Queens of Bollywood: A Project

Street Style Delhi – Art+Culture: Film and Lit Muses is a section which talks about style and recreations inspired by various characters from Films, movies, poems and other forms of storytelling.

In the first episode, we speak to the very young and talented Zahra Ahmad (@zahraahmadmakeup), who is creating looks inspired by iconic Bollywood actresses in her project “Queens of Bollywood”.

Vyjanthimala

Tell us something about yourself.

My name is Zahra Ahmad and I’m sixteen years old! I was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Because I was born into a family of academics, I have lived in and visited several countries over the course of my sixteen years. After living in Malaysia, the UAE was where my family and I lived next and most recently in Egypt! Currently, I live in the US. Both my parents are originally Indian and we have our roots in Lucknow, the city of Nawabs.

When did makeup happen to you?

I remember as a ten-year-old, I’d observe my mother, aunts, and cousins dolling up on social occasions and would try to copy them. My sister had this shimmery blue eyeshadow that she was so obsessed with that she would put it on her eyes all the time and I thought she was so cool for doing it. I would also watch my mom and then when she wasn’t around, I would use her stuff. I used to get in trouble a lot with my mom when I was younger for not only using her stuff. It used to tick her off a lot but I guess that’s how I ended up learning. I also got in trouble at school for the same reason.

In an age, where make-up artistry is taken more seriously and there are a lot of people pursuing it, how did you come up with the idea of recreating the looks of retro actresses?

Well, my aim is always to be different. In this day and age where everyone wants to be like everyone, I feel like it is a breath of fresh air to be yourself and do what you love. My sister and I realized no one, as far as we know had done a project dedicated to the makeup looks of retro Bollywood actresses.

Were you always interested in old movies?

As a child, I grew up seeing my parents watch old Bollywood movies like Pyaasa, Mughal-e-Aazam, Umrao Jaan, Asli Naqli, Woh Kaun Thi? and so many more. I was always fascinated by these movies and how amazing the actors and actresses were. There’ s a charm and timelessness to old Bollywood

Why do you recreate only the looks of retro actresses?

There is so much beauty in the way retro actresses carried themselves. There is this aura that surrounds the world of retro Bollywood and those in it that makes it seem so unreachable. I think this project is my way to feel more connected with that era even though there is no way one can never turn back time to experience it.

It’s quite commendable that you not only recreate the look make-up wise but also fashion-wise. It’s full-blown editorial. Who’s your partner in crime and photographs you?

My sister! The first look we did was on me, and she took the photos. She also does the costumes and we try to match it up as best as we can, and then she edits the photos to match them up more accurately. What is your process of making one “picture”? My older sister usually does the selection. She looks at whether it is possible for us to recreate the whole look, not just the make-up. After we’ve decided on a look, we like to research on the actress and also look at other photographs of her to see what defined her make-up looks. Depending on who is modeling, me or my sister shoot the images. After that, it’s about a day of editing, and getting the image to match.

What is your process of making one “picture”?

My older sister usually does the selection. She looks at whether it is possible for us to recreate the whole look, not just the make-up. After we’ve decided on a look, we like to research on the actress and also look at other photographs of her to see what defined her make-up looks. Depending on who is modeling, me or my sister shoot the images. After that, it’s about a day of editing, and getting the image to match.

What are your tips for someone who wants to recreate similar looks?

Be confident and wear the look like it’s yours. Even if you are mimicking a certain style or look, try and make it your own. After you master that, the second most important thing is to take care of your skin! Every actress of that time seems to have immaculate skin. Sure you can wear makeup to cover anything you want to hide, but having clear skin consistently can really brighten your mood.

What looks are you recreating next? 

I really want to do either Nimmi or Nutan next. Not sure! I have really been feeling like doing more natural and glowy looks recently though, so that definitely will affect my next pick.

What are the make-up must-haves you suggest for recreating retro looks?

I think every old Bollywood lover should have a black gel eyeliner in their kit. Also, liners for inside the eyes are crucial. I love using white, peach, or black on the waterline to amplify whatever retro look I’m doing. My ultimate must have is red lipstick. Have it in multiple shades so you have one for every occasion!

What is your favorite look that you have recreated till date?

So, my first ever Queens of Bollywood Look was a Meena Kumari recreation and that has to be one of my favorites. Not because of the makeup, but because of the fact that it took me so many tries to get it right and it was what started this whole thing and what has landed me this opportunity. If it wasn’t for that picture of Meena Kumari that inspired me to do this, I don’t know what I would have done this summer!

Who is your favorite retro actress?

This is a tough question as I love so many, but if I must pick one actress, Madhubala. I absolutely adore Madhubala. Her grace, elegance, and class is unmatchable. There is something so captivating about her onscreen. It really is so unfortunate that she passed away at such a young age.

What do you think about the makeup looks of the current actresses?

I think they lack originality and identity. The unfortunate thing in Bollywood now is that there is a trend to follow Hollywood styles. It’s unfortunate because there is so much to offer in India in terms of inspiration but yet everyone is more fascinated with a very basic Western culture. I’m from the North and we have very different clothes, food, and languages compared to the South for example. There is so much beauty in diversity and so much to be learned from it. I think there is a standard of beauty particularly in India which represents very little of how Indian women actually look. There is a fascination with looking fair and lighter and I think many current actresses are guilty of pushing that unrealistic standard onto people.

What are your future goals? Do you plan on doing similar projects?

I hope to promote the art of makeup as a way to enhance one’s natural beauty rather than try to hide it. Other than that, I’m going to just go with the flow and see what happens. As for doing similar projects in the future, I think I will be! I’m planning on sticking to the recreations, but I’m going to venture into other film industries dear to me.

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