Meet Somnath Kundu. Make-up maestro. Leading filmmakers in Bengal swear by him. Actors won’t take the floor without him having touched them up. The third generation in his family working in the Bengali film industry – his grandfather was a costume designer in the silent era, his father worked as one with filmmakers Tapan Sinha and Ajoy Kar, dressing up stars like Uttam Kumar – this unassuming gentleman is the unlikely muse for Srijit Mukherji’s dark psychological ‘thriller’ Vinci Da. We ask the cast and crew about how he inspired the film.
Rudranil Ghosh (Vinci-da): The idea originated with a film I was acting in. Somnath had created a prosthetic make-up for me as a victim of a bomb blast – one of the most frightening things you could imagine. It took us all of three hours to put it on. There were people on the sets that day who skipped lunch – it was so genuinely stomach-churning. But after we had shot the sequence, the director decided, in an act of self-censorship, maybe to pre-empt the censors, to keep it in long-shot. To say it was disappointing would be an understatement. When Somnath was taking the make-up off, I could see his eyes tear up. A note of resignation in his voice, he simply said, ‘If it can’t be shown, why go to all the trouble of making this?’ I could feel the frustration of an artist denied – in effect I was the canvas here and Somnath the artist. I wrote a story called ‘Shilpi’ around that incident, which I then discussed with Srijit. Srijit being Srijit added his own twisted take.
Srijit Mukherji: Yes, I have a morbid fascination for serial killers … but the story began with him (pointing to Somnath Kundu) … Somnath is one of Dev’s (the superstar) greatest contributions to the industry – he used to work for Dev … What he did to someone as debonair and handsome as Jisshu (Sengupta) in Zufiqar, giving him the pockmarked look, was incredible … unlike complicated prosthetic where you can see the make-up, what Somnath did for the Kashinath Kundu character is more difficult – it’s so understated but effective that you can perceive there is something not quite right with the character but you cannot put your finger on it.
Somnath Kundu: I always wanted to be a teacher after doing my Bangla honours in 1996, but circumstances brought me to cinema … Though my father and grandfather were both costume designers, given the knack I had for sketching, my father introduced me to make-up in films. I am entirely self-taught. In fact, when I started out, we had no idea of prosthetics, at least in Bengal. Vikram Gaikwad used to be called in from Bombay for special make-up work. I learnt everything by reading, getting German books translated, and exploring the internet, then experimenting on my family and neighbours … The incident Rudra mentions was extremely frustrating – I remember when he stepped out of the car in that get-up, the dogs in the vicinity scampered away, barking fiercely. To give his eyes an authentic red texture, I used what is called ‘eye blood’ – we didn’t even get it here, it needed to be imported from London or California … I take pride in my work and it was heart-breaking to have it in a long-shot. But in the end, it is satisfying that it resulted in Vinci Da.