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Half of Bollywood will be OUT OF WORK even after lockdown ends: Experts
Bollywood is in dire straits. After the Corona Crisis Lockdown, the entire industry is sitting at home and out of work. But what is most worrying now, is that experts predict that the situation is not going to go back to normal again. The new normal is going to witness around half of the film industry staying out of work. Business Upturn spoke to industry experts.
Read this exclusive article to know more and how to keep your personal brand alive and afloat in this time of impending financial crisis.
The lockdown has struck the most destructive and devastating blow to the entertainment industry. It has crippled the lives of thousands of daily wage workers, upcoming and existing talents, including actors, dancers, make-up artists, costume teams, technicians etc.
Bollywood going downhill
“Many would have already changed their professions and got into small time odd-jobs to somehow survive this phase with whatever they can earn here and there. The film industry has lost its way. Half of our industry’s workers will still be running helter-skelter for jobs and many of them will have to diversify into other fields and keep their participation in films to minimal,” says trade analyst Rajeev Chaudhari.
Amit Behl, senior joint secretary of Cine & TV Artists Association (CINTAA) echoes the sentiment. “Yes, half of Bollywood would definitely be out of work even if the lockdown ends. This is primarily because of specific reasons. One, because of the clash in directives between the State Government and the Central Government.”
“Plus, considering the hazards of COVID-19, there is a clear directive that actors above 65 and children below 10 will not be allowed to work till the time new norms come into place. Going by this rule, a lot of senior actors as well as child artistes will definitely be out of work, primarily when it comes to television. There have been huge budget cuts by the broadcasters and those budget cuts have been passed on to producers. So eventually it will go down to the cast and crew and the daily wage workers,” explains Behl.
Senior journalist Latha Srinivasan remarks, “The lockdown and its restrictions for more than 90 days has caused significant financial losses to producers, production houses, distributors and exhibitors. As a result, once the lockdown is lifted, it won’t be possible even for top actors in Bollywood to get back to work as businesses have to be realigned post examining the financial aspects and how best they can minimise further losses.”
Prepare for the worst
News of resumption of film and TV serial shootings has come out, but many technicians and actors are upset with the severe guidelines that have been issued along with insurance for all unit members etc. These additional costs of meeting the conditions of these guidelines are going to be challenging for the producers. Even if mainstream shootings will revive, there will be restrictions on crowd scenes, intimate scenes etc. with compromise in creativity and logistics.
Director Vivek Sharma who made the famous film Bhoothnath starring Amitabh Bachchan and featuring Shah Rukh Khan opines, “Thanks to film mafia, half of Bollywood was always out of work and post lockdown it will be the same. Television and web series’ actors will be in demand as these platforms need content to run their channels.” He feels that shoots will begin normally after September 2020 and that slowly people will get back in business.
To survive this lockdown and the fear its brought with it, Sharma suggests a lot of online interactions including workshops. “It’s a good time for people to learn and prepare for a time which will bring more and more changes and possibilities,” he says.
But Amit Behl is concerned about many other things than how one can make the most of this dismal phase. He worries about the fact that there is a “drastic cut in the crew members of the film shoots, which is about 30-35 percent slash in the number of people on the sets. That means a lot of people are going to be out of work. A lot of roles of junior artistes and actors are also going to face the axe because Indian daily soaps survive on family drama and a lot of wedding scenes, festival sequences and song and dance sequences, which will now have to be drastically cut or omitted altogether. There will obviously be no crowd involvement and no audience in any talk shows, game shows, reality shows and these kind of competition-based shows. Also, a lot of technical crew is going to be cut down, and all this is surely going to affect Bollywood as well as the television industry.”
Drawing our attention again to the state of affairs, Behl says, “The focus is now going to be about who all is essentially required on the sets and by the broadcaster. Those departments which can’t be avoided in shoots… those are the people who will get work for now. Of course, everyone is very hopeful that this crisis does not last beyond the end of 2020, but because of the dialogues I have had in the last three months with about 60 trade unions in 83 countries, I can say that the budget cuts and crew member cuts in other parts of the world are even more brutal than they are in India.”
Having said that, Behl points out that a lot of western countries have better technical finesse, so they can manage with the cuts. But we are a very manpower-heavy entertainment industry, so it’s going to hit us even harder and affect a lot more people than anywhere else in the world.
“But we can’t blame broadcasters for having heavily slashed their budgets. Because advertising revenue is down, the broadcasters don’t have much of an option. Its only the FMCG (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods) companies who are advertising right now and its slightly inhumane for companies to begin advertising products related to COVID… whether it’s for a cure or for a PPE Kit (Personal Protective Equipment Kit) or for sanitizers. So we are in hard times and just hoping for the skies to clear,” he adds.
Improve communication and PR skills
Amith Prabhu, founding Dean at School of Communications and Reputation (SCoRe) is more concerned about how to utilize this time in self-improvement and education. Like many other he is of the opinion that this is the time to hone your communication and PR skills.
He asks industry people to explore opportunities to create low-cost yet high-quality cinema. He feels this is also a time to reset lifestyles and suggests five things actors can do. Here are the pointers he puts forth:
1) First offer a free and then a paid masterclass to fans on social media.
2) Create a low-cost short movie series shot from home or from places where crowds can be avoided.
3) Learn something new with multiple courses available online.
4) Support a non-profit organisation by being a temporary brand ambassador with no cost to that organisation.
5) Write a monthly column on the advantages of communication in the world of TV and cinema.
Fees to drop heavily
Rajeev Chaudhari wants to bring people’s attention to box-office collections. “Now with this humongous loss in our industry, the prices that a regular TV serial used to fetch from a channel will come down drastically to less than 50% and a feature film cannot perceive box-office business in hundreds of crores anymore. Gone are those days.”
He feels that the film industry’s corporate status has crashed and its premium value has diminished. “Now with reduction in film and TV unit members, along with reduction in the number of films being made, work opportunities will be very less and fees in all the departments will drop heavily.”
Chaudhari points out that in view of above cuts, due to new guidelines and deep recession, even if the lockdown opens up, it will not be able to accommodate all workers and creative labourers with jobs.
Beware of depression, suicides, fear
“The Corona Crisis has taken a huge toll on the financial and mental health of the industry’s labourers and creative members, leading to depression and suicides. This severe catastrophic state has never been seen before in our entertainment industry,” he adds.
Latha Srinivasan feels, “Given the government regulations to be followed for shoots, one needs to see how many people are comfortable working in such an environment. Some actors may not want to shoot till they are 100% sure their health is not at risk and it’s anybody’s guess as to when the environment will be COVID-free, if at all.”
“Yes, it’s true. Barring three or four of them, most Bollywood celebrities are not even stepping out, so to come for work is not going to happen,” says Viral Bhayani, the most popular Bollywood freelance photographer on Instagram.
“Everyone is waiting for a cure and Mumbai the epicenter of Bollywood still remains at a huge risk. If the shoots begin and something unforeseen happens then it is all going to go in vain. I know it has badly affected everyone financially but we will have to be more patient,” he remarks.
Surprisingly, Bhayani admits to a stark reality for many in the industry by giving an example of his own case. “Just like many who depend on outdoor work in their business, for me too, the photography business has unfortunately been destroyed at the moment. I’ve faced the probability of shutting down completely. But I also know for a fact that once the cure is out, we are gonna rock again. Things will be back to normal. Somehow I feel it is going to happen soon,” says Bhayani, hoping against hope.
He remarks that right now we all have to survive on our past incomes till things get normal. “Some of the shoots have begun but they are all happening outside of Mumbai and there too, most unit members are extremely scared. So even after the lockdown ends, many will still be left with little work or no work at all.”
Bhayani also brings us to another aspect of this issue, saying that the commitment and sentiment right now is so low that no filmmaker will take a risk to make a film unless there is cooperation from the Government and technicians charge fairly as per the current situation.
