to be shooting each look and then I’ll make that amount of pieces in advance.

Sidharth Malhotra in Brothers (2015)
Photo courtesy: Clover Wootton

I’ve also read that you work with cruelty-free products. Has that always been your choice or is that something you did gradually?

When I started doing makeup, I just used what I thought was the best makeup. [By] spending more time in the industry and also [due to] my own personal values, [I changed]. I realized that if I am vegetarian, why am I supporting animal testing through my makeup? At a similar time I gave up wearing leather, it just seemed to make sense. You can’t claim to be an animal lover whilst knowingly supporting such cruel practices. Now there are so many great brands that don’t test on animals and so there is just no excuse any more.

Are more makeup artists doing this?

I’ve been messaged by some in Bombay who are more interested in [it]. If they are going to renew their kits, they will bear that in mind, they will obviously have their favourites and as makeup artists we have huge kits that are worth thousands of pounds, so it would be a very pricey endeavour to switch overnight. Gradually, people are starting to make a more conscientious choice.

For a film like Pari, for instance, where Anushka Sharma got these streaks and blood on her face, how do you go about creating that kind of look?

Yes, any of the small cuts and wounds, and any of the SFX makeup that Anushka had in Pari, were all created by me. You can buy them online, these pieces, but I prefer to make them myself because I know exactly that they are going to fit and the products that I’m going to be using work better for me. We had a lot of conversations about exactly what Anushka’s character should look like when she is transformed, when her real self is revealed, and how we should show that.

Anushka Sharma in Pari (2018)
Photo courtesy: Clover Wootton

I loved doing that look because she looked very different from what she normally does, but with very little makeup, and it was really fun to do. She was amazing. It was unbelievably hot and sticky and she was covered head to toe in a really long-haired wig, blood and prosthetics, and often a pregnant stomach as well. It was not a comfortable experience for her and she never complained.

Before you begin a long makeup session in the chair, how do you prepare your actor or actress?

It’s really important that we plan for ample time. For an actor and for me, because I want to do a good job with this, it’s nothing worse for an actor to get into a van and feel like they are rushed or short on time. It starts the day with a slightly stressful atmosphere, so we plan to accommodate a break for breakfast, to do things calmly, properly, and give them time to be quiet and sit with their lines, and just feel really comfortable, especially with a makeup that is challenging.

Has any artiste been sensitive to the makeup or the prosthetics that are being put on?

No, all the products are hypo-allergenic, but if you are wearing a prosthetic for that many hours in the heat, your skin can get a rash, and you have to speak to a dermatologist about the best course of action.

What has been your biggest learning here in the Indian film industry?

One of the great things about working in India is it has really taught me to be more resourceful, to think on my feet and on the spot. There are a lot of changes that can be made, you have to always be ready. You just might not get told something before it happens, but the flip side of it is that [with a] lack of preparation you learn to cut corners, and you learn to do a little jugaad [quick fixes] from time to time. There are two sides to that coin.