For any passerby on Versova main road in Andheri, Mumbai, there stands this imposing black building with coloured dots and huge face murals hard to miss. Some people point at the uniqueness of colour and designs, some stop to take selfies with the building in the background, and some even try to enter it just to ask what the place is all about.
National Award-winning makeup and prosthetic designer Preetisheel Singh’s new four-storey office ‘Da Makeup Lab’ has fast become a landmark in the heart of Bollywood. It is Bollywood’s premier firm for all of the industry’s makeup, hair and prosthetic requirements.
Spearheaded by Preetisheel Singh along with her partner Mark D’souza, the dream team has worked on some of Bollywood’s topnotch movies such as Bajirao Mastani, Padmaavat, Haider, Mom, 102 Not Out, Thackeray, Bala, Chhichhore and Housefull 4.
The building keeps amusing everyone. “Is it a museum?,” a passerby asked at the reception once. “Is it a tattoo parlour?,” asked another. “Do you do bridal makeup?”; “Why is it painted black?”; “Is it a salon?”; “Is it a production house?”; “Do you do auditions?” — the questions are never-ending.
Once a group of people walked in saying, “The building looked good from outside, so just came inside to check out.” Gee! Didn’t we say this landmark building is hard to miss!!
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.
Bollywood’s only PR guru Dale Bhagwagar is also the only specialist on Bigg Boss. Having handled the PR for a full 20 contestants while they have been on the controversial show, Dale also has guts to call a spade a spade. He boldly addresses queries in this exclusive no-holds-barred interview to QNA India.
Bigg Boss 13 has shifted from Lonavla to Filmcity Studios in Goregaon, Mumbai. Do you think it’s a good move?
Dale Bhagwagar: That fresh breath of Lonavla air that the Bigg Boss Housemates felt in the garden area is missing. Also, knowing that they were far away from Mumbai city, gave the contestants a feel of being separated from their near and dear ones, which went perfectly with the show’s concept. That is now missing too.
But being at Filmcity, has its own share of advantages too. Availability for props, food items, staff etc would definitely be better when in Mumbai. Travel time for staff and Salman Khan is less.
Moreover, security is better as Filmcity has two security gates before one reaches any studio floor. The distance between the first and second gate is almost 2 kilometers. So for any anti-Bigg Boss protest morchas to walk all the way, would be quite a task, and also provide the makers ample time to call for police help, just in case any protest morcha breaks through the first security gate.
Will Bigg Boss 13 get better TRPs than last season?
Dale Bhagwagar: I have a feeling Bigg Boss TRPs may not rise with the passing of its seasons now. The reasons are many. The attention span of people have changed. Also, most youth want to watch shows on the go, and not sit in front of television sets anymore. Though on Voot, the show has limited its visibility by being absent on YouTube; the most popular platform for videos.
Another reason is that the show has deviated from its original concept of being truthful to reality television, and feels more and more like a game show. Being a publicist in the entertainment field and having handled the PR for the maximum Bigg Boss contestants and watched them closely, I’m of the impression that the media publicity for the show also needs more innovativeness and improvement.
Many more journalists need to receive its daily synopsis and publicity images. The PR images for the media could be of better size, correct format and higher resolution too. This would make the journalist’s job of covering Bigg Boss, easier. Scribes may then refrain from searching and lifting random images from FB pages or channel website, which may not satisfy their needs for a great image-resolution.
Apart from all this, one has to also understand that Gen Z does not sit and watch TV serials. So most of the times, they identify quite less with the TV stars which feature more and more on Bigg Boss nowadays. All these and many more transformational changes could give the fortunes of Bigg Boss a punchy boost.
Bigg Boss approaches a lot of celebrities, but only a few of them finally go to the Bigg Boss House. Do you think this is a promotional ploy by the makers to create a wider buzz for the show before it rolls?
