Meet prosthetic artist Zuby Johal, the creator of zombies in 'Ghost Stories' and Hastar in 'Tumbbad'

Zuby Johal

Zuby Johal   | Photo Credit: Sampath Kumar GP

Zuby explains the step-by-step process of her craftsmanship and work in films like the 'Gangs of Wasseypur' series, 'Uyare' and more

Of all the things in Zuby Johal’s basement, the most conspicuous are the many body parts: two grotesque heads, four hands of varying colours and sizes, and several stray fingers. They evoke not repulsion or fear but awe. For, the details in them, including the wrinkles on knuckles and the frowns on the brows, advertises Zuby’s labour in making them. But she points out they are discarded or incomplete works. It’s perhaps why the craftsmanship was apparent — a good prosthetic artist’s creation obscures the effort that went into it. Like a skilled magician’s trick, it fools you into believing that it’s real. And, Zuby’s works can achieve this level of verisimilitude. The censor board, for instance, refused to believe, until she wrote to them, that the cat in Finding Fanny was prosthetics. You could say the same about her other works, too, which include the Gangs of Wasseypur films, Uyare, Tumbbad, and Ghost Stories (in which she employed foam latex, which is hardly used in India).

Zuby, who runs Dirty Hands Studio with her partner Rajiv Subba (both post graduates in ceramic and glass design from National Institute of Design) talks about her work.

Prosthetics are used in films of all genres these days. It is not just used for making a young person look old. All the cuts, wounds, scars, pregnant bellies, you see are prosthetics.


Can you talk about the process of creating the makeup?

Most of the time, it’s a collaborative effort. After reading the script, we research. For example, in [Dibakar Banerjee’s segment of] Ghost Stories, we researched on evolution because we were making a creature which was half-human, half-animal. Then, a lot of back and forth happens with the director. With Photoshop, we make a few illustrations of the final look. It makes both our lives easier — the director knows exactly what he's getting and I know what I'm making.

Once we finalise the look, then we go ahead with the sculpting stage. If I need to put the prosthetics on you, then I might require a live mould of your face and convert that into fibre. Then, I sculpt on the fibre face. After this, we start adding the textures according to the character’s age and if it has any cuts or wounds. For example, we mixed six shades of dyed natural hair in Ghost Stories to get the look we wanted for the creature.

Prosthetic makeup is apparent when there's an extraordinary character like a zombie (in Ghost Stories) or a 300-year-old oracle (Raabta). But you have worked in movies like Gangs of Wasseypur and Uyare, too, which are more rooted in reality. How often is prosthetic makeup used in films these days?

Not so much until 2008. But ever since, I would say, there has been an 80% increase. Prosthetics are used in films of all genres these days. It is not just used for making a young person look old. All the cuts, wounds, scars, pregnant bellies, you see are prosthetics.

Rajkummar Rao in Raabta

Rajkummar Rao in Raabta   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

You have worked in a low-budget film like Tumbbad and a big one like Fan. What are the differences between the two?

In Fan, we had to create a mannequin of Shah Rukh Khan for the Madame Tussauds scene. But the museum didn’t allow a mannequin from outside to be installed there. So, it wasn’t used. And, Tumbbad was an enriching experience. There were a lot of firsts for us. We hadn’t made bodysuits before that. So, we learnt through trial and error. In fact, while working for Ghost Stories, I messaged Mitesh Shah (the screenwriter of Tumbbad) that we could have done certain things differently. With the experience we have now, we could have given a much better output. But I learn from my failures.

Well, the budget does make a difference. In big budget movies, you get a lot more time to work on the details because you can hire more specialists. But it isn’t only about the money. It’s about what the director wants as well. So, the idea is important.

You haven’t worked on a biopic yet. But will it be more difficult to work on a character in the real world?

No, biopics will actually be very easy because you already know what the person looks like. All you need to do is to recreate that person’s mould. We made a mannequin of Gandhiji which moves the chakra (using animatronics) at the Gandhi Teerth in Jalgaon, Maharashtra.

Zuby’s work in Ghost Stories

Zuby’s work in Ghost Stories   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

There was a time when directors would outsource prosthetic makeup from abroad. Now, including you, there are several specialists who has worked in many films. What has changed now?

It has to do with the change in the kind of movies that came out. [During the late 2000s], we saw directors like Anurag Kashyap making content-driven movies. Until then, it was just the star vehicles, love stories, comedies. But through movies like Gangs of Wasseypur, new opportunities emerged. There was this new wave of directors and different movies. Things like wounds and cuts had to look natural. And, with more emphasis on animal rights these days, we have to recreate an entire animal. But I see more talented prosthetics artists coming into the industry. They should be given a chance. We don’t need to outsource our work anymore.

What are you working on right now?

Love Aaj Kal 2 [directed by Imitial Ali] is set for release. Other than that, we are working on AK vs AK (by Vikramaditya Motwane). There’s also a Yash Raj Films project and a couple of things that we are doing for Amazon Prime and Netflix. But, after Uyare, I like to work on more South Indian movies. It’s one of the reasons I chose to remain in Bangalore despite doing a lot of Bollywood films.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 3:22:27 PM |

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