Preetisheel Singh started her career in the IT industry but soon realized her love for make-up. After doing a specialized makeup and prosthetics course at Los Angeles, the talented make-up artist returned to India and debuted with Sartaj Singh Pannu‘s Nanak Shah Fakir. Preetisheel set up the first Prosthetic Lab in the country for this film and eventually won a National award for best makeup owing to her brilliant work. Singh who has an impressive list of films to her credit gets candid with Pandolin about her life and interesting work.

Preetisheel Singh

Preetisheel Singh

How did your journey from your hometown Pathankot to becoming a makeup artist happen?

While doing my B.Tech in Punjab University, I was always passionate about artistic makeovers in films. But leaving my education was a far-fetched notion at that particular period of my life. After my degree, I pursued my career in the IT industry as a software engineer in Delhi, which went on for a year. After a year of working, my IT Company (TCS) sent me to the US. That’s when my interests grew fonder. I worked for three years, saved money and ended up doing a specialized makeup and prosthetics course in Los Angeles.

Having done a course in LA, what made you shift to Mumbai instead of exploring opportunities there itself?

Working in LA was a different game altogether. One required an artistic visa and two-inch thick portfolio and I had just started out. Moreover in India, there weren’t many people exploring the field of Prosthetics. And I wanted to offer everything in the field of makeup starting from beauty, high fashion to character design, prosthetics, body tattoos and body painting. Hopefully, one day I will head back to LA with a folio and a studio film (smiles).

How did you bag your first film? Was it a long wait?

Initially, it does take time to navigate through the right way with the right kind of people and I too waited for years to understand how our industry works. I roamed from one production office to another, showcasing my work. Sartaj (Singh Pannu, Director) saw my work and even though I was a newcomer, he willingly took that risk with me and I worked day in and day out to prove my mettle. The kind of makeup done for Nanak Shah Fakir especially prosthetics would take four to five hours and my normal call time every day would be 3 am, for a 7 am shoot. Actors like Arif Zakaria, Tom Alter, Adil Hussain and others would patiently sit for 3-4 hours at a stretch every morning to get ready for the shot.

My list of unusual demands for Nanak Shah Fakir included forming my own team in India, importing material from the US and building a prosthetic lab

Working on a demanding project like Nanak Shah Fakir must have been a unique experience. From the research to the execution, what was the process like?

When I first met Sartaj, his brief for the requirement of the film amazed me. He was looking for a Hollywood-based team to do the “entire Makeup Design” including the prosthetics for the film. But he asked me “Would you be able to do the Prosthetics indigenously?”

I instantly knew that there were no professional skills available in the country to carry out this job and the material required for prosthetics had to be imported from the US. I went back home and realized that this was a major opportunity for me to prove myself. The next day I went back to Sartaj and said yes, but with my list of unusual demands which included forming my own team in India, importing material from the US and building a prosthetic lab (which was the first Prosthetic Lab in the country).

It was a pre-Mughal film so there were no references from any Hindi film as most of the films were set in the Mughal or Mauryan era. So it was very challenging to design crossover looks of Turks, Pathans and Indians of that time. The film spanned from 1469 to 1520’s, so the aging process of every character needed immense technical and aesthetic detailing, including that of cross-continental characters as well.


Old Age Prosthetics used in Nanak Shah Fakir

Old Age Prosthetics used in Nanak Shah Fakir

Did you expect a National award for your work? 

Nanak Shah Fakir was my first big independent project for which I slogged for a year and a half and getting a National award for it is like a blessing from above.


Tell us more about your other projects. Did word-of-mouth help or did directors start approaching you after seeing your previous films?

It was word-of-mouth! Once I started working on Nanak Shah Fakir the industry took note of my talent and professional grasp over make-up design, especially prosthetics. Even before the release of Nanak Shah Fakir, directors and technicians started to know about my work and I started getting calls. I have been lucky enough to work on really good films that tapped my potential.

Your filmography ranges from Haider to Bajirao Mastani, Talvar to Brothers and more. What kind of challenges does the life of a leading make-up artist in Bollywood entail? 

The biggest challenge for prosthetic makeup is procuring material here in India. Initially getting work in this industry was a struggle but Sartaj trusted me with Nanak Shah Fakir and that’s how I went ahead and gained the trust of directors like Vishal Bhardwaj, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Meghna Gulzar etc.

Ranveer Singh's look in Bajirao Mastani

Ranveer Singh’s look in Bajirao Mastani

Which has been your most difficult film so far and why?

Nanak Shah Fakir and Bajirao Mastani being period films have been challenging.


What kind of research do you do before every film?

I read my scripts thoroughly and basis my research, I create the options for the characters on Photoshop, which I then present to the director for approval.

What is your criteria to say yes to a film?

It is based on the director, script and availability.

Tell us about your team and who all does it comprise?

I have a core team of six to seven people. My brother Karandeep Singh is one of my Chief Prosthetics Artist.

Which make-up artists do you look up to?

I admire Jordu Schell (Avatar, 300, Hulk) and Nelly Recchia (amazing body painting and beauty makeup).

Sunny Deol in Bald Cap for Ghayal Once Again

Sunny Deol in Bald Cap for Ghayal Once Again

What is the kind of training required to be a make-up artist in the Hindi film industry?

An initial makeup course followed by assisting a good makeup artist would be great. Another important thing is to understand the full criteria of filmmaking, to identify the importance of each character and their look for every particular scene.

I would like to see a more professional approach towards make-up design as a whole

If you were given an opportunity to bring in changes in the world of make-up in India, what would they be?

I would like to see a more professional approach towards make-up design as a whole and recognition of make-up artists in mainstream Bollywood awards, as it is one of the important aspects of designing.

Tell us a bit about the kind of makeup that we can look forward to in your upcoming films. 

Ajay Devgn’s Shivaay : I have designed the look for the entire film. Since it is an action packed movie, a lot of blood works like cuts, bruises and scars had to be done.

Vishal Bhardwaj’s Rangoon: Period looks have been designed for Shahid Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan and Kangana Ranaut set against the backdrop of the Second World War.

24 (Tamil sci-fi film): Have designed four character looks for Suriya, ensuring that each character stands out distinctively.

Leena Yadav’s Parched: For this movie I have designed the traditional look for the women set in the rural landscape of Gujarat. It involved a lot of body tattoos and bruising.

Boney Kapoor’s Mom: I have used prosthetics to shown Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a very different character look.