The secrets to some of the most elaborate make-up in Bombay sit in a steel-lined vanity case that looks like it holds a nuclear button. It belongs to Anil Hankare, TV star and celebrated lavani dancer, whom we catch as he prepares for a major show at the India Culture Lab’s Lavani Live! festival this weekend.
At rehearsals, he is undercover in a floppy blue cotton shirt and dad jeans. Before he goes on stage, though, the short-haired, hook-nosed Anil-ji transforms into a milky-skinned, mermaid-eyed diva, often shimmering from head to toe in the net saris he loves (“They look great, don’t spoil easily, are much easier to move in”). We asked for a look into his make-up box. Here’s what we found:
Covergirl Powder Foundation
From lemony-gold Cover Girl powder shadow to cakes of silver and bronze foundation in worn off-brand casings, “glow” is the key to good lavani make-up. Male make-up is “far more elaborate, and done much better than women’s,” Anil-ji says. “You use the same basics, but the artistry involved is far greater. The eyes must look more attractive, lips must look more lush: it’s very important for the sexy look.”
Garnier Pan Stick
Well-chapped sticks of thick foundation in rosy and yellow skin tones form the basis of Anil-ji’s transformation to dance queendom. “I used to dance classical dance in male form,” he says. “But in spite of that, friends often commented that the look of a dancer’s face is very ‘ladies-ka look.’ I did a show or two dressed as a woman, and suddenly my pay went up” — by hundreds of rupees, a big sum back in the late ‘80s, when he started.
Kosmik Pancake, Number 28
Next, another must-use layer of light-coloured foundation that adds shimmer to the face-in-progress. “Then face powder,” Anil-ji says, “with a sprinkling of water, so that the make-up settles in deep.”
“A lifetime isn’t enough to study make-up in the folk arts, and the thought that goes into it,” Anil-ji tells us. Part of this, he says, is because so many Indian performing arts feature men performing as women.
Miss Rose Correcting Concealer
A box full of tiny, bright discs of concealer are crucial to structuring the dancer’s face. Dark chocolate and coffee browns applied under the jaw and to his “dented” nose create perfect definition. A bright peach shade erases under-eye shadows; an ivory-yellow “brightens the skin.” The precise use of all these shades can reveal as much about others as they conceal about oneself, Anil-ji finds. “I toured in Muscat for two-and-a-half months, performing,” he says, dreamily. “I stayed in costume the whole time, and not a single person realised I was a man.”
He still gets love letters from male fans convinced he is the woman of their dreams. One admirer complained that he waited outside the stage door for “hours” for his favourite diva to appear, only to be gently told that he had never noticed Anil leaving the theatre in his jeans-and-shirt mufti. Another, “a minister,” got ready to divorce his wife for love, but that’s when Anil’s mother told him that things were going too far. “Some people were getting too deeply into it.”
The Pencil Case
For high, imperious eyebrows, full, bowed lips, and third-order tinting, a smudged tartan-patterned pencil case holds a fistful of Anil-ji’s indispensable tools: paint-brushes of every thickness and bristle type.
Gala Liquid Eyeliner + False Eyelashes
The eye-liner must be applied thick and winged — “the sexy look,” he reminds us — and the kaajal dramatic, able to compete with lashes the length of a baby’s finger. “Lavani is about ‘adakaari,’” artfulness and acting, he says. Part of getting the audience to look at you, is to look at them.
The other ocular tool in his kit is, of course, the eye of the beholder. “Over the years, I’ve learned where the glance goes first, and how it wanders.” (Face, curve of the neck, “then lower — then the waist,” if you must know.)
“I toured in Muscat for two-and-a-half months, performing,” he says, dreamily. “I stayed in costume the whole time, and not a single person realised I was a man.”
“A lifetime isn’t enough to study make-up in the folk arts, and the thought that goes into it,” Anil-ji tells us. Part of this, he says, is because so many Indian performing arts feature men performing as women, as a matter of course. “It’s our culture,” he says, but thanks to rigid morality and classism, dancing the lavani is “75% badnaami,” he says, both for cross-dressing performers such as himself, and for his women colleagues.
Even though not dancing makes him feel like “there will be no life in my body,” he’s seriously thinking of leaving the stage. His children are 19 and 21 years old, and he fears that any “bad reputation” he’s incurred may pass to them. “I teach these days, but lavani is still my life; I still wish I could do this until the very end.” The pancake can be wiped off with “cleansing milk, Johnson’s Baby Oil, and cotton,” but not everything else may be.
Getting there: Anil Hankare and his troupe perform at Lavani LIVE! at the Godrej India Culture Lab, Godrej One & The Imagine Studio, Vikhroli (E), on December 3 at 5 pm. See the Facebook page for details.
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