‘The QUEEN of make-up’

Jaanmoni Das. Photo: H. Vibhu and by Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: H_Vibhu

It was to be a photo shoot for a film magazine. Transgender make-up artist Jaanmoni Das and her assistant were to do the make-up for the model to be featured on its cover for the inaugural issue. “She was a beautiful girl—slim and nice to look at. She was sweet-natured. Us, my assistant and I, offered suggestion upon suggestion telling her to start modelling since she would photograph wonderfully. We went on and on….” It was much later that she realised who the ‘model’ was. “Manju Warrier!” Jaanmoni cannot stop laughing at her ignorance.

She couldn’t have known. It has been only five years since the much-in-demand make-up artist, an Assamese, made Kerala home. Along the way she ‘learnt’ her film stars.

What makes the story remarkable is how she refuses to let her identity as a transgender define her. Unapologetic and proud, she asserts that it is just an aspect of who she is. More than once during the conversation she asserts her individuality as a person and a professional. “I am what I am. I am not hiding anything.” She is grateful for her ‘wonderfully supportive family’, especially her mother (Beauty Das), which has stood by her. She has two brothers to whose education she has contributed.

Her client list sounds like the who’s who of Malayalam ‘celebrity-dom’—Amala Paul, Ranjini Haridas, Abhirami, Revathy, Lissy Priyadarshan, Manju Warrier, Rima Kallingal, Poornima Indrajith, Shwetha Menon, Karthika, Nazriya, Mythili, Kaavya Madhavan and Namitha Pramod among others. Today, she is counted among the top make-up artists in the State. Guwahati is a long way from Kerala, but she has traversed the distance literally and metaphorically.

With brown highlights that offset her curly hair, nails and toes painted her favourite shade and a dab of lipstick; she is every bit glamorous as her stars. Jaanmoni talks non-stop, the stories tumbling out in a hurry.

Of how she ran away from home at 14; how she, as a three-year-old, loved saris and make-up; how her grandmother used to refer to her as Brihannala (the female form Arjuna assumed during Pandavas’ exile); how she loves red nail polish and how her father reacted when she ran away. “He told me to do whatever I wanted to but never to ask him for money.” Today she supports her family for “how can a family survive only on the salary of a government servant?”

A chance trip to Kerala in 2010, as part of an Assamese film, landed her here. She ended up doing make-up for Lissy Priyadarshan and her daughter for the cover shoot, by Abrid Shine, for a Malayalam magazine. Despite the experience which tempted her to stay back she returned home only to come back a couple of months later to test waters here.

Over the years her contacts and clients have grown. She has been prudent not to limit her work to just films and filmstars. A freelancer, her mainstay is bridal make-up and most of her clients are NRI brides. Most of her time is taken up by photo shoots, portfolios and ad shoots. She has however worked on films such as How Old Are You? (parts of the film), Ennum Eppozhum, Kalimannu, Colour of the Sky, Run Baby Run among others.

While her narrative has a generous sprinkling of stars, three names constantly come up – Amala Paul, Ranjini Haridas and Rimi Tomy. Amala Paul and she, according to Jaanmoni, go back a long way, even before the release of Amala’s debut film, Mynaa. She did Amala’s make-up for an award function and led to a steady professional relationship and friendship. Deva Thirumagal Ranjini is another regular she counts as a friend. Ditto Rimi Tomy whose make-up she does, for her television shows.

Among these names an unlikely name crops up, that of actor Revathy. “I haven’t worked much with her but when I did, she taught me important lessons about being a woman and living life with dignity. I am grateful to her for that.” The moment passes, the chirpy Jaanmoni is back and she says, “My clients trust me, when I get down to work they know I’ll make them stunning. Of course without my team – Haan, Derin, Sweety and Babin I would be nowhere.”

A stint with a travelling theatre company led her to make-up. A member of the troupe noticed Jaanmoni’s felicity of make-up and suggested taking it up as a profession. An aside – she was a Sattriya dancer. She ended up assisting make-up artist Ratul Boro, a known name in the Assamese film industry. Once Ratul relocated to Delhi, Jaanmoni inherited his clients and “reputation since I was his last assistant before he left for Delhi. I was the queen (of make-up) when I left, if I return I will still rule.” It is, probably, this spunk that has earned her the reputation of being something of an ‘ahanakari’.

Being an outsider, in more ways than one, in a new place had its share of troubles like getting a house and attitudes. “People tried to run me off but I stayed put.” But the overwhelming support more than compensated for the negatives. “I don’t understand the language so even if people are being nasty it doesn’t matter. People like me are no different from others but I don’t want to dwell on it…I have met a lot of good people here.”

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 2:06:00 PM |

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