Larger-than-life cinema could return
But veteran freelance journalist Rajiv Vijayakar disagrees with many such notions. “I do not think we can quantify how much of the industry will be out of work after the lockdown. I am looking at it in another way.”
“The days of niche movies pandering to the ‘intelligentsia’ and pseudo-intellectuals — the so-called ‘multiplex cinema audience’ — are numbered. With a plethora of such films as well as inferior commercial movies hitting OTT directly, it is clear that such products will make a small but secure profit, which, sadly, will keep cinematic excesses like Ghoomketu and Bhonsle coming. But the pan-Indian movies will thrive, as these alone will get returns commensurate with the investments, as in the past.”
“The range of such movies, obviously, extends from Andhadhun to Sooryavanshi and the South kind of spectacles,” he adds. Vijayakar feels that all this will slowly, but surely, culminate in Hindi films reemerging as the mass-medium of entertainment which it was once upon a time, and which it should be. Accordingly, only the stars, filmmakers and composers who believe in such larger-than-life cinema will thrive.
Pandemic shall pass, but competition won’t
Casting director Ahana Mohammed says, one should simply accept the challenge the COVID-19 pandemic crisis has thrown on us and make it favorable. “Those who do not have Godfathers in the industry to provide big breaks, can start learning ways to sharpen their skills.”
“The best way to survive is to get yourself moving, even if it means virtually. Get connected to people, share your thoughts and emotions, be wise and utilize this time by learning ways to master your craft,” she adds.
She makes another point, saying that one needs to up his/her ante by getting professional help in this crucial time. “Get an agent on board, who can understand your talent. Follow this up with good PR activity, which is necessary to put actors — especially freshers — high up amongst the cutthroat competition. Remember, the pandemic shall pass, but competition won’t,” concludes Mohammed.
Star prices will normalize, nepotism will decrease
Veteran journalist Jyothi Venkatesh makes a very interesting observation on the same lines. “After the lockdown, only the fittest will survive in Bollywood whether it is actors or journalists or PR persons. The field will be automatically filtered and the best in their professions will continue. Star prices will normalize and nepotism will decrease, though not eliminated.”
“A lot of money will be saved and things will eventually turn for the better. Though with social distancing, it will be tough to show romance, content should improve. The biggest beneficiaries will be the OTTs.”
“In this scenario, only those who know their work and worth will be able to flourish and the rest will perish,” he adds. Venkatesh also points out that a change will be evident among film exhibitors. “The multiplexes will realise that they are here not to fleece the industry by charging producers and distributors rentals for trailers and standees, or milk the patrons with steep prices for samosas and Pepsi and also for drinking water.”
Need for brand control
New-age film journalist and blogger Diganta Guha says, “It seems quite incredulous that the bigwigs might not have any silver screen releases this year. Time is running out and they would have to be through with their pending projects. Crores are at stake and nobody wants to incur humongous losses just for the sake of delays.”
He adds that apart from the lockdown, actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s untimely demise has been a jolt from the blue. “At this point of time, we need strong personalities as a lot of worms are getting out of the can and Bollywood may take a drastic fall if this does not stop. What is probably needs right away is some PR control to avoid the tsunami of controversies destroying its reputation.”
Guha analyses, “A great PR like Dale Bhagwagar could be the ideal person to guide actors and actresses through this period. Over the years, this guy has been legendary, handling media publicity for so many stars such as Hrithik Roshan, Shilpa Shetty and Priyanka Chopra. He is best suited for helping new actors and actresses maneuver their way through PR during such a crisis situation. Otherwise, a lot of celebrities might simply fade away into oblivion by the time all this chaos ends.”
Rajeev Chaudhari echoes Guha’s views.”A seasoned publicist like Dale Bhagwagar can suggest new PR ways to help actors survive this period. Because, in such a time, an out-of-sight actor and actress, will now be out of the industry.”
He evaluates that “With this deep recession and fierce cut-throat competition, there will be scuffling struggle by industry workers and professionals to be visible to the employers of the film and TV industry. I think now is the need for a good Bollywood publicist who can salvage good talent.”
PR or perish
But Chaudhari cautions that “Bollywood publicists too will have to find new ways to ensure that their PR clients are actively present in the radar of the casting directors and filmmakers, by generating articles, features, interviews, news, healthy gossip and Press Releases which suit the situation. The market has become acutely competitive and an actor or a professional can’t afford to skip the help of PR services now.”
He adds that every professional should seek effective PR help to make his or her presence felt in these challenging times. “Actors will have to be doubly aggressive in their approach and struggle to acquire work from production houses. With good active PR support, actors and actresses can keep registering their names their faces in the public even when they are not working. Their constant presence on the best Bollywood websites as well as social media and other PR mediums, could ensure celebs and upcoming artistes a place in the minds of casting directors and filmmakers.”
True! Fact is that the situation is what it is and film actors and technicians can’t help it, but focus on their PR at the moment. The only thing in their hands right now is to survive this crisis by staying afloat and continuing to be in the news. Otherwise, by the time the Corona Crisis ends, a new lot of actors and actresses will be ready to take over all the roles and new-age platforms setting their mark. Those you will have kept themselves in the news, might have some chance of survival. Many will perish.
Jo dikhta hai woh bikta hai
In the world we live in, there’s this umbilical cord between fame and credibility. Here, visibility equals credibility. You cannot be credible unless you’re visible. And that’s where the PR professionals and PR teams come in the picture. many in the industry believe that staying put in the news through PR is the best way to tide over this crisis. After all, the dictum ‘Jo dikhta hai woh bikta hai’ has always worked in Bollywood.
Maybe it’s for this reason that we are now seeing an influx of Bollywood’s upcoming stars, flock to PR guys to keep them in news during the lockdown. Actresses and actors are desperately trying to strengthen their brand and image so that they would be the ones to get work by the time this whole downturn ends.
Earlier, we have reported how Bollywood’s PR legend Dale Bhagwagar has been getting a huge amount of PR offers suddenly during lockdown. The top Bollywood publicist has signed seven new PR clients during the lockdown and shows no signs of slowing down.
Stay relevant, stay connected
Talking about PR strategies, Latha Srinivasan says, “Many actors might still want to stay relevant and connected to the audience at this time given that they may not be able to shoot or their films may not be releasing. One of the key things celebs should do is use their social media platforms to amplify the good work being done by people, start a fundraiser and talk about health and safety. They should also use their social media to uplift the morale of people. For instance, they can shoot fitness videos or showcase their other talents which people are not aware of.” But she warns that all top Bollywood celebs need to be careful to not put out posts that showcase them as the privileged lot, as this will backfire on them and bring up the topic of nepotism again.
Vivek Sharma is also of the opinion that celebrities should improve and improvise on their PR at this time. “The world is suffering. Not only from the Coronavirus Crisis, but also from depression. There is a lot of fear. During such a time if we film industry people make positive motivational videos, short films and vlogs, we can be a pillar of strength for many people. We can give hope and share hope, umeed, jazbaat aur saath.”
Viral Bhayani brings new insight to this. He points out that celebs do a lot of things for the sake of earnings. And it would be difficult for them to monetise most of the stuff they put on the web. “For Bollywood celebs to make money online is difficult as even if they make short films for YouTube, it takes a lot of time to monetise them.”
He says that workout videos of filmstars are often trending but after a point of time the actors need to balance them out with more different hobby ideas like cooking, singing, family videos, pet videos, Instagram Live appearances and even participation on debate shows online. He suggests that filmstars can also do their own photo shoots and show their fans different looks, fashion trends, gym looks and glamour looks.
Whatever be the case, we pray that our favourite entertainment industry comes out of the terrible situation it’s found itself in. We have our fingers crossed for all those who have lost work and hope they would be able to recover the lost time, stay afloat in news and bounce back when their time returns.
Many Bigg Boss Contestants Face Depression,” Reveals Bollywood Publicist Dale Bhagwagar
We have noticed that most of the top contenders and even past Bigg Boss winners are out of the entertainment industry by now. No one talks about them. Many often wonder why they fade away.