Dale Bhagwagar: Ha ha! It seems you have stumbled upon some secret. Yes, this does create a buzz initially, as not all who are approached are aware of the secrecy clause in BB contracts. So they yap and talk and hint, or tell their friends that they have been approached for Bigg Boss. Some even pompously write on FB that BB approaches them every year. But I don’t think that kind of PR buzz helps them. If they really want to be on the show by getting in the limelight, or catch the attention of the makers, there are other intelligent PR strategies and methods.
What if the selection process goes on public voting?
Dale Bhagwagar: That could be an interesting turn. But the public will have to see the drama quotient of the contestants and judge by that. Only then will it work well. Hai na.
Is it better to have only celebrities in Bigg Boss or is it better to have common people with celebrities?
Dale Bhagwagar: The hero of the show should be the concept. I feel, the best thing for Bigg Boss will be to focus on its original ‘reality television’ format and reduce the number of games and tasks. I also strongly feel that Bigg Boss should have two seasons every year — one with celebs and another with commoners.
What do you have to say about most contestants who win Bigg Boss, but are not able to remain in the news after winning? What could be the reason?
Dale Bhagwagar: The primary reason for this is that success goes to their head. The months they spend in isolation makes them believe that the show has made superstars out of them. When they meet their family and friends on the show, they hear stories of how they are being talked about in the outside world; about how famous they have become etc etc etc. They think they have ‘arrived’ and this thought goes to their head.
When they come out they are mobbed, first by the media and then by the people on the streets. They get a lot of instant recognition. In all this hullabaloo, most of them forget that PR plays an important role in the imaging, branding and consistency of any publicity exercise.
What they completely fail to realize is that long-term fame is not about hype, but about imaging and branding. That is why so many Bigg Boss contestants lose out in the long run, with most of these disappearing into oblivion. Even the winners.
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.”
Just out from the jaws of death; headed to a beauty pageant
True strength comes with resilience, perseverance and persistence. And if there is one lady who is currently epitomizing this, it is Mrs. India Guyana Kristal Inshan. The beauty queen from Georgetown, Guyana, was all excited to participate in the Mrs. India Worldwide beauty pageant at The Leela, Mumbai, in the first week of September 2019.
The event is about to witness the most beautiful and talented contestants from over 40 countries, competing for the Miss and Mrs. India Worldwide titles, judged by a celebrity panel of judges, with a host of guests expected from Bollywood and Hollywood.
But a week ago, Kristal suffered a life-threatening accident in her hometown in South America. The car she was travelling in, overturned, flipped over three times and crashed on the sidewalk. It was a ghastly crash, just like we see in the movies — only that, this was for real. Kristal, who was on the back seat, miraculously survived — albeit with bleeding cuts, scrapes and bruises. She was rushed to the nearest hospital, where she lay shaken.
Imagine the shock and trauma she would have undergone. Anyone in her place would have cancelled her trip to Mumbai and given herself time and rest to recuperate and recover. But not Kristal. She decided she had to take life head on, with a confident smile. Healing from her injuries and a limp, she is ignoring her pain and preparing to go ahead with the upcoming pageant in Mumbai.
Apart from being a successful model, Kristal is also a fashion designer and women empowerment speaker. Arriving in a few days in the bustling city of dreams, Kristal intends to take a day off on the beaches of Mumbai and focus on the Mrs. India Worldwide pageant.
We’re almost speechless, hearing about this lady’s grit and determination. From so many years, we have heard countless pageant contestants talk so much about strength and resilience on stage. But what Kristal is doing right now, is a living example of all that and more! Just out from the jaws of death, and headed to a beauty pageant — that is something! We salute her strength as our heart goes out to her.
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.”
“When luck favours, numerology fails. But strange thing is, luck favours the ones who don’t depend on it. So now, where does that leave numerology! In short, there is no need to fiddle with your name’s spelling. Because that may only make the numerologist feel lucky.” -Dale Bhagwagar
“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.