For over three decades makeup magician Mickey Contractor has been wielding his magic wand on Bollywood's brightest beauties for dozens of hit films and advertising campaigns. Gender discrimination in the film industry forced him from hair into makeup, where he felt frustrated with archaic beauty ideals and lighting technology that required egregious amounts of makeup.
Though change has been slow to come in India, he's proud to have been a driving force behind altering mindsets to embrace different kinds of makeup and lighter applications. I caught up with this seasoned pro during the 2011 IIFA Awards Weekend to chat about his new partnership with MAC Cosmetics, his passion for Viva Glam, his trajectory through film and advertising, and the beautiful life lessons he's learned along the way.
How did you get into the industry, how did you get into makeup, what's your story?
I started 33 years ago and I started with hair, then I got into makeup because they were not allowing men to do hair at that time in India, in the film industry. Because I always wanted to be part of the industry -- I liked the concept of film making and I like being part of films -- I decided, 'okay, let me study a little bit of makeup,' which had to be hands on, because the only way you could learn was by assisting somebody. So I started assisting a senior makeup artist, and from one place to the other -- with a lot of heartache and whatever -- here we are!
Mickey Contractor in the IIFA 2011 MAC lounge.
If it wasn't possible for men to do hair at that time, how could it be possible for them to do makeup?
Because at that time they used to have a rule that I think is completely wrong and I never supported it, but that men had to do makeup and women had to do hair. Because women could help the girls change and at that point in time there was only one makeup artist and one hairdresser who traveled with the star everywhere. It's a very stupid excuse and a stupid reason for men not having the chance to do hair, but that was the norm then, so one just followed.
Was there a time in your career that you felt there was a turning point?
The turning point in my career was when I decided to stop doing films and went into advertising. I just felt that there was not enough respect, and not enough money and we were basically being treated like shit. So I thought it's better if I just do advertising work , it was also more challenging. Purely because in advertising one could do different kinds of looks. If you're doing a soap commercial, you could do a completely clean look, which you could never do in Bollywood because Bollywood is all about excessive makeup -- it used to be at least.
After I started doing advertising work I continued for about 10 years and I didn't touch a film then, and there [in advertising] I got all my fame and all the credit for what I used to do and what I like doing and that's when I started to actually create different makeup. And that's when the film industry wanted me back and they came to me and asked me -- then I went back to the film industry on my terms.
The way I look at success is, the fact that you have the option of choosing what you want to do -- that to me is success, not just making more money or fame.
Are there any movies you did makeup for that have been a highlight?
I think every movie has been a highlight because they've all been stepping stones for me. I try to give every film a slightly different look but like I said, in Bollywood things change with a lot of effort. Before it used to take us 10 years to change one thing, maybe today it takes 10 months. But it's a long process, nothing changes over night, because people are not open to change -- or a drastic change at least.
Chalte Chalte has been quite a landmark film because people loved Rani's smoky eyes. That's the first time I had done such dark, smoky eyes on Rani and they loved that. My two IIFA winning films... in Kal Ho Naa Ho Preity was very clean -- it was a very nice scrubbed fresh look -- and in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham I did Rani, Kajol and Jaya Bachchan. In Fashion I did all the looks that weren't fashiony, where she was meant to be clean. The song Kajra Re from Bunty Aur Babli with Aishwarya was with done with no foundation at all and it was a very, very hugely popular song.
A variety of brushes ready for use in the IIFA 2011 MAC studio.
What are the strongest makeup trends in Bollywood right now?
Not just right now -- what it has always been and always will be -- is accent on the eyes. Bollywood is all about eyes, I think India is all about eyes, because we draw a lot from our tradition, we draw a lot from our culture -- for generations it's always been about eyes. Even if Indian women don't wear too much makeup -- foundation was pretty alien to them 10 years ago -- they always more or less use kohl and they use their bindi, which adds color to their face. Kohl is so important to every Indian woman, it's also our highest selling product at MAC. It will always be eyes.
So you've really noticed they're now using less foundation in Bollywood...
Yes, absolutely they have! And I take a lot of credit for that frankly because we have managed to change the mindset of the actresses by proving over and over again that you don't actually need so much makeup, and you don't actually need so much contouring. Now camera people light up differently, the lenses are much sharper, so you can't do the makeup you used to do 20 years ago -- which was so caked up but yet with a diffuser everything looked great -- it's not the case anymore. So I think the girls today are far more open to change, and they're very receptive to anything you show them or tell them, as long as they feel it looks good on them!
Did you have any favorite stars you like doing makeup for?
Frankly, I only work with who I like! At this point in my career I really don't see the need for me to spend a hundred days with someone who I don't like.
This is an incredible thing you're doing with MAC, what's your next step?
Hopefully to continue with MAC and what I would really like to start is putting a lot more effort and a lot more time into promoting Viva Glam.
Do you think there will be a good reception for that in India?
One hundred percent! Because Viva Glam has six lipsticks which are like a varied colored palette -- from red to burgundy to brown to beige to a slight pink -- so I think there is at least one lipstick that everyone could possibly buy, and it's only a matter of awareness. Knowing Indian people -- who are extremely passionate about their own families and they're very, very passionate about helping others -- it's just a matter of educating them and telling them, 'listen, this is what the cause is' and I'm sure they'll happily wear the lipstick.
Classic MAC products in the IIFA 2011 MAC studio.
See dozens of more great photos from the 2011 IIFA Awards Weekend here!
Photos: Nolan Bryant.