“The biggest reason is that most of the Bigg Boss participants do not understand PR. So they either go into the show without hiring a publicist or think they can rely on their Twitter fans to do the job. Both methods are PR disasters,” analyses Bollywood’s only PR guru Dale Bhagwagar, in an interview on the commerce site Business Upturn.
Apart from being India’s leading media man, Dale is considered a specialist with Bigg Boss, for having handled the news media publicity for 20 contestants of the reality show.
“One needs a professional to spin and maneuver through the ups and downs that Bigg Boss Housemates face almost on a daily basis inside the show. A solid crisis management exercise in mainstream media, coupled with hype, can help contestants sail through with ease,” he explains.
That’s true! Because the publicist’s Bigg Boss PR clients including Aarya Babbar, Aman Verma, Amar Upadhyay, Kashmera Shah, Mandana Karimi, Pooja Misrra, Rahul Mahajan, Rakhi Sawant, Sambhavna Seth, and Sonali Raut have all benefitted with a strong PR presence.
But then, many BB contestants completely fail to understand the need for PR. “Some even become arrogant by the time they come out of the show,” Dale points out. “They think that by being on national television for three months and sharing screen space with megastar host Salman Khan has made them a star. So they start behaving like one.”
Then they don’t get work and the media hype starts dying after the show ends. In a few months, they are back to square one and start fading into oblivion. That is the time they think of being proactive and about hiring a good PR to publicize themselves. But by then, it’s too late. No media is interested to speak about them.
“Many BB contestants face depression in this phase. Some come out of it. Others destroy their careers due to it. It’s sad. But it’s the ugly truth,” reveals PR specialist.
“All Bollywood actresses need to understand and accept that controversies are a ‘business’ for media. Only when they adapt, is when they will be able to take advantage of the situations media presents. Otherwise, they’ll risk resisting change, till a new generation comes and laps it up.” -Dale Bhagwagar
Close on the heels of the stupendous success of Nitesh Tiwari’s Chhichhore, National Award-winning makeup and prosthetic character design specialist is coming up with not one, two, but three stunners. And all the three films have taken the film industry imagination by storm.
Yes! We are talking about none other than the three baldie looks of Bollywood, which are the talk of the town from a while now. The wiz behind the looks of Akshay Kumar as Bala in the Farhad Samji-directed Housefull 4, Ayushmann Khurrana in Amar Kaushik’s movie Bala and Sunny Singh in Abhishek Pathak’s Ujda Chaman, is look designer Preetisheel Singh.
What has particularly surprised many, is the fact that inspite of all the three looks being of men going bald, Preetisheel has deftly designed them in a way that all of them look ending different on the screen. While Akshay has an imposing mouche to go with the look, Ayushmaan has a receding hairline, and Sunny Singh has a moustache and stubble to match his balding look.
It can be noted here that Preetisheel even received accolades for her transformational look makeovers in movies like Padmaavat, Mom, 102 Not Out, Mulk and Thackeray some time ago.
She is now excited for her forthcoming releases which include an interesting mix of movies like the Nawazuddin Siddiqui-Radhika Apte-starrer Raat Akeli Hai, Kartik Aaryan-Bhumi Pednekar-starrer Pati Patni Aur Woh, Southern superstar Vijay’s next Bigil, Kangana Ranaut-starrers Panga and Dhaakad, and Bhansali Productions’ Tuesdays and Fridays.
What’s more! The talented lady is also preparing to launch the ‘Preetisheel School of Character Design’ at her new sprawling office and workshop of her company ‘Da Makeup Lab’ at Versova, Mumbai.
Tanushree Dutta seeks FRESH PROBE on Nana Patekar issue
Recently, the Mumbai Police submitted a closure report for #MeToo cases like Tanushree Dutta’s, who accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment during the shoot of a song in 2008. Due to lack of evidence and witness statement not supporting Dutta’s story the case was closed and reported as ‘filed with malicious intentions’. But this week, Tanushree has written an e-mail to the Commissioner of Police, asking for a fresh probe in the case against Patekar. As such cases drag on, industry insiders discuss if Bollywood can wipe the #MeToo scar off its damaged face.
When the #MeToo movement hit the world, no one knew its ripple effect would reach so many shores. Bollywood, which has forever been an insulated kingdom of filmy families, known for its tight-lipped fraternity, was shockingly exposed.
Though most people have never raised their voices about the relatively shadier going-ons of the world’s largest movie industry, the #MeToo movement saw a handful of women come forward and speak up of issues old and new.
One would think that in the aftermath, Bollywood and the men accused, would be reeling under, unable to face the world. But if the slew of clean chits given are to be considered, the tide seems to be flowing the other way.
Take into account how actress Tanushree Dutta’s FIR with Oshiwara Police Station against Nana Patekar, accusing him of sexually harassing her during the shooting of a song on the sets of ‘Horn Ok Please’ in 2008, concluded. The Mumbai police gave Patekar a clean chit in the case, filing a report that said Tanushree’s complaint could have been lodged to seek revenge and that it seemed ‘malicious and fake’. The actress has claimed that the police have colluded with the veteran actor.
In another such instance, Vikas Bahl, the director of Queen who was accused of sexual harassment by an employee of Phantom Films, has been cleared of all charges. An internal inquiry by Reliance Entertainment cleared him and reinstated him as the director of the Hrithik Roshan film Super 30 before its release.
Well known for his sanskaari roles in top budget films, actor Alok Nath was accused of rape, sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, by atleast three women, one of them being writer-director-producer Vinta Nanda. Nanda had accused Nath in a Facebook post that went viral, after which Nath had filed a defamation suit against her. Nanda filed an FIR against Nath, alleging rape. In January 2019, the Mumbai sessions court granted anticipatory bail to the actor, observing that Nanda did not lodge the report immediately after the alleged incident for her own benefit. The court also observed that possibility cannot be ruled out that Nath has been falsely accused in the crime.
Karan Oberoi receives tremendous support
TV actor Karan Oberoi, who was accused of rape and extortion by a woman, was granted bail by the Bombay High Court, about a month after his arrest. Oberoi has since been seen at a demonstration highlighting #MenToo; a campaign to create awareness about cases where men are falsely accused of rape and other such charges by women. In what is a shocking turn of events, the person who made the accusation, was arrested for ‘falsely’ implicating Oberoi.
But a global movement like #MeToo will hardly die down anytime soon, says actress-filmmaker Soni Razdan, wife of filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt. Razdan feels, “A significant movement like this cannot simply go away. There has been a seismic shift and in future, people who are violated in such a manner, won’t be quiet anymore. That also implies, others will learn to conduct themselves better.” Razdan had also shared a past encounter of sexual harassment with a news outlet at the peak of the #MeToo movement, where she had narrated how during a film shoot, somebody had tried to rape her.
Gender neutral should be the future
Poojita Chowdhury, a talented filmmaker (and daughter of Renuka Chowdhury, the former Union minister of State for Ministry of Women and Child Development), says “It is unfair and unfortunate when people who have committed crimes are protected and get away. But I believe that a new order is emerging out of this for the greater good, and it is not all hopeless. Patriarchy is very deeply entrenched for centuries, so it’s not going to be easy to change the status quo.”
Chowdhury’s film, Gender Bender, is about changing gender roles and rules around work and features real women in traditionally male jobs, and daughters who work with their fathers. “This is where its relevant to the movement, because ultimately it is about evolving into a society, where work, talent and opportunity are gender neutral spaces — the right of every person, be it man or woman, to work with respect, dignity and same opportunity,” she says.
Sifting the real from the fake
Bollywood’s only PR guru Dale Bhagwagar gets philosophical, saying, “When God created humans — the highest among the living species — he created man and woman. Man went on to create society and a class divide between the rich and poor. With time, another divide took birth in the form of racism — the genetics and colour divide between black and white. Now thanks to the #MeToo movement, humans have been introduced to the ultimate divide — between man and woman themselves. And in India, the world’s largest film industry, Bollywood, is most impacted.”
