She has worked on six movies with Anushka Sharma but the one she thinks was the grandest in scale was Bombay Velvet. “We had to recreate another decade, and that takes time. It took us longer to do the hair and makeup; and the costumes were so heavy. You have to be lucky to get such a project,” says Puneet B Saini, Anushka’s makeup artist for films such as Ladies Versus Ricky Bahl, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola, PK and NH10.
Once an air stewardess based in Hong Kong, Puneet moved to India in 1999 and became a trainer with a flying academy, later with India’s largest importer of luxury beauty brands. Makeup became an all-consuming obsession when she worked with MAC as a trainer for all of their Indian operations. She left five years later to launch her own beauty training academy called Pankake by Puneet. “I felt that there was nothing substantial for girls and boys who wanted to learn makeup specifically for the glamour industry,” she explains, adding that she comes from a creative family of artists and designers. Interestingly, she studied psychology in college and still harbours some dreams of healing and alternative therapy. But for now, doing and teaching makeup is her number one passion.
Being in the seat of India’s film industry, Bollywood was bound to happen. Neha Dhupia was her first face in films – Puneet did her makeup in the historical film Gandhi to Hitler. Next came Genelia D’Souza in Force. When Anushka Sharma’s manager approached Puneet, she knew she had to go ahead with it despite her busy teaching career. “It made sense to do it. I was fond of Anushka and inspired by the directors she worked with – Yash Chopra, Rajkumar Hirani, Anurag Kashyap. I said ‘yes’ to all.” She has also worked with Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Rani Mukerji, Tabu and several others in her Bollywood stint. And it isn’t over yet.
What was your brief for ‘Bombay Velvet’?
I met Anurag (Kashyap) to understand what he wanted, and he said, “Helen. Think of her as a performer.” I did a lot of research to understand the kind of colour palette that was available in makeup in those days. I dug into it – got an understanding of how Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren looked – and then we tweaked those looks for Anushka.
There’s a lot of thought and progression that goes into her looks through the movie…
Yes, you have to understand she plays an Anglo-Indian in the film. Her character’s inspirations would end up inspiring her own looks. Rosie Noronha, the character, was more exposed to Hollywood growing up. In her teens, we gave Anushka no makeup, bushy eyebrows and an ungroomed upperlip, since she was a simple rural girl. Then when she starts working in a salon, she gets exposed to these things, and she begins to get rid of her facial hair, though she still doesn’t wear makeup. Later, when she is part of the Bombay Velvet elite club, she has three major makeup looks. We were very clear that she would not do much makeup while she was at home. When she meets Johnnie and when romance is in the air, she wears a smudged eyeliner for that dreamy, feminine look. And when she’s performing, she wears double-eyeliner, glitter matched with outfits, the works.
But the film was shot in different phases over a period of time. So how did you maintain the continuity?
Yes, it was shot in Sri Lanka over a year and a half, so maintaining the continuity was the most challenging part. For instance, the first scene of a song was shot eight months before the rest of the song and in 6 or 7 different locations. The viewer does not realize that a lot of homework is required to maintain the continuity from shot to shot. I had to do her whole face, then destroy it for the next shot, then re-do it when we go back to shooting the earlier scene.
What has been the most rewarding experience you’ve had in the film industry?
‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ was my most inspiring experience. I’ve never met a person like Yashji (the late Yash Chopra, the director of the film). He was a very happy person, very calm, full of health. Despite his age, he was everywhere. We shot across Leh-Ladakh, Kashmir, London… and even when we had to climb hundreds of feet up in the mountains, he was okay! With him and Shah Rukh Khan, it was the happiest, loveliest experience ever. There was such amazing camaraderie. He passed away very soon after that, and it was completely unexpected.
You’ve shot in very extreme situations, such as the one you just described. How do you deal with it?
Well, I’ve been an air hostess so I’m used to adjusting my body clock across time zones. In fact, I’m an insomniac and that’s worked to my advantage in this line of work. Whenever anyone asks for a night shoot, I’m all up for it. And when we shoot nonstop for days, I am able to drop fast asleep with sheer exhaustion! It’s works for me both ways.
How is Anushka to work with?
It’s a pleasure working with her. It’s very important to like the people you work with. With a makeup artist, there is so much physical proximity, so it’s not just one’s talent but also one’s personality that matters. Anushka and I have a great working relationship; she’s a director’s actor and will do whatever makeup is required for the role. In ‘NH10’, for instance, she had this really rugged, sweaty, grimy look, and both of us did what was required. In fact, I am more comfortable with natural beauty rather than costume makeup. I really had to train my brain for that done-up period look in ‘Bombay Velvet’.
Are you disappointed that the movie didn’t do well at the box office?
I’m shocked. Cinematically speaking, it’s a great movie; it’s just so beautiful. Everyone acted brilliantly. I can’t help the response to it but I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in it. It was a rewarding journey.