From Gangs of Wasseypur to Tumbad: What Being a Prosthetic Artist in Movies Looks Like
Zuby Johal and Rajiv Subba, founders of Dirty Hands Studio in Ahmedabad, have worked on 36 movies so far, which include Raabta, Uyare, Tumbad, Finding Fanny and Gangs of Wasseypur.
Years ago, I remember watching a movie starring Rekha called ‘Khoon Bhari Maang’ (1988). What stuck with me was Rekha’s look in the first half of that movie. As a visual medium, it is important that movies leave that kind of impact on their viewers.
Whether it was Amitabh Bachchan playing a 12-year-old Auro in ‘Paa’ (2009) or Rajkummar Rao’s cameo in ‘Raabta’ (2017), where he essayed the role of a 324-year-old man – makeup and prosthetics play a very important role in making a movie click with their audience.
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Credit for some of these unrecognisable looks goes to Zuby Johal and Rajiv Subba, founders of Dirty Hands Studio in Ahmedabad in 2008.
Post graduates in ceramic and glass design from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, the duo decided on starting a studio together soon after their course.
In conversation with The Better India, Zuby speaks about the journey from being a design student to working with the biggest directors across Indian film industries. “Early on in our career, both Rajiv and I, have taken on various kinds of jobs – from designing logos to furniture. All of which now seems rather directionless and random,” she says. It was by chance that the duo got to see celebrated international sculpture Ron Mueck’s work with silicone at a time when it was an unknown material in India.
“This was even before we had silicone phone covers. In India, we were not using silicone for such work. When asked if we could do something similar, we jumped at it,” she says laughing.
Adding to this, Rajiv says, “In ceramics as well as sculpting, the moulding techniques are nearly the same but the casting material changes. This was also an era before YouTube, which meant that all the mistakes we made had to be our own. There was nowhere to turn to seek help.” Armed with a lot of silicone and enthusiasm to succeed, the duo worked on sculpting 18 mannequins made using silicone to Sadhu Vaswani Museum in Pune. Through these mannequins the story and teachings of Sadhu Vaswani came to life at the museum.
On The Silver Screen
At the time when the duo was assembling the mannequins at Pune, each piece lay around. Looking at that Rajiv exclaimed that it looked straight out of some bomb blast scene in a movie. He proceeded to say that they should try and get into the movie business. “I remember asking him how we would do that given we had no connection with the industry,” says Zuby. What happened thereafter was perhaps coincidence or luck.
A week after installing the mannequins at Pune, the couple was back at Ahmedabad where they caught up with a senior who was working with director Anurag Kashyap as an Assistant Director (intern). Recalling those days, Rajiv says, “Every rupee mattered in those days. I remember calculating how much it would cost for us to take the Duronto Express to Mumbai, then a taxi to the set and back.” In hindsight, it was this meeting that changed their fortunes.
Recalling the first meeting with Anurag, Zuby says, “Just being on that set was something so different for us. Everything was new and once Anurag saw the head cut out we had brought along, all he did was turn towards the Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) script and handed it over to us. He asked us to go through the script and start work.” Zuby and Rajiv were given a complete free hand to explore their creative side for the movie and that is exactly what they did.
“If asked who the godfather of Dirty Hands Studio is, without a doubt I would say Anurag Kashyap.”
“He saw in us what even we did not fully realise at that time. He even told us that in 10 years we would be at the top of our game. He was such a visionary,” says Zuby. Since Gangs of Wasseypur, Zuby and Rajiv have been a part of 36 films in multiple languages.
Zuby shakes her head vigorously from side to side, vehemently stating the journey was anything but easy. “We started work when silicone was not even a material that people thought could be used to make prosthetics. Silicone, as they knew it, was something used only to enhance breasts and buttocks. In a way, we were the pioneers who started exploring and using silicone in India.”
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Learning with every project
“There is no straight jacket method of doing this kind of work. From making a prosthetic cat in Finding Fanny (2014) to making a bodysuit to make an actor look more muscular, work has been so varied. With every project, we also get to learn and grow,” says Rajiv. Even Pluto Mehra, the much loved Bullmastiff from Dil Dhadakne Do (2015), believe it or not, was created in a studio by Zuby and Rajiv.
A lot of the work also depends on how comfortable the actor is with the prosthetics. Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui (2021), a movie starring Ayushmann Khurrana was amongst the most challenging projects according to Zuby. She says, “More than the work itself, it was the fact that the entire shooting was taking place during COVID. We had to relocate our entire studio to Chandigarh to ensure safety of the team.”
“Not being at your own workstation, having to work around all the curfew timings and the restrictions on the number of people on set was challenging.”
While making prosthetics for movies is a big part of the work that the duo does, they also work with hospitals and doctors like Dr Devi Shetty, on making medical prosthetics. “We are designers and that is something that we do not want to compromise on. We cannot continue to make only scars and dead bodies for the rest of our lives. Challenges push us to be better,” says Zuby.
Zuby and Rajiv prefer being a part of the project from the early stage itself. “Once I read the script, I make note of my gazillion questions, which we then discuss with the director.”
Having worked on creating the look for Parvathy Thiruvothu’s character in Uyare (2019), Zuby says, “For that we met acid attack survivors and heard their stories. It wasn’t just enough to create a look for it, we wanted to do it right.”
With many young people wanting to get into the world of makeup and prosthetics, Zuby’s words of advice for them is to learn this art form before starting. “There are a number of great online courses and it will do you a world of good to learn. If you have the inclination to do it, you can do wonders. Those with a sculpting background might learn it faster, but learn, you will.”
The team at Dirty Hands Studio is extremely busy with a string of new projects coming up, which include some big names like the sci-fi feature titled Ashwatthama starring Vicky Kaushal; Indira Gandhi starring Kangana Ranaut and Dhaakad by Razneesh Ghai, among others.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)
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