“The movement has left a scar, not only on Bollywood, but on the fabric of society,” adds the PR consultant. But Bhagwagar points out that Bollywood’s version of #MeToo has been very different from Hollywood’s. “Here, 97 percent of the ladies, who came forward with issues had nothing concrete to say,” he feels. “They were more or less being biased or vindictive towards men. Inspite of that, our scandal-hungry media lapped up all of that and more, turning the voices into a huge campaign, probably for the sake of extra eyeballs, hit rate and TRPs.”
He feels that with the exception of Vinta Nanda, whose rape charges warrant serious attention, the others said things like ‘he tried to touch me’, ‘he tried to feel me up’, ‘he tried to kiss me’, ‘he put his hand around my waist’, ‘he put his hand on my shoulder’ and similar things. “The guys did not molest, they didn’t force — they probably tried their luck by casual flirting. But the #MeToo gals named and shamed guys in the media, and put a blot on their brand and image forever for that,” says Bhagwagar. Ironically, some of the names featured in the Wikipedia #MeToo page have been his ex-clients. These include Vinta Nanda, Mandana Karimi, Elnaaz Norouzi and Shama Sikander.
Pooja Bedi, a strong voice behind her friend Karan Oberoi’s recent misfortunes, couldn’t share her thoughts with us due to a hectic schedule of spearheading a movement called ‘Men Too’. According to The Quint, Bedi said, “Taking into consideration the history of our country and the patriarchal society that we live in, there are times when a rape victim goes to the police station and her complaint does not even get registered. That is wrong. So, we need laws against rape and such violence. But at the same time, if women are misusing the law that is meant to protect them, we need to think about how to protect the rights of the man as well.”
Razdan thinks it is power that creates this sort of an imbalance. People inclined to, will always misuse it and in a film industry as huge as Bollywood, there is no one player involved, she believes. “We cannot paint everyone with the same brush. I feel everyone should speak up, gender notwithstanding. Making someone guilty until proven innocent is not fair and one must support the real victims,” she says matter-of-factly.
The real movement trudges along
Chowdhury believes the movement helps to create space for human potential and is not just a ‘battle of the sexes’. On hindsight, to say that anyone who has been named has lost out on opportunities, may well be speaking too soon. Most of the men have returned to work, some like Alok Nath having even added a hit like De De Pyaar De to the cap.
Bhagwagar who was hired for crisis management by one of the men whose name had popped up in #MeToo, did a short-term guerrilla PR (stealth) exercise for him. “I believed in the guy’s innocence, so I admit, I took steps to drown the girl’s articles in the media with some spin and SEO. But not everyone was as lucky as my PR client. A lot of men now have to live with the damages to their online image for life,” he says.
That said, the way ahead for the real victims of MeToo is somewhat blurry. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, has a few obvious drawbacks and so, old cases of harassment can’t be taken into consideration. Internal committees might do their job well but that’s not transparent enough. While a robust set of gender neutral laws can ensure people get their voices heard and justice is met, the playing field, especially in Bollywood, may not be even.
“There are committees in every office, but we don’t see them as very effective. But we still have to keep at building such outreach programmes and institutions that will get a firm grip of how to deal with authentic cases over time,” says Razdan.
So what do the women who have finally found the strength to speak up, do until justice is met? A good example is Tanushree, the one who began the movement in Bollywood. After her case was shut, Tanushree told the Indian Express, “I pray that I never have to deal with this kind of toxicity ever again in life. I am tired of fighting alone against oppressors, bullies and a corrupt system. But please don’t take this example to mean that you will not be heard when you speak up. Continue to expose these creeps through social media and other platforms so that in future people would think twice before troubling an innocent young girl. I still believe I will get justice and victory will be mine. How, only time will tell.”
Chowdhury summarizes the movement’s true effect succinctly. “It’s like a volcano that has erupted. So in the aftermath of such an eruption, there will be consequences. But it is very early to say that it has scarred men to work with women, or that the latter will lose out on work opportunities. Hopefully, the larger outcome of this movement will set a new standard of ethics, accountability and personal conduct across professions, for both men and women. The critical thing now is to use this time not to settle back into the old system.”
If the trailer of Nitish Tiwari’s Chhichhore and teaser of Amar Kaushik’s Bala are anything to go by, the audiences are in for a visual treat in terms of look transformations of the main cast. And the lady behind the looks of the entire lead cast in the films — India’s numero uno makeup, hair and prosthetic designer Preetisheel Singh — has good reason to feel proud.
Both the movies have actors in their aging avatars and Preetisheel’s work has been receiving a new wave of accolades, after all the recognition it received earlier for films like Padmaavat, Bajirao Mastani, Andhadhun, Mom, Mulk, 102 Not Out, Thackeray and many others.
“Look transformations are an integral part of the storylines of both these movies, and it was a challenge and responsibility for me to make them look convincing and believable. I am so happy people are appreciating my work,” says a modest Preetisheel, who’d won the ‘National Film Award for Best Makeup’ for her very first film — the pre-Mughal historical epic Nanak Shah Fakir based on the life of Guru Nanak.
She makes it a point to thank the filmmakers of all her movies for putting their trust and faith in her work. “Without their faith, I wouldn’t have been able to do all this,” she says. Having taken her career graph a few steps further towards more recognition and glory, the lady has no time for a breather. The next few months have her working on a dozen films back-to-back, as well as starting the ‘Preetisheel School of Character Design’ at Versova, Mumbai.
Some of the forthcoming movies in her kitty include the Akshay Kumar-starrer Housefull 4, Nawazuddin Siddiqui-Radhika Apte-starrer Raat Akeli Hai, Kartik Aaryan-Bhumi Pednekar-starrer Pati Patni Aur Woh, Southern superstar Vijay’s next Bigil, Kangana Ranaut-starrers Panga and Dhaakad, and Bhansali Productions’ Tuesdays and Fridays.
Netflix made a thunderous debut in India with the web series Sacred Games starring Saif Ali Khan as police officer Sartaj Singh and Nawazuddin Siddiqui as underworld don Ganesh Gaitonde. As Sacred Games Season 2 makes its debut, Bollywood’s only PR guru Dale Bhagwagar lists his 16 most favourite dialogues from Season 1.
1) “Kabhi kabhi lagta hai, apun hi bhagwan hai.”
2) “Mumbai shahar hai yeh. Kuch bhi ho sakta hai idhar.”
3) “Bhagwan aadmi se kahani me baat karta hai. Hum sab ka life ek kahani hai.”
4) “Main chhota sa tha, 10-11 saal ka, tabhi fix ho gaya tha, yeh aaj ka din, ye connection, aap — Dilbagh Singh, aur main.”
5) “Lagta hai 6 janam pehle ki baat hai, jab main maa ko dekha.”
6) “Aadmi andar se jitna kaala hota hai, duniya ke samne utna hi safed banne ki koshish karta hai.”
7) “Tum mardon ko aisa kyun lagta hai, ki har aurat ko tumhein hi bachana hai.”
Entertainment PR has evolved from straight-forward propaganda to notorious manipulative tactics. Anchal Sujanti takes you through the journey of Bollywood PR over the past 25 years, as she gives you insights about people and situations that gave shape to this current brand of public relations.
A few days ago, a journalist wrote a tweet criticizing PR professionals. “The role of PR machinery is to facilitate communication between journalists and corporates. But it seems PRs take a call on what stories to be pitched and to which paper. Sad!” she wrote. Her tweet generated some interest. However, the most significant response came from Bollywood publicist Dale Bhagwagar.
