Lalitha Raj was living the so-called dream life that several Indian parents want for their children. A cushy corporate finance job at a well-known multinational corporation, that too in the US. So imagine the incredulity which would have greeted her decision to throw away this ‘well-settled’ career and return to India, without another job in hand.
“I liked numbers, but my heart was not in it. And due to visa issues, I could not explore other career options while living in the US,” says Lalitha. However, her decision to quit did not play out like a typical epiphany, where you know exactly how you want your life to play out. Even after Lalitha followed her gut instinct to leave behind the drudgery of a cubicle-based job, she did not have a clear picture of what to do next.
Nevertheless, she took the plunge in 2010 and returned to India.
Lalitha’s education was a prosaic Bachelors in Accounting and Finance with a minor in information systems, but she had always had an eye for fashion and loved experimenting with colours and fabrics. Once back home in Chennai, she decided to try her hand at fashion, even as she figured out what professional road to take. It wasn’t easy, especially since she had to contend with bewilderment from those around her who couldn’t understand why she would shun the archetypal definition of ‘success’. While trying to find her feet, she worked as a children’s storyteller for a while, since she enjoyed narrating and enacting stories. However, even that did not give her the kind of satisfaction she was looking for. “Things did not seem right, so I went back to work in the corporate sector again, all the while figuring out how to break into the world of fashion,” says Lalitha. Her corporate stint lasted for a little over 18 months in 2011-2012.
It was by chance that she finally stumbled onto her calling in life. Getting her friends dolled up for special occasions was something Lalitha did for fun. “I did the bridal make-up for a friend who loathed the idea of going to a traditional makeup artist. I received a lot of compliments for that,” says Lalitha. Soon she found herself getting more requests for bridal make-up, and even to do make-up for portfolio pictures and advertisements from friends and their friends.
“It took a lot of convincing from my family and friends, who thought I had a natural flair for makeup, for me to take it seriously.” Encouraged by their reassurance, she took a deep dive into the unexplored, and quit her job in December 2012.
In January 2013, Lalitha enrolled in a six-month makeup course in London, which included beauty, fashion, theatre and film makeup, including makeup for special effects. “It was incredible and I loved going back to school,” she remembers excitedly.
Barely a month after she returned from London, Lalitha met a friend, who was coincidentally looking for a make-up artist for a film director. Everything just fell into place after that, within a matter of hours.
“I met the director next day and showed him my work. Within an hour I signed my first film as a lead make-up artist! It was unbelievable,” says Lalitha. This was no mean achievement since the Indian film makeup industry is predominately male-dominated
After making her breakthrough, Lalitha barely had enough time to stock up on the material she needed, before she had to report to a remote location for the shoot and do the test makeup on set. “It was nerve-racking as I did not get much time between signing the film and the shoot. But everyone on set was supportive,” she says of her first film project a Tamil horror comedy titled Yaam Irukka Bayamey.
In her makeup course, Lalitha had specialised in SFX that went beyond the usual sphere of makeup, and needed a different skill set – using silicone, gelatine and the works. In her first film itself, she had ample opportunity to flaunt all those skills she had mastered.
Though she has built a strong reputation in the industry, her work still demands constant and extensive networking. “No amount of social media can replace word of mouth recommendations” she says.
Even though as a film makeup artist she specialises in the total transformation of people, Lalitha believes that natural beauty trumps everything else. “For me, less is more. I want to make people look their best in their skin, and just be themselves and not someone else.” She draws inspiration from the likes of Francisco Nars, Pat Mc Grath, Bobbi Brown and her teachers from her makeup school. Like any artist from other disciplines, Lalitha also believes in the uniqueness of her craft. “Every artist has a unique style and trying to compete with others is a losing battle,” she says.
Lalitha does not find her job very demanding and says that her clients’ elation over how good she makes them look drives her passion even more. “It is pure joy for me to get lost in the creative process. My background in finance does help me keep the business aspect of things in order,” she says.
After a fair amount of trial and error Lalitha discovered the mantra for success. “First know what you want, be clear about it. Then life will bring you the experiences required to take you there.”
Her advice to those hesitating to chase their passion due to the fear of the unknown is to first try it as a part time job. “If it inspires and excites you, then you probably are ready for the switch. If not, rethink what aspects of the job appeal to you. The process of working should bring you joy. If it is fame, popularity, glamour, money or other such aspects that appeal to you, then it might not be the right fit for you.”
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