An honour that has been long overdue for Malayalam cinema... that is Ranjith Ambady’s take on winning the award for the best make-up artiste at the 67th National Film Awards. He bagged the award for Helen , the survival story of a girl trapped in a cold storage. Ranjith, who also won the Kerala State award for the same film, is doubly happy that the film has also won the Best Debut Film of a Director award (Mathukutty Xavier).
“There have been many enough disappointments in the past; and so, I never expected any award!” says Ranjith over the phone from North Paravur near Kochi. The 40-year-old has five State awards in his kitty. He won the first award for his début work, Kazhcha (2004) and Makalkku released the same year. The other awards were for Thirakkatha (2008), Paleri Manikyam: Oru Pathirakolapathakathinte Katha (2009) and Take Off (2017).
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Ranjith is all praise for Mathukutty’s planning in Helen . “The character’s look changes when she spends six to eight hours in the freezer. Prior to the actual shoot, we went for a photoshoot to test this. We did take some references, but we were careful not to replicate what we see in foreign films because our skin tone and complexion is different,” says Ranjith.
Having worked in 111 projects so far, Ranjith is excited about upcoming releases such as Aarkkariyam, Malik and Aadujeevitham in which make-up has an important role. “Somehow, I end up getting films that push my boundaries!”
Biju Menon-starrer Aarkkariyam could be one of them. The actor plays a 73-year-old in the film directed by Sanu John Varughese. “Sanu chettan was confidant that we would pull it off. I had to refer some 15 photographs to ‘make’ that character and it took us seven to eight hours to finalise the look.”
And there is Malik, about the journey of Fahadh Faasil’s character, Sulaiman, as he ages from his early 20s to his 60s. “He had four to five looks. The toughest part was that since shooting was going on without a break, we had to alternate between the looks as and when needed,” says Ranjith, who is also working with the actor in Malayankunju .
According to Ranjith, changes that have swept over Malayalam cinema in the last decade have influenced every aspect of filmmaking. “In fact, the new crop of filmmakers are clear about which department should be given prominence in their project. It can be cinematography, art direction, costume, make-up, sound…,” he adds.
He considers Aadujeevitham among the toughest projects so far. He adds, “It might be the same for all those who worked on the project so far.” The Prithviraj-starrer, based on Benyamin’s eponymous novel, tells the story of a migrant worker, Najeeb, who lands in Saudi Arabia in search of a job but gets ill-treated for years. “I can’t reveal much except that Blessy sir (director Blessy) has taken it to the level of a spectacle,” says Ranjith, who has also worked in Tamil in Mani Ratnam’s Kadal , Bharat Bala’s Maryan and Madhavan-starrer Maara . His upcoming projects in Tamil include the biopic on athlete Santhi Soundarajan and the Raghava Lawrence-starrer directed by Kathiresan.
Ranjith says that his tryst with tinsel town happened because of his father, R Venugopal, a costume designer. “I used to accompany him to film sets. As I took note of what happened behind the scenes, make-up piqued my interest and that’s how I got into it,” says Ranjith. He assisted a few artistes, one among them being veteran Pattanam Rasheed, also a National award-winner [ Paradesi , 2007]. In fact, Ranjith is only the second Malayali makeup artiste to win the award after Rasheed.
However, he is disappointed that appreciation is hard to come by, as in the case of actor-director Lal’s look in Ozhimuri that went unnoticed. Ranjith observes that “a good percentage of people still believe that make-up means making a person glamorous or unrecognisable. In fact, during the early days of my career I used to think that make-up is what we see in horror films and historical movies. But later I realised that it is all about keeping it real without going overboard,” he avers.
Is there a work that is most close to his heart? “I think my best is yet to come. Because when I see my work on screen, I end up finding mistakes!”