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Invisible Workers: Malayalam Film Industry Still Shuns Female Make-Up Artists

Recently, FEFKA's union gave one female make-up artist its membership card. But others are still left in the lurch.

Invisible Workers: Malayalam Film Industry Still Shuns Female Make-Up Artists
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In 2014, Maneeshya Shivapriya was a Film Employees Association of Kerala (FEFKA) accredited make-up artist. The 37-year-old, who has been working as a make-up artist in Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu films for over a decade, however, was given a hair-stylist card in 2022, making it almost impossible for her to follow her passion – crafting skin tones to give the most natural look that suits each screen character that she has to mould.

FEFKA affiliated All Kerala Cine Make-Up Artist and Hair Stylists Union, however, called the sudden designation change that altered Shivapriya’s professional profile, a “mistake."

Several women in Kerala who are trained make-up artists are given hair-stylist cards, in what seems to be a case of gender discrimination within FEFKA’s union. FEFKA is one of the most powerful film technicians’ associations in the Malayalam film industry that has members including top filmmakers in the industry.


Shivapriya told The Quint, “I was told that the FEFKA affiliated union issued me a make-up assistant card by mistake. They decided in 2022 that my real designation is hair-stylist. I have applied for a review, but to no avail.”

Maneeshya Shivapriya working with actor Harisree Ashokan

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

While, a female make-up artist Mitta Antony made news for getting the FEFKA union’s membership card after a wait of 11 years in July 2022, Shivapriya says her re-designation has made her look for work in non-Malayalam film industries where women are given make-up artist accreditation.

The same is the case with two other senior women make-up artists Binu Ajay and Manju Calluna.

Here’s a peek into their struggles in a gender divided Malayalam film industry that has left women make-up professionals struggling.


Clandestine Work: ‘What if We Get Caught?’

Shivapriya was a Central government employee in a Kerala jute mill when she got drawn to make-up art in 2009. She worked as an assistant for Malayalam film industry’s legendary make-up artist Pattanam Rasheed, and his brother, Shah.

“I used to be scared while working because anyone could have asked how a hair-stylist could do make-up work. Had anyone complained, the chief make-up artist could have been slapped with a fine ranging up to Rs 25,000. I used to be clandestine while working,” Shivapriya said.

Now having worked in several movies including Tamil superhit and Surya starrer Jai Bhim (2021) and the recently released, critically acclaimed Malayalam film Paka (2022), Shivapriya specialises in the “natural look” and prosthetic make-up. “I enjoy character development than beautifying make-up,” she said.

Poster of Paka in which Maneeshya Shivapriya worked.

The hurdles that female make-up artists are faced with while applying for professional identity card at FEFKA’s union reveal a constricting work culture.

For instance, FEFKA’s make-up artists’ union has stipulated that artists who have worked in at least three theater-released and FEFKA approved films alone can be eligible for chief make-up artist membership cards. Even to get membership card as an assistant make-up artist one has to fulfil the three-film yardstick.

Binu Ajay with actor Nivin Pauly (left)

(Photo: Facebook)

Binu Ajay, who has worked in the Malayalam film industry as a make-up artist for over 20 years said, “Even OTT released films are not considered as work done. Moreover, if a film does not make it to the theaters after filming, FEFKA will not issue the chief make-up artist card.”

While the three-film rule is uniformly applicable to both men and women, the latter gender is constantly faced with a disadvantage.


Invisible Workforce: How To Get Work When Not Recognised as Artists?

Binu Ajay, who started work as a beautician who ran a hair and beauty salon in Bengaluru when she was 23 years of age has done more advertisements than films because she could never get make-up artist membership card in Malayalam film industry where men alone, till 2022, were given this professional approval.

“If you don’t get recognised as a make-up artist by a union you will not get enough work in films. If you don’t get approved work in films which have made it to the theatres the union will not give you id card,” 46-year-old Ajay explained the show-business catch-22.

Binu Ajay with actor Asif Ali.

(Photo: Facebook)

While several women have clandestinely been working as make-up artists in films, even while holding hair stylists’ membership cards, they remain the unrecognised workforce in the Malayalam film industry. Even a week after Mitta Antony got make-up artist membership, the FEFKA union has not opened the door for other women who have asked that they too be given make-up artist designation.

“I had applied for union membership around the time that Mitta too applied. I have not gotten any positive response from the union yet,” said a senior make-up artist, Manju Calluna.

With more number of cine make-up training schools churning out women professionals into the field, the established unions in the industry should recognise women make-up artists, Calluna, who runs a make-up training school in Kerala’s Ernakulam said.

Manju Calluna at the release of the Mohanlal starrer film Kanal.

(Photo: Facebook)

“There are so many women who want to work as make-up artists now. Unless we, the senior artists, prove that this can be a successful profession, how can they enter the field trustingly?” Even senior make-up artist Pattan Rasheed runs a training school where women as well study the craft.

The female make-up artists, however, think that the influx of trained women into the film field has made male artists insecure about their jobs.

Manju Calluna on a workday.

(Photo: Facebook)


Do Men Face Job Insecurity?

“When we ask for membership as make-up artists, the male union members say that women entering the filed will create disrepute. They think women would sexually compromise to get job opportunities,” said a female make-up artist on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing work. Several women artists have considered this allegation an insult to their professional integrity.

Moreover, the allegation also reveals the abysmal work culture that openly banks on sexual exploitation of women, some artists said. “If women can get work by granting sexual favours, what does that say about the industry?” a senior make-up artist, who withheld her identity, asked. Due to such vicious smear campaigns, female cine make-up artists also take up other work as beauticians, she added.

Manju Calluna doing bridal make-up.

(Photo: Facebook)

Maneeshya Shivapriya said, “I do not know the reason but men do feel that we will take away their jobs. That is the most bizarre worry that I have heard. Irrespective of gender, people should get work based on their merit. That should be the norm.”

However, male artists, including Pattanam Rasheed, have been supporting at least a section of women as they run make-up schools, some female artists maintained.

Binu Ajay working.

(Photo: Facebook)

Most women have been getting work as make-up professionals, if stars agree to take them on as personal make-up artists. For this work, union work ID is not required.

Meanwhile, several women have also been taking make-up artist accreditation cards from Mumbai-based Bollywood artists' unions. “The Mumbai accreditation cards work when one wants to work in non-Malayalam films. But to work in Malayalam films we still need the FEFKA union’s card,” a woman artist said.

Will more number of women get membership as make-up artists in the FEFKA union? Despite reaching out to the office bearers, The Quint has not received a response from FEFKA. The article will be updated if either the union or FEFKA responds.

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Edited By :Padmashree Pande
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