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Interview Bengali

Technicians don't need to be popular outside industry: Hairstylist Hema Munshi

In a candid chat with Cinestaan, the sought-after artiste opened up about her 20-year journey in Bengali cinema and more.

Roushni Sarkar

Hairstylist Hema Munshi, who has been working in the Bengali film industry for the past two decades, has witnessed its evolution up close.

In love with Kolkata, the artiste values work above all things and maintains a realistic approach to life despite being one of the most sought-after hairstylists in the industry. She has also worked in Hindi films, including Parineeta (2005), Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006), Eklavya (2007) and Shyam Benegal’s Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2005).

In a candid chat with Cinestaan, Munshi opened up about her journey and the manner in which technicians are treated in the industry.

Munshi with Rakhee

Did you always want to be a hairstylist and work in the film industry?

I harboured no dream of turning into a hairstylist or makeup artiste. My father Sarod Munshi was a makeup artist and while I was studying, he pushed me to experience his world. I had various interests then and also sat for numerous exams but nothing really worked out. I could sense that I could only venture out in this field and, also, I needed to start working while studying. I could not enter any other profession. Since then, I have been working continuously. Sometimes I think of starting my own business, but nothing of the sort has taken place yet.

Which was your first job?

Assisting senior hairstylist Meera Nandi. I then started receiving projects gradually. My first independent film was directed by Milan Bhowmick in 1993 or 1994. I have forgotten the name and the film did not do well in the box office either. My first big project was the first Bengali mega serial Janani. I started doing more television projects then and was slowly getting more opportunities as well.

Why Rituparno Ghosh was envious of hairstylist Hema Munshi

How has the industry changed over the years?

It’s been a long journey, and there has been a lot of evolution in terms of technology. People have changed a lot as well. I began working at the last stage of Uttam Kumar’s career. Bumba Da (Prosenjit Chatterjee) had just started working then. I have seen the shift in different generations and am watching new people enter the industry.

Earlier it was monotonous and now a lot of experimentation is going on. But I have become selective and try to lay my hands on offbeat films. Also, I don’t get offers from commercial films these days and this is solely due to Rituparno Ghosh, whose works marked a major shift in my career. I learnt a lot from him while working in Shubho Mahurat (2003), Khela (2008), Noukabubi (2011), Aarekti Premer Golpo (2010) and Malati Bala Lane. Working with Kaushik Ganguly has been extremely crucial to my career too.

I am supposed to work in an English film as well but it has not been confirmed yet. I have been updating myself with time, which is quite necessary for artistes like us.

How has been the experience of working with Kaushik Ganguly?

Kaushik Da is an extremely intelligent director. He has his own team and he likes to work with it only. He calls everybody in his team and explains his concepts and leaves the rest to the technicians. He can make the technicians understand his concepts easily and make everyone a part of his ideas.

Our thinking process is kind of similar and, hence, it is easy to work with him. Then there are filmmakers, especially, the mainstream filmmakers with whom my thoughts hardly coincide. Working with directors like Kaushik Ganguly gives satisfaction.

Munshi with Aparna Sen

What do you think about artistes who work behind the scenes not getting much limelight?

I don’t understand what we would do in the limelight. I have no business being popular. I wouldn’t earn more if I was better recognised in my locality; rather, I would be compelled to donate more for Durga Puja celebrations. See, I think it is a loss if we become popular outside the industry. We only get work when we are popular within the industry. I have come here to earn money, not to become a director or a star. I have to work every day to eke a living and I have to keep busy constantly. I would have to put extra effort into maintenance if I had a huge house or several cars.

In recent times, which of your works has been the most challenging?

It was challenging to work in Kaushik Ganguly’s Nagarkirtan (2019) as he called me up and asked me to style a boy (Riddhi Sen) as a girl in such a way that his male features do not disappear completely. The concept was a bit difficult to understand and, hence, I asked him for the script. After I went through it, I got it. Then I did my job and the film went on to win the National Award for makeup.

I need to understand the story. I always ask the director to hand over the script if there is difficulty in comprehending the concept.

How important is a hairstylist’s contribution to creating a character?

First of all, the character needs to be created in relation to the story, so that their identity can be established before the delivery of dialogue. For example, in mega serials, almost all the characters look the same. Their actions and appearances aren't in sync. See, every department needs dedication. Also, every technician needs to have his or her own way of thinking. They cannot solely depend on the director’s vision.

How the treatment towards the technicians has changed over the years?

All I can say is that we are in a better position financially. There was not much work earlier, but now there are many opportunities on various platforms, so it is not difficult for a technician to have two or three phones or a flat of his or her own.  Technicians work in a friendly atmosphere now. There is not much discrimination between actors, directors and technicians anymore. Earlier, actors used to travel by flight and technicians would have to take the bus or train, but the situation has changed. We are not miserable.

Have you ever considered working in another state?

No, I always travel and I don’t need to settle elsewhere. If I wanted to live outside Bengal, I would have shifted to Mumbai long ago. I love Kolkata. Whoever wants to work with me can take me anywhere and return me here. I don’t like speaking in other languages for an extended period of time.

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Indian cinema