In a shocking admission of the PR-state-of-affairs, he responded to the tweet, saying, “Role of PRs is not only to “facilitate.” It’s to convince, brainwash, manipulate journalists to agree; and influence public opinion using them, the same way scribes use PRs to source stories. Just as scribes have right to refuse, PRs can decide whom to pitch.” Woah! What a brutally honest answer! Dale went on to add a link of the legendary Bob Dylan song, ‘The Times Are A Changin’ to the tweet.
And who can forget those famous lines:
“Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.”
How relevant they still are to the changing times in journalism and PR. While admitting to the devilishly mischievous manipulative ways of PR specialists, Dale knew exactly what he was talking about. After all, he has been one of the Indian entertainment PR industry’s most significant agent of change. Which is why, it is impossible to sum up how Bollywood PR has evolved in the last 25 years, without understanding the phenomenon he created for the profession.
His ways, good and manipulative, brought about a paradigm shift which benefits all PR professionals in this day and age. Over the years, the publicist has handled PR for more than two hundred actors including names such as Hrithik Roshan, Govinda, Shilpa Shetty, Priyanka Chopra, Vivek Oberoi and movies including Don and Rock On!!, apart from various contestants of India’s biggest reality show Bigg Boss. He also handled publicity for Shilpa Shetty during the time she participated in and won the worlds №1 reality television show Celebrity Big Brother in the United Kingdom.
In the testimonials section of his website, you can find some of the who’s who of mainstream media praising him. Sudhir Chaudhary has called him “a very good publicist,” while Prabhu Chawla has termed him “one of the most efficient PRs in Bollywood.” The most controversial publicist of the world Max Clifford, has described him as “the best PR to go to in India,” while Shobhaa De has called him “an on-the-ball (well-informed) publicist.” What’s more! There are some words of praise even from media magnate Vineet Jain, the Managing Director of Times Group, saying, “You have done a remarkable job for Shilpa Shetty.”
The PR giants
Research reveals, a little before the 90s there were some PR greats who ruled the roost in Indian film industry. These included stalwarts such as Bunny Reuben, Gopal Pandey, Hilla Sethna, RR Pathak, Raju Kariya, Rajendra Rao, Keshav Rai, Arun-Gaja and Ajit Ghosh.
Currently, apart from Dale, there are some great individual PRs and independent PR agencies doing amazing work in the entertainment media. There are prominent agencies like Prabhat Choudhary’s Spice PR, Rohini Iyer’s Raindrop Media, Parag Desai’s Universal Communications, Anusha Srinivasan Iyer’s Naarad PR & Image Strategists, Nilufer Qureshi’s Hype, Parul Chawla’s Picture N Kraft, Himanshu Jhunjhunwala’s Dwapar, Dolly Bhattar’s Brand N Buzz, Neelam Guupta’s NR2 — The Image Engineers, Vipul Sipani’s Media Monster, well-known names including Parull Gossain, Prashant Golecha and Pritam Sharma, and digital PR agency Everymedia.
Change is constant
But the industry scenario was very different in the nineties compared to how it is now. There was no online media back then. India’s №1 Bollywood trade analyst, Taran Adarsh reminisces, “I remember when I used to work in Trade Guide in the 80s, PRs used to send the news handwritten on paper or on a typewriter. They would invite journalists to mahurats, shootings and even at song recordings. It used to be a long process back then. The media was not so widespread, and only 20–30 journalists would be there at press screenings.”
“We had Bunny Reuben and Gopal Pandey as PRs in the early days. Now we have a new breed of publicists who know how to create a buzz. I would not like to go into names, but they are young and bright minds, who know how to use technology really well,” adds Adarsh, who is one of the greatest forces to reckon with in Bollywood journalism since decades.
Veteran journalist-cum-publicist Indermohan Pannu echoes, “In the 90s, we had no emails or WhatsApp and sometimes press releases would be accompanied by handwritten request notes from PRs. It used to be a tedious job. Box-office collections from across the country used to be sent via telegrams. Couriers were also not well-serviced at that time. PRs used to get press releases typed, xeroxed and couriered in the hundreds along with multiple photographs. All of this was very time-consuming.”
He adds, “There were no channels dedicated to Bollywood and only a few publications were there. Many newspapers did not have dedicated sections or supplements for Bollywood news. I remember that Navbharat Times used to carry film news only on Fridays, while The Times Of India waited to carry the film reviews on Sundays.”
“In the olden times, there were PRs like Bunny Reuben who used to handle the publicity for actors like Raj Kapoor. It used to be a relation-based industry and artistes used to keep PRs on retainer with fixed salaries for long. When technology came in, many PRs could not adapt and stopped getting work. Some of the huge names who had been in the profession for decades, disappeared from the scene within 5–6 years. PR agencies, including corporate firms, came into the picture. Technology is the key, which Dale Bhagwagar has been using most extensively over the years,” concludes Pannu.
The paradigm shift
“Beginning in PR around mid-nineties, Dale brought more respect to the profession as he emerged as one of the classiest to deal with. He had that spark in him to bring about change in the way business was carried in the profession. Though at that time, not many would have predicted his rise,” says senior journalist and eminent author Chaitanya Padukone, who has been in entertainment journalism for over three decades.
A little more probing and internet research about the changes Dale has brought to the profession, and a clearer picture emerges. Apart from his PR press releases and handouts to journalists being in impeccable English, Dale also insisted that all his clients sign legal agreements. In those days, Bollywood deals worked more-or-less on word-of-mouth, and PR agreements were almost unheard of. So he began convincing his PR clients for agreements on his agency letterheads, and then moved on to legal agreements.
He also introduced the practice of monthly advance payments to the profession, in order to safeguard himself and others. At a time when all content, including images, was sent on paper, he was the first publicist in the industry to adopt to email. He goaded journalists to check their mails regularly, so that they wouldn’t miss out on the latest content, along with high-resolution pictures he sent. He began writing PR columns in film trade magazines. Dale also became the first PR in the entertainment industry to adapt to the web, launching the world’s first free of copyright website then, which was inaugurated by none other than the veteran PR Bunny Reuben.
“Dale’s constant focus on change has resulted in him being leagues ahead of many. PR practices he brought to the profession then, have now become the norm. He is one of the longest surviving PRs in Bollywood, and still sets the agenda on how PR evolves in the industry, by talking about it on PR websites, television channels, social media, in various colleges, PR forums, blogs, etc,” points out public affairs consultant Rahul Jain, who has worked in corporate PR agencies Perfect Relations, Edelman and Avian Media.
Futuristic, the buzzword
Vipul Sipani, a social media expert and the founder of Media Monster, one of Bollywood’s leading media agencies says, “Since the last few decades, all PRs have been trying to adopt to changing times. But no one had understood the need for future generations of publicists like Dale has. Just look at his Google presence and you will understand what I am saying.”
A few years ago, Dale began addressing the media as a spokesperson to all his clients whenever they would fall into controversy He even went out of his way to take time to train gen next by giving multiple guest lecturers to mass communication students on journalism and PR.
He is also the only celebrity publicist who has been quoted in every prominent newspaper and television channel in India, as also in various international media outlets such as BBC, CNN, The New York Times, Sky News and The Washington Post. As a matter of fact, he has been quoted in as many as thirty countries, which places him amongst the ranks of the most talked-about and extensively-quoted film publicists in the world.
Meanwhile, there is another major shift in media due to the prominence of social media. Fenil Seta, an accomplished journalist and upcoming filmmaker feels, “The workload for PRs has definitely increased. But PRs have become more creative. They don’t want a film to have the usual formula kind of promotions. Now they bring ideas and strategies which are customized for specific projects.”
He goes on to give examples of Ranveer Singh visiting a naval ship during the marketing of Simmba, and the promotions of Shah Rukh Khan’s Zero which took place at a venue that was made to resemble Meerut, replete with a paan shop, jalebi stall etc. “The visuals and pictures of these are shared by the attendees and the novelty factor helps this content to trend online and get talked about,” remarks Seta.
The internet of things
“There has been one more change in the approach of PRs. Compared to the traditional print media, many publicists have begun focusing more on web media as they are giving more and more importance to the archive value of news,” says Vipul Sipani.
