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.
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.”
The Khans — Salman, Aamir and Shah Rukh — have been ruling the entertainment business since ages. They have been beating every list and have stayed in best form and at the top of their game since three decades now.
And though all of them have faced disasters last year with their movies Race 3, Thugs of Hindostan and Zero, “there is no chance they are gonna slow down anytime soon,” feels Bollywood’s only PR guru Dale Bhagwagar.
In fact, Dale says he is sure they will come up with “superb surprises and even more wonderful performances in the years to come.” When asked, how long does he think the audiences will patronize their brands, the Bollywood publicist says, “The one who manages to cater and appeal to the current school kids the most, should last the longest.”
And which Khan could that be? “Currently, its Aamir who seems to have that advantage. Though Salman’s craze is said to be more in the nook and corners of India, and SRK enjoys great popularity even abroad; its Aamir who understands PR and strategy better. So I won’t be surprised if the baby-faced Aamir lasts the longest.”
“Plus, having built much of his career on experimenting with roles and keeping that image intact film after film, he will be able to adapt better to change, and may even age more gracefully than many others in the industry,” analyses the Mumbai-based public relations expert. Whoa! That’s an interesting analysis indeed. Hai na?
And Aamir is now even expanding his market to China — the country with the highest population in the world. So yes, he has surely got his finger on the pulse of Gen Z.
It’s been an interesting beginning of the day for me today. 🌞 Have been extensively quoted in the Page 1 lead story of the entertainment supplements of Deccan Chronicle, the No.1 English Daily in the South. 🗞
In fact, in eight Deccan Chronicle – Entertainment city editions — Hyderabad and Karimnagar editions (from Telangana), along with their Vizag, Rajahmundry, Vijayawada, Nellore and Anantapur editions (from Andhra Pradesh). 🌇
Thank you Oishani Mojumder for the fantabulous story. And yes, must say, you sure are a very introspective journalist. 😀😀 Thank you once again. 🙏
Got my PR client Preetisheel Singh speak to Hindustan Times for a feature which appeared as a front page lead in HT City. Special thanks to Shreya Mukherjee for it.
PS: Sorry friends, HT has been putting more and more restrictions on its free epaper, as it expects people to pay and login et al for full functionality. So I wasn’t able to download a good resolution image for the article.
My PR client Preetisheel Singh has made a rocking start this year too. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Last year, she handled the makeup, hair and prosthetic for actors in Padmaavat, 102 Not Out, Mulk and Andhadhun. 🤩 She’s started this year with the look for Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Thackeray. Coming up are RAW, Chhichhore, Housefull 4, Bharat, Panga, Raat Akeli Hai, Boomerang, Om and PM Narendra Modi. 🎯 Audiences…. dil, jigar aur chair handles thaam ke baitho. 🎞 🎲 -Dale Bhagwagar
PR is not about working hard. It’s about working smart. Most PRs never understand that. They take it too seriously. Yes, PR carries a lot of responsibility…. but its not boring at all. In fact, its excitingly challenging if you are ready to know and learn and play. If you are ready to treat the work as a game. Then, whether you succeed or fail, in a way, you always win. -Dale Bhagwagar