I am one of those lucky girls who got an opportunity for a hair cut from the Ambika Pillai. The result didn’t fall any short of my expectation. The hair cut was great. At the salon you can hear the buzzing sound of the hair dryers and you can see girls gleaming with joy after their hair cuts. Her staff mostly non malayalis are motivated and always on the move.
As a person Ambika Pillai appeared to be down to earth and simple in her approach towards her clients. I am so grateful for her to take time off her busy schedule and agree to do this interview.
Don’t you think you have come full circle you know from Kerala to Delhi and then back to Kerala how does it feel looking back?
It’s been a long journey to Delhi and back. I left Kerala because I needed to prove to myself that I could look after Kavitha and myself. I worked relentlessly, for years to give her the life I grew up in. Along the way I managed to build a brand for myself. Like I always say, there are no shortcuts to success. I didn’t think Kerala would welcome the change that a profession such as mine brings about. But I was pleasantly surprised with the demand for change that brought me back to my home state through Midukki, the TV reality show on Mazhavil Manorama. I think the timing was right and that is is why the welcome home I got from my fellow state mates was nothing short of breath taking.
The way the salon in Kochi took off from day one goes to prove that change is around the corner for a large percentage of the kids who have, for a long time needed the confidence with their skin colour tones and naturally curly hair . Both of which I am a great fan of . The welcome with arms wide open that I have been received back to Kerala is all by God’s grace and for that I will be forever thankful .
Your views on changing perception of beauty in Kerala and the modern Malayali girl?
The change is tremendous. It’s not just with the girls, it’s with the boys as well and more shockingly with the parents too. Everyone seems to feel safe under the Ambika Pillai umbrella. We have brought professional and skilled workers to Kochi who can advice and do the best that this line of work needs .
Having said that, I have to admit it’s only when I went on air saying how beautiful the people of Kerala were that they started sitting up and taking notice . Yes we can look good too, with a little change came into each kids mind. I wasn’t telling them to leave tradition behind, I was telling them to embrace their beauty and they listened.
Of course with every state there are the kids who are very ‘with it’. I m talking about the majority of people, they are open now to change. Even if it’s just a wee bit they are open to it now.
Let’s not ignore the boys in the time where we use terms like metrosexuals , what’s your take on the Malayali men? In the North we find regular boys sporting trendy hairstyles we don’t see much of that among malayali boys, why do think that is?
Actually I think there are some boys who are super trendy in Kerala and many more who are not. It’s their mind set, I think. Now what I see on my FB page are more boys who are concerned with bad skin and hair problems. I m just glad they feel ok enough to ask me for remedies. As far as staying with the trends, well that’s going to take some time but it will happen.
We don’t see a lot of our actors and TV personalities sporting new hairstyles. Has it got to do with the risk taking appetite among our men or hairstylists need to encourage them to try? What do u think ?
I actually don’t think they have anyone to turn to. It’s not just the way they look, it’s their styling as well. The whole package deal leaves a lot to be desired.
You got to interact with lots of youngsters from Kerala post Midukki, probably many would come up with desire to be a hairstylist or do beauty courses. What practical advice can you give them regarding the prospects and training required? Is it talent or can you acquire it through training?
You can totally learn this trade. There are some blessed with extremely creative minds. But if you can pinpoint what you want to do and find the right course that can help you. Then you are on the right track. The only problem is there are not many academies for this profession, so you may have to travel out of town to do the course of your choice. That’s dedicating a year or two for it . Even after completing the courses one needs to remember that this is a back breaking job that takes years to get better at what you do. Experience on the floor is an absolute must for growth and needless to say total dedication and love for the job. It’s a people oriented job, so if you have a creative bend of mind and love being around people then this is the job for you.
Do you intend to expand in Kerala and also any country abroad?
Oh God! I’m yet to catch my breath after Kochi. It’s not easy setting up what we have in Kochi. The biggest issue is to get so many skilled staff willing to re-locate. I train constantly and am comfortable with my own staff around me. I thought I’d take half my staff from Kerala to begin with but even after advertising the response was shocking. Even then the ones who came were so badly trained I wanted to cry. In Delhi I have more than 8,000 bio datas on my database and in Kochi not even five. Shocking. That’s probably because every single beautician or hairdresser has their own little salon to run.
There are enquiries for every town in Kerala and it’s neighbouring states and Dubai, Singapore and everywhere there are Malayalis but I have for the time being, been putting ideas, people, investors etc., off for awhile. Look what one reality show has done to me. No regrets. Loving it.
Some fun facts about you,
Three words that best describe you:
That should actually be asked to someone like Kavi who knows me only too well, as far as I m concerned I think I am:
1. God fearing ( I pray every night, in fact I have people on my prayer list, it’s tough to get in but once you are in, you are IN). I pray for their well being, safety, happiness etc. It’s a must for me, to pray for my loved ones.
2. Very truthful, to a point of irritating family and friends. They can’t tell me a secret, I break under the slightest pressure.
3. Hard working. To a point of no return, I work till I drop. At this age I should be taking a back seat.
The best and worst compliment you ever received:
Too many good ones it’s tough to recall but the worst comes to mind first. I’ve written about it. In London on my honeymoon many moons ago, draped in a saree at 17. I got spat at on the streets one morning by a wrinkled old British woman who said ‘go back to where you came from, you filthy Indian.’ I wonder where such hatred comes from, I’ve been scared for life. Needed to let it go is why I wrote about it. Writing is therapeutic for me. Can hardly term it as a ‘worst compliment’. It was just bad incident.
And the best, well people around me have said the nicest things. When people spend time sketching and painting my face for me I think it’s seriously sweet. When curly haired kids walk around calling themselves ‘Ambika Pillai‘ that’s beyond sweet and when old people say they love me like their own. Even without understanding a word I say, I’m happy. When people sit on my chair and say do whatever you want, putting all their confidence in me, I’m touched. Like I said too many to choose from.
Most cherished possession or gift:
Other than the most obvious, Kavitha – a gift from God. I don’t stay attached to materialistic things. I value my family the most. Each and every one of them because without them I would not be who I am today. But if you are asking for something other than family I’d have to say my little black book with butterflies pasted on the cover, where I pen down my life stories, little incidences that carved this life out for me. If I loose it, I’ll be devastated. I haven’t transferred 15 of my stories into my iPad as yet.
That one person who inspired you:
My dad has always been my inspiration. He was such a down to earth, nice human being. People always called him ‘no problem Gopi‘ because anyone could go to him with an issue of life and death and he would say ‘no problem’ and do everything he possibly could to help them out. The way he loved and cared for Amma and his four daughters and later their families was incredible. There s no one else I’d rather be like. All my life I’ve strived to take a page out of his book and lead a clean, helpful and productive life, much like his.
Which is your favourite holiday destination and why:
Paris. Because everything about Paris is so beautiful, stylish, romantic and every time I’ve gone I’ve come back with the best memories. Just sitting in a road side cafe and people watching is fantastic. The street fashion is unbelievable! Can’t say much about the French behaviour, that leaves much to be desired. But I love the architecture , I’ve only walked for miles and miles drinking in its beauty. And the food is to die for!
Some message or thoughts for The Kochi Post readers:
This road we choose to take, eventually, in life must come from a choice we make for ourselves. Initially most of us are left with no choices but if and when life turns out everything other than what you dreamt it to be, then choose wisely because then the choice is yours and only you can find your way out and find out a way for that inner happiness. Every time the going gets rough, the tough get going. Your life is yours only. We come alone, we go alone.