“Nowadays, there is a media blitz and PRs rely more on sensationalism and controversy to hype their clients, like the #MeToo campaign,” remarks Chaitanya Padukone.
Freelance journalist Noyon Jyoti Parasara, who has also worked with The Times of India’s leading tabloid Mumbai Mirror admits, “We are fast moving from print and radio towards television and internet mediums. PRs are also changing tactics in the emerging scenario. The media boom has created a situation where there is so much to do, and we are falling short.”
When spin sucks
Parasara points out that though Dale was the first publicist to target web media, he has been taking too many risks. On probing more, we find out a dark side of Dale. Turns out, he is not only known for positive developments in the media, but also notoriously famous for beginning the practice of PRs cutting off their clients’ direct access to journalists. “After Dale began handling scandals and controversies for his clients, he asked them not to speak directly to journalists and editors. He is said to have even added restrictive clauses in his PR agreements, stating that he would be a ‘one-stop contact point’ between actors and media. This kind of manipulative PR control hardly happened before he came in prominence,” reveals Parasara.
True! An article on the net describes an instance when Dale came under heavy criticism from industry folks like Mahesh Bhatt, Konkana Sen Sharma and Anupam Kher. The reason — he got portions of a film review changed on a website, just because he felt the reviewer was unkind to one of his clients. Though journalists snarl at such PR censorship, Dale’s clients seem to love the hand-holding and big-daddy approach.
He is also accused of ‘prioritizing’ media to ‘selectively’ release photo-shoot images of his clients. On condition of anonymity, a veteran journalist divulges that “a decade ago, Dale began giving access to photographic content only to his friends in media and only those publications and websites who would let him have control over their stories. His reasoning was that journalists could create written content without his support, but they would have to come to him if he choked the supply of photographic content. Of course, that approach hardly works today, as journalists can easily pick up content from the net.”
“His worst arm-twisting tactics for journalists were when he would sometimes insist on copy approvals (going through journalist’s stories before they appeared in print) and even the practice of offering new controversies to journalists in return for killing certain stories on his PR clients,” discloses the source.
The source exposes the publicist further, stating, “he also has stealth means of news distribution, and even has some journalist friends double up as his spies in media. Plus, he has tied up with a few upcoming PRs to plug and plant content for him. In fact, he has even pompously admitted to such guerrilla PR tactics on his Facebook and blog.”
Finding morality in spin!
But how is that even possible? The source explains, “Dale does not have any dearth of new PR people willing to toe his line, as he has guided and mentored many of them through his lectures at colleges. Some of his students even work in other PR agencies, but stay in touch with him and respect him for training them. And he uses their connect for his gain.”
With such a network in place, Dale may have enough influence to plug and plant stories or even spread rumours in the film industry to benefit his PR clients. The strange part is, this PR does a balancing act between morality and spin.
As publicist Rahul Jain puts it, “Dale has always talked about journalistic and PR ethics in most of his interviews. And inspite of his PR maneuvers, no one has doubted his moral values and integrity. Since he is a loyalist to his friends and a master of words, he can well juggle these topics.”
Great PR is now about control
Meanwhile, times continue to change. The use of smartphones is increasing and gen Z wants everything easy and fast. Social media helps in doing so, by providing breaking news within seconds. To quote Mumbai’s leading social media specialist Sampath Iyenger, “It’s important for an entertainment industry person to have a website, a Twitter account, an Instagram account and also a Facebook account and Page, all managed professionally, with posts at regular intervals.”
World in your hands
Digital PR expert and founder director of Sarvashreshtha Solutions, Mayura Amarkant has some interesting insight. “Just travel in a city local train and observe how the poorest person carries a smartphone and watches content on the internet. There is a constant fight for eyeballs among apps, social media platforms, and independent entertainment avenues. Gaming has also taken over the screen time.”
She makes it a point to add, “With screens getting smaller and each individual having their own handheld device, the challenges in the entertainment PR industry are getting bigger.” In the past, Amarkant has been the Head of Communication Management at the high-profile Whistling Woods International — School of Media & Communication located at Filmcity, Mumbai. She is also a National Award Winner as Woman Business Leader in Digital Marketing and PR.
But new-age filmmaker and freelance journalist Prashen Kyawal feels that the increasing use of online media has made us complacent and careless. “The time saved due to digitalization should have been used more in quality writing and editing, but that’s not happening! Also, the respect and grace associated with television journalism has been nose-diving because of too many media portals competing for the same celebrity’s bytes.”
Sampath Iyengar notes, “The moment somebody does a web search on an entertainment industry person, all the relevant stuff should come up — for example, one’s personal website, Wikipedia page, IMDB page, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram accounts, and most importantly, news features on prominent Bollywood websites. The main point is that the sources of information should be authentic and reliable. Industry people should also have a good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) team in place to manage web content.”
Is print media really dying?
Whenever one talks about changes in media, we often gets to hear the line ‘Print media is dying’. So is that really true? “Not at all,” says Fenil Seta. “Print media is still as relevant as before. Newspapers still have a wide reach. Morning newspapers are a habit, and that won’t go away so easily. It’s like saying restaurants have become irrelevant, because online delivery apps have entered our market.”
While Vipul Sipani and Prashen Kyawal agree with Seta, they feel that print media may not survive beyond 15–20 years. They observe that since the youth finds newspaper reading quite an effort, they will soon depend only on electronic gadgets for all of their news.
The last word
Taran Adarsh who has shifted to digital media, sums it up. “The biggest advantage of online media is speed. You can get the latest news instantly, that too on your phones. Videos and pictures can also be uploaded from anywhere and have a global reach. We are in an age where ‘information drives business’. What more can one ask for.”
“From what a PR gets, he might make a living. But from what a PR gives, he might make a life.” -Dale Bhagwagar
“There is no such thing as bad publicity
except your own obituary.” -Brendan
“We are living in a
world where perception is reality.” -Dale
“Regardless of how you feel inside, always try to look like a winner. Even if you are behind, a sustained look of control and confidence can give you a mental edge that results in victory.” -Arthur Ashe
“The key to a great
story is not who, or what, or when, but why.” -Tomorrow Never Dies
“Good publicity is
good. Bad publicity is better. Ugly publicity is the best… because it travels
the fastest and hits the hardest. The worst of all is no publicity.” -Dale Bhagwagar
“There is no news like bad news.” -Tomorrow Never Dies
“Men are haunted by
the vastness of eternity and so we ask ourselves, will our actions echo across
the centuries? Will strangers hear our names long after we’re gone and wonder
who we were? How bravely we fought, how fiercely we loved…” -Opening sequence of Troy
“Immortality is the
recollection one leaves.” -Napoléon
“What happens when
you don’t publicize.” “Nothing.” -Dale
“If you wish in this world to advance your merits you’re bound to enhance; you must stir it and stump it, and blow your own trumpet, or, trust me, you haven’t a chance.” -William S. Gilbert
“PR is an intriguing
mind game in a media minefield. But with the kind of reach a PR has, it becomes
extremely important to keep PR ethics in mind while executing promotional
strategies and branding brands. Otherwise, a PR can end up misleading society
and causing havoc.” -Dale Bhagwagar
“Publicity is a great
purifier because it sets in action the forces of public opinion, and public
opinion controls the courses of the nation.” -Charles Evans Hughes
“It is insight into
human nature that is the key to the communicator’s skill. For whereas the
writer is concerned with what he puts into his writings, the communicator is
concerned with what the reader gets out of it. He therefore becomes a student
of how people read or listen.” -William
“Networking is a
daily commitment, not a monthly ritual.” -Dale
“PR means telling the
truth and working ethically – even when all the media want is headlines and all
the public wants is scapegoats. Public relations fails when there is no
integrity.” -Viv Segal
“Visibility is one of the biggest determinants of celebrity, and certainly the poll list reflects that the most popular girls are those who are the most famous.” -FHM editor Neil Bierbaum, speaking about the FHM 100 Sexiest Women in the World poll.
make products in the factory, many brands are created in the minds of PRs.” -Dale Bhagwagar
“The stroke of the
whip maketh marks in the flesh; but the stroke of the tongue breaketh the
“Some are born great,
some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers.” -Daniel J. Boorstin
“When I ask myself
the question: ‘Who is my favourite client?’ Most of the time, my mind answers:
‘The next one’.” -Dale Bhagwagar
“An image is not simply a trademark, a design, a slogan or an easily remembered picture. It is a studiously crafted personality profile of an individual, institution, corporation, product or service.” -Daniel J. Boorstin
“I’m a manipulator.
