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Who’s That? Vikram Gaikwad does magic with make-up

He is the uncelebrated make-up designer of the Indian advertising and film industries

This is for film buffs. Remember Saif Ali Khan’s ‘bahubali’ look in Omkara or Ritiesh Deshmukh’s much talked about three looks in the movie Apna Sapna Money Money?

Coming to ad films, remember Arshad Warsi’s Japanese act for a Domino’s commercial, or more recently, Aamir Khan’s Sodhiji look in the Tata Sky commercial?

What’s common between all these is 43-year-old Vikram Gaikwad, a make-up designer whose bag of tricks contains, among other things, prosthetics, wax and hair extensions.

Gaikwad has worked in over 50 films, more than 500 ads and countless theatre productions. In the 22 years he has spent in the field, the surprisingly low-profile Gaikwad has brought to life characters ranging from Bhagat Singh to Babasaheb Ambedkar. He even made a human being look like a chimpanzee.

When an international marriage portal,, could not find a chimpanzee to feature in their ad, they called in Gaikwad to do what he does best -- transform. He set to work on a dwarf male model, turning him into a female chimpanzee for the ad. The proof of his brilliance came when one animal rights organisation approached the crew -- after the ad was aired -- questioning the company on the use of the animal. Gaikwad says that every human face resembles some animal. So, it’s not impossible to do what he did.

Every skin tone, says Gaikwad, can be traced back to the soil the person belongs to. “I have a collection of soils that I have assembled from everywhere in India. Mixed in the right proportions, it can be used as a good foundation base to derive the exact skin tones of various Indian regions.”

What eventually became a career started as a hobby for Gaikwad, when he was just eight years old. The only formal training he has taken was a workshop from a special effects institute in New York. Says Gaikwad, “In India, people are impressed only with the glitter. I knew that a foreign certificate will get me the recognition.”

The institute’s officials recognised Gaikwad’s genius, and instead of the full programme, gave him 15 days of training to hone his technical skills. Rick Baker, the celebrated make-up artist of The Nutty Professor, was one of the people he trained under in this workshop. At the final test, using actor Mammootty as his model, Gaikwad received an A+ grade.

On how he approaches his craft, Gaikwad says, “I seclude myself 48 hours before I have to design a look, so that my memory doesn’t fiddle with the look that I have to execute.” Research, too, is important. For Saif Ali Khan’s look in Omkara, for instance, Gaikwad researched on ‘bahubali’ and brought out the look in the tiniest of details, such as the rugged skin tone and chapped lips, complete with the scar on Khan’s face.

Gaikwad acknowledges his guru, Babanrao Shinde’s role in all that he has learnt. It was Shinde who gave him the opportunity to practise his art and encouraged him to read books on the art of prosthetics and make-up. Gaikwad also practised for four years at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune under Anji Babu, a lecturer-cum-make-up artist.

Gaikwad relates how he entered the industry. “A friend wanted to audition for the role of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan in Sardar, a Ketan Mehta film. He asked me to make his face up in a way that would make the character come alive. The next thing I know is that Shyam Benegal, who was the principal adviser for the film, inquiring about the guy who did the make-up. Since that day, I have worked on all of his films.”

The man, however, is frustrated with the lack of recognition for make-up artists in India and has been fighting for a national award in this category. But what irks him most is that actors rarely, if ever, give credit to their make-up designers.

“Some of them go to any length to take credit for the way their character looks on-screen. Complimented on the skin tone, they’ll say they stood for three hours in the sun, when they never set foot out of their vanity vans without an umbrella overhead. It makes me laugh,” he signs off.

(Who's That is an effort to highlight the lesser known talents from the advertising, media and marketing industry.)

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