Whichever medium you see it on, the make-up should be natural on the dancer: Brij Mohan Gupta

Brij Mohan Gupta working on the make-up for Geeta Chandran
Again, we begin where we always begin: a dancer on the stage, depicting a romantic scene between the nayak and the nayika. She expresses her love through her eyes and sensuousness through her lips as they tremble. As the nayak pulls her towards him, her face lights up, the cheeks radiant. And then, in the next scene, we see a nritta piece, in which the feet of the dancer move all across the stage in different movements. It’s as if the alta-reddened feet are a different entity altogether in this piece of dance. The hastas, the hand gestures being used to depict certain animate and inanimate objects, each finger beautifully made up to be seen by a house full of spectators. And then you wonder, who is this make-up artist who has made the dancer not only look so beautiful, but express so much?

In this, the Building Blocks series of interviews, we speak to the various professionals who work to put together a dance performance, well before the dancer puts a foot on the stage. This one is a chat with Brij Mohan Gupta, a make-up artist very well-known in dance circles for his art. During a recent talk with photographer Avinash Pasricha, I learnt that Brij Mohan ji has made up many dancers for his photographs too. Brij Mohan ji, who has worked with dancers, theatre artists and others for decades, worked as a make-up artist with Doordarshan, and now freelances.

When did you develop an interest in make-up and when did you start doing make-up for dancers?

BM: Ramlila is actually my first love. DCM Cloth Mills had a big Parsi theatre when I was a child. When I was studying in Class VI, I started doing the Ramlila at DCM – the roles of monkeys, rakshasas etc. I was also the prompter, so even the Ramlila that hadn’t been included, it was all written down in my hand, and so I remembered it all – prompting was my job. I have done all the roles in the Ramlila. Gradually, I started working with Mohan Lal ji, who worked as a make-up artist there. When I turned 18, I started working as a make-up artist in Doordarshan, alongside my studies.
The DCM Ramlila declined, gradually, and then we went to the Ashok Vihar phase 1 Ramlila. We started that. After that, in Ashok Vihar’s Phase II, they used to do an Urdu Ramlila, and the Ramlila we started doing there was based on shudh Vyas gayaki, with elements of Parsi theatre. Then, a few businessmen shifted to Shalimar Bagh and started the Ramlila there in 1983. I’ve been doing make-up at that Ramlila since then. There’s a proper Vyas gaddi there, and the Ramlila is in Parsi shaili. It has won a few awards too.

When did the association with dancers begin?

BM: I have been associated with Saroja Vaidyanathan ma’am since 1976 and I still work with her. I have retired from Doordarshan, though, and am a freelancer now.

What are the things you keep in mind while doing make-up for a dancer - the form, the concept etc. - or are there other considerations? What inputs do you get from the dancer?

BM: Professionally, the first thing is the facial anatomy. Secondly, dance make-up is done according to the expressions for that form found on ancient sculptures in temples. Thirdly, it depends on whether it is a nritta piece or an abhinaya piece. Of course, I get inputs from the dancer about the make-up, the nature of the presenatation etc. before the performance.   

What is it that is specifically enhanced in the face?

BM: A dancer does not have any words to express. It is the areas of vibrations on the face that are to be enhanced, like the eyes, lips, cheeks etc., so that the expressions become visible to the audience.

Do you also work on the hands and the feet?

BM: That depends on the dancer. Some want alta on their feet for shringar. But first, you have to match the tone of the skin on the hands and the feet to that of the face. For that, you apply make-up on the hands and the feet. If this make-up is not applied, the facial make-up will look excessive - matching make-up on the hands and the feet reduces the intensity of that on the face.

Could you tell us a little about the products you use?

BM: Earlier, all our material was Indian. But imported brands are available in India, especially the professional brands. From among those, the best stuff is of the German company Kryolan. We use those cosmetics more than any other. Those are also easily available. They have non-greasy bases, water bases – we use whatever is required accordingly, so that dancers do not have make-up running down their faces during a performance. Some people end up using the local kajal, but it runs – the black lines show. Each make-up artist has developed their own technique to tackle that. Mine, for instance, is to use waterproof eyeliner, pencil, kajal and plastic eyeliner as well. After that, it won’t run with the dancer’s sweat even if they dance for 6 hours. Some people use only kajal that’s oily, for instance.

You’ve been doing make-up for so many years, how do you feel watching the dance in that moment?

BM: I have watched everyone – Geeta Chandran, Kanaka Srinivasan, Saroja madam, Yamini ji, Sonal ji, all over the world, thanks to Doordarshan. Even Kelucharan ji, since we have Odissi here this evening. That was my great fortune in the DD job – I have also worked with BM Shah, Mohan Upreti, Master Champa Lal Pawar – kya dance, kya drama, all the renowned directors of Delhi.
I feel exactly like you would when I watch dance – like this is worship.

Don’t you feel that you are making a very big contribution to it?

A: Everyone contributes, it’s all teamwork. This work cannot be done without teamwork. And I do not do make-up for the sake of doing make-up. The look should be natural on the artist, whether you shoot them for film, or watch them with the naked eye, or photograph them. I don’t end without finishing. But during Navratri, I am not available to dancers – I do make-up at the Shalimar Bagh Ramlila, almost as a service to god, and I do no other work in those nine days.

Pics: Courtesy Brij Mohan Gupta. Make-up for the artists in all the pictures has been done by Brij Mohan Gupta.

Note: This interview first appeared in narthaki.com

Vocalist Sudha Raghuraman

Artists from the Ramlila, with looks by Brij Mohan Gupta

Kathak dancer Divya Goswami Dikshit

Artists from the Ramlila, looks by Brij Mohan Gupta

Kathak artists Guru Geetanjali Lal, Vidha Lal and Abhimanyu Lal in special looks by Brij Mohan Gupta

Ragini Chandrashekhar

Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan

Guru Geeta Chandran's Natya Vriksha troupe with Brij Mohan Gupta

A very young Sharanya Chandran with mother Geeta Chandran in make-up by Brij Mohan Gupta


  1. When I was at CPC DD house to interact Brij hi he is one of the very few persons who understand the relationship of make-up and lighting
    No doubt he is doing good job in theatre


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