Saba Shafi | Makeup Artist


While it is very important to follow the star of your destiny, it is much required of a person to listen to one’s heart.  Saba Shafi, a pass-out of Presentation Convent School just did that.  After graduating in English Literature from Zakir Husain College, she completed her Masters in business management and tried her hand at a few jobs before she found her bearing.

Excerpts from the interaction with Rajesh Prothi & Safina Nabi

sabaYou have been a maverick, hopped few jobs till you found your bearing. How has the journey been?
There are quite a few doctors in my family and seeing them work such dreary hours made me cringe. To me, it seemed that none of them were enjoying what they were doing professionally. And I knew I would never do anything that I didn’t love doing. It took me quite a few career changes to work through until I finally knew what made me happy and what I could see myself doing after ten years and still be happy about. However, I did not opt to become a makeup artist. It just happened. I enrolled myself in a makeup course in London, solely with the intention of learning it for myself as I was fond of it. When I got back to India, a few days later it was my best friend’s wedding and I did her makeup. Everyone loved it and appreciated it. Her cousins and colleagues enquired if I did it professionally and I just laughed it off. After that, the same thing happened at my other friend’s wedding. And before I knew it, I was getting calls from people I didn’t even know saying that they loved how I did makeup and they want me to dress them for their wedding. One thing led to other and here I am!

What were the reactions of your family and parents when you told them that you want to pursue the calling of your heart? 
Thankfully my family is very supportive and broad-minded. They have always stood by me and encouraged me in all my endeavors whether it was to start working part-time once I joined college or to travel across Europe and Africa! As I mentioned earlier, I became a makeup artist by chance. They all are happy that I am doing something that I love.

As an artist (makeup) what has been your experience when you connect with people from various statuses and backgrounds?
Even though I grew up in Kashmir, I was quite exposed to other cultures because of the travels my family undertook during our school winter breaks. Our country is so huge and the traditions and culture of each group/sect are different from the other, let alone the states or religions. I get to meet a different kinds of people from such diverse backgrounds and cultures that at the end of each day, it feels like a rewarding experience. There is so much to learn from each one of them in some way or the other and vice versa. When any of my clients come to know I am from Kashmir, I get asked an array of questions. Most of the time they are pleasantly surprised that I am a Kashmiri but that doesn’t surprise me.

What have been the high points in your career as a makeup artist?
As a makeup artist, all my clients are the same to me, be it a high profile socialite like Radhika Ruia, an NRI bride having a fairy tale wedding in Tuscany, or a Kashmiri bride from a village in Shopian. With each one of them, I have a high point, every single time, when they look into the mirror and say, ‘I look straight out of a magazine, or ‘I could never even imagine that I could look like this. At times, the parents or the husband of the bride calI me to especially thank me for making their day more special. When I share my work on my Facebook page and Instagram, the kind of love, support, and appreciation (at times even criticism) I get are kind of high points that I look forward to on a daily basis. All this means a lot to me. Of course, when established people from the industry appreciate my work and compliment it which makes me smile from ear to ear.

Traditionally Kashmir never had the concept of a professional make-up vertical. How far has this concept or industry evolved in the Valley?
The concept of professional makeup and styling was non-existent in Kashmir until I started it. I had to work very hard in educating people about the importance of what I do and it hasn’t been easy. It is still an ongoing process. Even the most educated people mistake a makeup artist for a beautician and at times even a dermatologist. I get asked about treatments for skin diseases, acne, hair fall, and whatnot. Then are some who think buying a few high-end products will suffice the purpose so why hire a professional.

People in Kashmir won’t shy away from spending lacs on wazwan and the elaborate trousseau but when it comes to the dressing up part, there will be a family meeting on whether or not it’s even required. I tell most of my brides, if you wear one bangle less, no one will notice but if your makeup, styling, and photography are not up to the mark, you will regret looking at those photos all lifelong.

I also receive a lot of emails and messages from aspiring young girls in Kashmir to hold workshops there (as of now I hold them only in Delhi) as well. Trends are changing and people have started acknowledging artistic career options too. It is heart-warming to know that there are already some aspiring makeup artists in the Valley now.

Surprisingly, I get queries from smaller towns and remote areas around Sopore, Narbal, Anantnag, Pulwama, and Ganderbal! However, we are still a long way from when makeup and styling will seem indispensable to the Kashmiris.

Earlier you said that you have had experience in marketing and event management. Do share your journey.
During my first year of college, I started working part-time with a very well-known event management company. I was lucky to be a part of big events taking place across the country whether it was the launch of Vogue Magazine in Jodhpur’s Umaid Bhawan or the welcome dinner for Bill Clinton at Amar Singh’s home in Lucknow or the launch party of Chanel at the Imperial Hotel in Delhi. I worked in the field of glamour and high-end fashion and hosted various prestigious events over the years. I loved every bit of it -the spotlight, the microphone, the stage! It was a great experience overall.

After my Master’s Degree in Business Management, I got placed through campus in an IT and Telecom-based Research Company. I worked there for one year and it was during that time that I realized I wasn’t cut out for a mundane office job. I am a very active and energetic person and each day I spent behind that computer, I felt my flame diminishing. Then one fine day, I just decided not to go back to my boring desk and rather do something that makes me happy. That’s when I enrolled myself in a course in professional makeup and styling and flew off to London.

Before opting for this profession had you ever thought of a backup plan?
Had I not become a makeup artist, I would either have been a news presenter or a teacher. Earlier, I worked as an anchor and immensely enjoyed the experience of sharing the stage with notable film stars, politicians, and business tycoons. As a makeup artist, I hold workshops and private makeup lessons which gives me a chance to teach. So, no regrets there.

What interests you apart from your professional career?
There isn’t much time to pursue other interests; however, what I never want to give up on is reading and traveling. I have always been an avid reader and I believe this habit opened up many doors to my imagination and continues to do so with every book I read. Reading made me fall in love with how beautiful places were explained and that made my heart ache to travel and see the world for myself, firsthand. I believe the best kind of learning happens with real experiences and meeting new people and that’s exactly what traveling does. It makes a person wise beyond years.

Schooling and family play a role in one’s life. What has been the impact of these two on your life?
True, both of these had an impact on my life’s journey. Though my family comes from the village ‘Seelu’ about seven kilometers from the apple town of Sopore. My initial schooling was done at  Presentation Convent School, Srinagar. This was followed by English Literature from Delhi University’s Zakir Husain College and a Masters in Business Management. As far as my family is concerned, it is a business family with education be of utmost importance.  My father did his schooling at Tyndale Biscoe School and my uncle studied at Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi. With such a family, at no point in time, I was discouraged to spread my wings.

What is your take on Kashmiri culture and how are you contributing towards saving it?
The culture of Kashmir is very diverse and is a rich mixture of the teachings and philosophies of the Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh communities that it comprises.  In my opinion, the most significant components of our culture are the Kashmiri language, the food, the handicrafts, and the music. At this point, when the world has condensed and westernization has taken over in all possible forms, the need of the hour is to not let go of our roots. So my family and I, make sure we speak in Kashmiri as much and as often as we can. I am very fluent with it and so are my siblings and friends. Being fluent and speaking our mother tongue is a matter of pride and privilege for me.

What is your message for the Kashmiri youth?
Well, I would like to tell each one of them not to be afraid to dream. And once you do so, work towards making your dreams a reality. The most important thing to achieve anything in this life is to be persistent and consistent. There will be obstacles. There will be people who will be constantly criticizing you. And then there will be those few, who will believe in you. They are the ones who matter. Believe in yourself and don’t give up on your dreams.