It’s my job.” -Dale Bhagwagar
“You’ve got to find
some way of saying it without saying it.” -Duke
“If a PR person lies
to a reporter, he lies to one person. If a reporter lies, he lies to thousands,
even lakhs. This simple thought should increase the responsibility of every PR
to stand by ethics and truth.” -Dale
“Whoever controls the
media, controls the mind.” -Jim Morrison
crisis management are gaining more importance in the PR profession than
image-building and publicity.” -Dale
without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you
are doing, but nobody else does.” -Steuart
“PR is a very
complicated and scheming world today. And not many in the profession itself;
have fully understood its tentacles.” -Dale
“At the end of the
day, ‘people buy people’. So spending time on your personal brand will pay
dividends for years to come.” -Lesley
“Live a bit in the
present and a bit in the future, because the past is just like a newspaper. It
loses its value next morning.” -Dale
“Being a PR guy talking about ‘feminism’, may seem as if I am siding with some of my controversial hoity-toity Bollywood clients. However, I feel that people from the Indian film industry often objectify the word,” says Bollywood PR guru Dale Bhagwagar who has been a publicist to some of the grittiest female celebrities.
As a Bollywood public relations professional and a spokesperson to many celebrities, over the years you’ve worked with several female clients who have been scrutinized by the media in one way or the other. What was your journey like, working with women in the spotlight?
Luckily, I have had a chance to work with some of the boldest and strongest ladies in the industry. I don’t know why they have an affinity towards me, but over time, mostly all my PR clients have blindly trusted me while I have been in charge of their brands and images. And that’s something I really feel proud about. Of course, my PR clients hire me for publicity, hype and crisis management… but I have always told them to follow their hearts. And you know what? The media automatically loves stars who do things from their heart.
Yes, we feel that is how Shilpa Shetty won Celebrity Big Brother in the UK while you were handling the media for her in the outside world.
I worked with her for almost seven years, and found her to be one of the most genuine persons in Bollywood. Apart from being a good actress, she has always been a compassionate human being. And all that goodness worked for her magically on the reality show. See, on a show like Big Brother where cameras follow you 24×7, one can’t follow a PR strategy or have a plan. Because it could all go for a toss there. The best plan is to be your real self and if one is a good person, that comes across on TV. But then, Shilpa is much more than just a good person. She is also a fighter and that stood her in great stead on the show. Apart from winning it, she emerged an international icon against racism — a kind of unique brand for the whole world to look up to.
Aha! Love the way you describe it. You also handled the PR for Priyanka Chopra in her initial days as an actress. Didn’t you?
Yes, I found Priyanka an extremely focused and professional person. After she became Miss World, during her initial days in Bollywood, she faced a lot of controversies and it was interestingly challenging for me to handle her media work for around two years.
You’ve had several instances where your female clients were subject to false rumors and defamation. How easy or difficult is it for publicists to control such rumors about women when compared to male clients?
I’ve worked with a lot of male artists too, like Hrithik Roshan, Randeep Hooda, Govinda, Vivek Oberoi and even with the evergreen legend Dev Anand; a charmer of women even in his eighties. But let me be brutally honest with you. Handling the media for a female artist is much easier than publicizing with a male artist. Because the media is always more attracted towards the female form. Television media runs for footage, and the print and internet media laps up their pictures for news, web wallpapers or photo galleries. While I was looking after the PR for Shilpa Shetty, yesteryears Hollywood superstar Richard Gere planted pecks on her cheeks at an event, and the media went gaga over it terming the pecks as kisses. The news hit front page headlines and I had an amazing PR time encasing the hype for almost a month across all media platforms. I wonder if the media would have gone berserk like that if say, Angelina Jolie had planted pecks on an Indian male actor’s cheeks. Do you get the drift?
Yeah! Talking about hype, do you think Bollywood is frivolous about feminism?
Being a PR guy talking about ‘feminism‘, may seem as if I am siding with some of my controversial hoity-toity Bollywood clients. However, I feel that people from the Indian film industry often objectify even the word.
Any instances of women empowerment that you have dealt with, which stuck with you or taught you a life-lesson, if any?
Oh, there have been lots. Writer and filmmaker Vinta Nanda who has been one of my longest-running clients, has been a crusader when it comes to women empowerment. And I have had a lot of chances to work on social awareness projects with her. In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that I am the only spin doctor from Bollywood who has managed loads of mileage for charity and social causes. I’ve publicized an annual conclave called Elevate dedicated to the uplift-ment of women, been part of the Jaag India Movement during Mumbai floods, The Village Project NGO, a short-film festival Vastav – The Reality, and a civil societies revolution movement Staying Alive. Plus, I’ve worked of the PR for projects of The Third Eye program in Mumbai; in partnership between the ‘Asian Centre for Entertainment Education’ (ACEE), India, and ‘Hollywood, Health and Society’ (HH&S), Norman Lear Centre, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA, and funded by The ‘Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation‘. All of these have centered around women and spearheaded by Ms Nanda. Apart from them, I’ve worked for Renuka Chaudhary’s (a former Union minister of State for Ministry of Women and Child Development in the Government of India) daughter, Poojita Chaudhary’s documentary Gender Bender. Also publicized Miss World Diana Hayden’s contribution to building homes in Los Angeles under a charity project called Power Women, Power Tools. And yes, apart from some thirty odd movies, I’ve handled the PR for Priety Zinta’s woman-oriented super-hit starrer Kya Kehna during the time I started out in my profession.
That’s quite a lot indeed. But you mentioned the words “spin doctor” while answering that. As a PR specialist, do you even need to spin for social causes.
Lol. I should admit, you are good at catching words!! Yes, I do spin for PR of social projects too. Thing is, the media wants spice all the time and social causes would be drab for them to publish if I wouldn’t highlight the glamorous aspects in them. So I do play with words to an extent, as long as its ethical and I’m not bluffing or crossing the line. I’m pretty old-school. I’ve been a journalist before turning PR. Ethics matter a lot to me even when I have to sensationalize news for the gossip hungry media.
According to you what reforms are necessary in India to achieve equality?
The biggest reform should be to first banish the word ‘feminism‘. In my opinion, there shouldn’t be anything like feminism at all. Because the very word brings a thought, not about distinction, but about differentiation — which makes it bad for women. It muddles up the whole concept of equality. Feminism represents the fight to be equal. But when women are equal to men, why do they need the subject of feminism. The more people talk and scream about feminism, the more they highlight inequality. Isn’t it? But if we still have to use the word with the meaning it was coined with, then I feel ‘feminism‘ should be talked about in the sense of something to be felt and realized — not something which needs to be spoken about town or asserted in media. According to me, a true feminist would be a person who realizes its essence without having to speak the word ever.
While majority victims in domestic cases are females, males who face the brunt of domestic violence are often ignored. What are your thoughts on this statement?
Sometimes females do misuse their gender and explore loopholes in law. I have been approached by a couple of actresses who wanted to go to the police station or send legal notices to guys to attract media attention. It’s a PR, PR, PR world and I am not averse to that kind of publicity. But I cross-question such actresses and investigate with my past journalistic instincts to find out if their case is genuine. If it is, I personally accompany them to the police station with the media in tow. But if their case is not genuine, I do not support them in PR and even discourage them from trying to derive publicity with fake news.
