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Kajal won't do, Madame

Herve Bonneau is French. But the suave make-up artist has had lessons from Devdas and Lagaan

Herve Bonneau says Indian women seduce with their hypnotic eyes.

THEY DOUSE me with perfume the minute I walk into the room. "It's called Pure Poison, ma'm... The new fragrance from Christan Dior," the lady at the door explains. Before I can recover from the scent, the world reels forth a sharply dressed blond man who takes my hand in both of his, and says: "Glattu mit you."

Fiona, the Sales Head of Christan Dior in India, explains that the Frenchman is the official make-up artist for her company. "Herve Bonneau is here to teach Indian ladies a few tricks about make-up," she says. Immediately, I become conscious of my face coloured only by the grime from the long drive to the Golden Palms Resort. Looking around, the only comforting sight is a group of women with faces scrubbed clean; waiting to be taught that lipstick cannot double as blush.

The chosen one

As soon as Herve takes centrestage, his eyes scan the room for a model. He glides up to college-goer Shenaz and points at her: "I choose... you." The girl stops short of crying for joy and runs to the chair lit by the spotlight. "Are you French?" Shenaz asks starry-eyed. "Verrrrry French — stylish and arrogant," announces Herve and gets to work.

His French accent runs through the dos and don'ts of "making yourself pretty". He first goes about the morning look, which he says can be shiny, with lots of cream and gloss. "Just stop short of looking oily. Especially in this haute (he means hot) weather." He advises that in the evening, you must look matte, with little colour. Every two minutes, he steps away from Shenaz and surveys his work. Each time, he raises his eyebrows in wonder, holds the palm of his right hand against his heart, and blows a little kiss in the air. I hear that is French for patting oneself on the back.

When told that cosmetics, for most Indian women, means moisturiser, kajal, kumkum and nail polish, Herve nods understandingly. "In India, the customer thinks it's an obligation to wear full make-up. And if she says she doesn't have time for herself, what can I say? I feel pity."

He repeatedly mentions that he doesn't work for models, but for "nice ladies". "I'm commercial — but that doesn't mean I'm here to take away your money. I'm here to give you all the pleasure of buying," he says with a flourish. At this point, you have to ask him where he gathered so much knowledge about what Indian women want. "I've seen Devdas and Lagaan," he replies, waiting for admiration to light up my face. Then he tries again: "Indian women are very attractive. They seduce with their hypnotic eyes, and in the way they flip their long, flowing hair." Then why must they wear make-up? "Ummm... Your face is your identity card. It shows your social level and standard of living. I call it the city look." Well, at least he knows his target customer. Herve says that all-powerful women in the world wear make-up, except those in India. "Sonia Gandhi is an exception," he adds.

Culture too

Apart from fashion and make-up, Herve likes to discuss culture and travel. About India: "Your country confuses me. Apparently, it is modern and dynamic. But inside, people want to hold on to their roots very strongly." At first glance, he says, he felt a man and a woman in India are treated equally. "But inside my stomach, I knew something wasn't quite right."

Ask him about men wearing make-up and he says: "For men, we usually talk about hygiene and freshness. Of course, there are new generation European men who wear bronze blush and kohl. But it never shows, does it?" I stare hard at Herve's face. No, it doesn't show.


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