FT Special

Ambika Pillai: Her journey from then to today

To some people, Makeup and hair styling may be trivial jobs; to some, it is their key to success. To those who don’t think that any career path is small, this is for you. One of the most renowned beauty and hair artists in the country is Ambika Pillai. She is a proud owner of salons in Model Town, South Extension, Rajouri Garden in Delhi, and in Trivandrum and Kochi in Kerela. She has also done various shows in London Paris, New York, Dubai, Switzerland, and other countries all across the globe. Her everyday hectic schedule involves dealing with about 300 clients a day.

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Ambika Pillai Salon, South Extension, Delhi

Belonging to a well- to- do family in Kerala, Ambika Pillai is the daughter of late Mr. Gopinath Pillai and mother Santha Pillai. She did her schooling from the cities of Kollam and Ooty. She has three sisters and a daughter named Kavitha who is herself a hair stylist and makeup artist today.

She never imagined having a career in hair styling while growing up. She was not studious and getting married was a ticket to freedom for her. But life had something else entirely planned for her. She had a two-year-old daughter with her when she got divorced at the young age of 23. Her family was orthodox and conservative; her father didn’t believe in women working outside of their house when she offered him to join his thriving cashew business. This made her leave for Delhi with the intention of doing a beauty course and then returning to Kerala to open her own salon. She got her first job which paid her a sum of Rs. 2000/-, but her work was never recognised. It was fate that she was fired from her second job because of a misunderstanding. This made her open her own salon with a partner. She opened another salon with another partner after the first partnership didn’t work out. Alas, the second one didn’t either. Her struggles continued but she never quit because of her die hard attitude and she believed in herself.

She was working as a backstage hairstylist when choreographer Hemant Trivedi asked her if she could do makeup as well to which she agreed instantly. He appreciated her work later and from then there was no stopping her.

She got in the limelight when she did Aishwarya Rai’s makeup during the Miss World pageant. She was the makeup and hairstyle artist that everyone wanted.

She remembers her best professional moments as being one of the four judges on a reality beauty Pageant ‘Midukki’ on the TV channel Mazhavil Manorava, where she had to do makeovers of the participants. The channel then hosted a contest where 20 viewers could get their makeover done from her. The contest was supposed to run for a week but the entries had to be closed after receiving 35,000 SMS in a day.

Ambika Pillai, soon, opened her salon in Kochi which was inaugurated by Sushmita Sen; and Rohit Bal showcased his couture collection there celebrating the inauguration.She was also selected as the sole hairdresser from India to attend the L’Oréal hair dresser’s convention in Paris where her work was featured. This was the biggest highlight of her career. She has done makeup and hair for Deepika Padukone, Bipasha Basu, Katrina Kaif, Aishwarya Rai, Sushmita Sen and John Abraham to name them before they became big.

She is a self- taught makeup artist. She never received any professional training which actually made her work harder and to never quit. She always had a good eye and the right creativity which actually helped her achieve everything. Ambika discovered things along her journey which couldn’t have been taught to her by any institute and is proud of where she stands.

A woman who started from scratch on her own, Ambika Pillai is an inspiration to everybody out there who decides to overlook every hurdle and do something worthy with their life. Apart from hard work, we need to put in constant effort, maintain a determined approach and have the correct attitude to attain our goal. Breaking barriers by battling depression, overcoming two failed marriages and being a successful working single mom, Ambika Pillai is surely someone to look up to.