Apart from the ones you mentioned, which are the other strong women celebrities you have worked with?
That would be actress and fashion philanthropist Evelyn Sharma, actresses and title holders like Miss India InternationalPooja Batra, Miss India International Priya Gill, Gladrags MegaModel winner Rupali Suri, Miss India Universe Nikita Anand, Miss University World and Miss India Talent winner Kashmera Shah, Miss India Natasha Suri, Rakhi Sawant, Godwoman Radhe Maa whose PR I handle through work for her patrons Global Advertisers, Bigg Boss finalist Mandana Karimi, International chess master Dhyani Dave, Pakistani superstar Meera, filmmaker Kalpana Lajmi for whom I handled a very controversial event once, the late superstar Rajesh Khanna’s partner Anita Advani, actresses Nandana Sen, Sameera Reddy, Shamita Shetty, Divya Dutta, Neetu Chandra, Arjumman Mughal, Sambhavna Seth, Bidita Bag, Narmmadaa Ahuja, Rakul Preet, Soma Mangnaanii, Sherlyn Chopra, Sonali Raut, plus singers Anaida and Carlyto Mohini. These are undoubtedly some of the strongest women I have handled PR for. Am proud of them all.
Controversies like Cobrapost stings dent celeb reputations. Celebs need to earn big bucks from time to time, to support their brand and lifestyle, and maintain their larger-than-life aura. Such controversies when unchecked, slow down business opportunities for celebs and that’s not a good thing, says Mumbai-based PR guru Dale Bhagwagar.
Even before the dust settles on the #MeToo movement in India, thanks to the Cobrapost stings, the film industry is once again in the dock. But recently, Bollywood’s only PR guru Dale Bhagwagar has put up a post on his Facebook, which actually makes for a fantastic case study on how celebrities can be vigilant and save themselves from sting operations.
Or even how they can hire a crisis management expert to boldly tackle or spin the situation in their favour after the sting, in a way that the stinger himself/herself gets exposed.
Stinging the sting
Here is what the public relations specialist has posted: “Got to know that most of these latest Cobrapost interviews doing the rounds, were actually done a year ago. They reminded me of an interesting incident. Four months ago, a girl claiming to be a budding actress befriended me on WhatsApp,” writes Dale who has handled the personal PR for top filmstars such as Hrithik Roshan, Shilpa Shetty, Priyanka Chopra, Vivek Oberoi, publicity for movies starring Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Anil Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Katrina Kaif and others, apart from PR for 20 scandalous contestants of India’s No. 1 reality show Bigg Boss.
Dale’s Facebook post describes the meeting with this so-called budding actress with some intriguing details. “We met over coffee at CCD (Cafe Coffee Day) in Oshiwara to discuss PR and proceeded for dinner at a nearby restaurant. In between our candid conversation about PR and the film industry, from the discussion and her body language, my sixth sense told me something was strange. She was encouraging me to talk and probing once in a while. Some of her choice of words were not those of an amateur or an upcoming actress. I suspected she was video recording me,” he writes.
The Bollywood publicist elaborates, “So I casually glanced at her watch, dress buttons and accessories to check if there was any sting camera lens, but couldn’t spot any. I finally zeroed down on her handbag and specifically a metal emblem on it, but I still couldn’t spot any lens, as I was sitting at a metre’s distance from it. The handbag was kept at an angular position on the table. Just to make sure, on the pretext of admiring it, I leaned forward and subtly picked and moved it a bit.”
“As I did that, I marked her expression and reflexes. Flummoxed for a second, she immediately put the handbag back in exactly the same position with the same angle tilt. A few seconds later, she gave a stray look at it, as if to check it was facing the correct direction. The only thing she failed to realize was that my eyes were catching every nuance.”
Playing the PR game
“But I did not let her know and went with the flow of the candid conversation. In fact, now I consciously kept it cool and spiced it up too. I even made up and exaggerated some statements… the kind we call ‘quotable quotes’ in journalism and PR. I also made sure that sat stylishly and smiled more than I normally do,” admits the Mumbai-based entertainment PR expert.
“But I’m still waiting for something like Cobrapost on me to come out somewhere. I do Crisis Management for actors in such situations. So it would be good fun for me to see how I deal with a similar situation on myself. #WhenDaleStungTheSting #BeingDale #GameOn #GoodFun #DaleHasEaglesEyes,” Dale concludes on Facebook.
Celebs in the dock
For the record, the recent Cobrapost sting operation targeted 36 Bollywood celebrities. In an investigation dubbed Operation Karaoke, Cobrapost personnel are said to have posed as employees of a fictitious public relations agency, using aliases.
The sting operation revealed that actors Jackie Shroff, Vivek Oberoi, Sonu Sood, Shakti Kapoor, Mahima Chaudhry, Amisha Patel, Shreyas Talpade, Surendra Pal, Sambhavna Seth, Puneet Issar, Pankaj Dheer and his son Nikitin Dheer, and playback singers Kailash Kher, Mika Singh, Baba Sehgal and Abhijeet Bhattacharya were willing to post favourable messages on social media for political parties.
The list goes on
Other movie artistes on the list included Sunny Leone, Poonam Pandey, Rakhi Sawant, Aman Verma, Tisca Chopra, Deepshikha Nagpal, Akhilendra Mishra, Rohit Roy, Rahul Bhat, Salim Zaidi, Hiten Tejwani and spouse Gauri Pradhan, Koena Mitra, Evelyn Sharma, Minissha Lamba, comedians Raju Srivastava, Krushna Abhishek, Rajpal Yadav, Sunil Pal, Upasana Singh, Vijay Ishwarlal Pawar aka VIP and choreographer Ganesh Acharya.
Much ado about nothing
When we contacted Dale to ask if the targeted film celebrities should sue Cobrapost, his reply surprised us even more than the way he’d attentively caught the sting-in-progress.
“What Cobrapost has done is something any yellow journalism site would do. We can have an endless debate about breach of privacy, about media conning celebrities and making them scapegoats of their pre-planned agenda. But such desperate forms of journalism (if it can be called that) is not new and has happened a lot in America and Britain over the years. Some media outlets take undue liberties in the name of the freedom of the press,” remarks the top Bollywood publicist.
Having said that, he goes on to explain, “If we put emotions and the Cobrapost’s nationalistic spin aside, we will all realize that their videos have made much ado about nothing. Come to think of it, everyone, including political parties, need and indulge in aggressive marketing in today’s times.”
“They hire the best and topmost advertising, marketing and PR agencies to execute their strategies. And who better than popular celebrities to promote their agenda. It’s a cool thing and a done thing.” True that! After all, it’s a PR PR PR world.
Celebs unable to handle spin
“It’s just that Cobrapost seems to have scripted and edited stuff, and presented it as if it’s something jaw-dropping. It really isn’t. Cobrapost has given it a devious spin and our celebs seem to be struggling to manage this new crisis situation on their own,” analyses Dale.
Guarding brand equity and business
“This Cobrapost controversy will disappear and die much faster than #MeToo, though part of the damage will linger, denting overall brand-value; just like #MeToo left an image-damaging trail,” he predicts. “Celebs need to earn big bucks from time to time, to support their brand and lifestyle, and maintain their larger-than-life aura. Such controversies when unchecked, slow down business opportunities for celebs and that’s not a good thing,” says Dale.
So what’s the way out of such situations for the future? “We can take a leaf out of Hollywood here. Like it happens in the West, Bollywood celebs need to cut off direct access outside their inner circle and let the professionals take over — managers, advertising personnel, marketers, social media experts, PR professionals, spokespersons, spin doctors and crisis management specialists. Actors need to focus on acting and earning, not on management.”
Dale feels “that’s the only way forward, if celebrities wish to keep their aura, image and brand intact in the fast-changing ruthless digital landscape. Otherwise, all this ruckus leads to an unnecessary loss of brand equity and business.”