Dussehra procession in Old Delhi: One make-up man for scores of actors

olddelhi-dussehra-260909-071The actors in the Dussehra procession have no fancy green rooms with teams of make-up and costume artists. They set up base in a modest guest house in Cycle Market in Old Delhi, and a single person gets to work on them.

This make-up artist is Shyam Sharma who single-handedly gets nearly 50 actors ready within a few hours. And he has been doing so since 1984. A music teacher and a linguist in Hindi rest of the year, he only does this voluntary work for 12 days with his briefcase of unbranded cosmetics.

Does he do make-up any other time? Sometimes when children in his school are on stage and need his services. He proudly told me that he has won many awards for such work.

olddelhi-dussehra-260909-077Watching him at work can be fascinating as he does so without a break in the overheated room – pausing only for a few sips of tea served erratically. That too gets cold before he is done with it.

There is a certain order he follows too: the lesser demons and monkeys come first followed by the more important characters like Maa Durga and Shakti, Vaidji or the doctor and children dressed as Lord Krishna and Radha. Ravana, Lakshman and Lord Rama are the last to be attended to; being the main protagonists, they have to look good and fresh.

All the costumes are also in the custody of organizers who have no links to theatre otherwise. These come out during Dussehra, actors are fitted in them (and these change daily) before being collected to be ready for the following day. And then locked up for the rest of the year till Dussehra comes back.

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