SURENDRA’S NATURAL HAIR STUDIO isn’t easy to find. But for the wigged wooden heads marking the entrance, this workshop in a grimy alley off Mumbai’s SV Road looks just like any other. Inside, however, it becomes clear that the studio belongs to one of Hindi cinema’s most sought-after wig makers, Surendra Salvi. The foyer walls are lined with photos of Salvi with actors—everyone from Salman Khan to Prem Chopra—sporting his toupees, beards and moustaches.
Salvi ushered me into a workshop where five uniformed employees created mesh bases for new wigs, and wove hairpieces and hair extensions. Almost all of Salvi’s wigs are made of natural hair, but he uses various amounts of synthetic material for those on tight budgets. “Natural hair is expensive,” he explained. Even-length, pre-sorted hair can cost up to Rs 70,000 per kilogram.
Salvi, a Mumbai native, told me he always wanted to be part of the film industry, though it took some time to break into the business. “First I did clerical work,” he said, “then I fitted car lamps for an auto company. Then I worked in a talcum powder factory. Then I had enough.” In the early 1980s, he started assisting the makeup duo of brothers Anil and Pradeep Pemgirikar by making wigs and beards for extras and body doubles. Over the following decades, he made it big on his own. His hairpieces have been used by Boman Irani in 3 Idiots, Shahrukh Khan in Ra.One, Akshay Kumar in Action Replayy, and many other superstars. When I visited two months ago, Salvi was fashioning wigs for director Anurag Kashyap’s upcoming Bombay Velvet. He also does work for regional films, television commercials, and individual clients.