Rajeev Masand’s Spoiler’s Ahead: How Bollywood Defeated the Paparazzi

Most people would agree that the very word “paparazzi” conjures up images of pesky photographers scaling fences and hedges to aim their telephoto lenses into the high-walled homes of famous movie stars. Or, engaged in the pursuit of a reclusive celebrity to catch that elusive shot that will be talked about for years to come. Or, spending hours or even days on a small boat in the Mediterranean, spotting Hollywood’s new power couple only to catch them cooing on a private beach. The constant, in each case, being the element of initiative, challenge or daring that led them to take this once-in-a-lifetime shot.

It would seem that the role of labor is different when it comes to Mumbai ‘paps’. One need only scroll through the Instagram feeds of top Bollywood paparazzi to see that they have been overwhelmingly co-opted by the system. Much of their work involves photographing celebrities on glamorous red carpets at movie premieres, award ceremonies and assorted parties. Of course, they’ll show up outside the gym frequented by Sara Ali Khan and Janhvi Kapoor every morning and urge them to pause for a few quick photos before the actors head home from a sweaty workout. And you can be sure they’ll be there at the gate when Deepika Padukone pulls up and heads to the terminal to board her flight to Cannes.

Sara Ali Khan is constantly ‘paved’ outside the gym

But no one is breaking the news these days. It reminds me of when Demi Moore came to Mumbai in the mid-90s at the invitation of Deepak Chopra. Shortly after answering questions and posing for photos at a hastily arranged press conference, the Disclosure star retreated to her suite at the Taj Mahal hotel, and reporters searching of “exclusivities” have been rejected. But an enterprising photographer in her twenties for rediff.com (unfortunately I forget her name) refused to stop, parking in the hallway outside the actress’ bedroom, pretending to leave every time she was chased away by security, but hung long enough to catch Moore as she left, nearly three hours later, to attend a party thrown in her honor by Parmeshwar Godrej. The youngster was rewarded for her perseverance, landing the only photos of the Hollywood star wearing a pink sari and sporting mehendi on her hands before being driven to the party.

‘Spot’ the PR

The truth is that in these days of overzealous managers, publicists and image consultants (not to mention very savvy celebrities themselves), it can be nigh on impossible to catch a star who lets their guard down. They’re pretty much groomed and prepared, and ready for their close-up 24/7. And Bollywood has found a way to keep ‘pap culture’ alive and use it to its advantage. Did you know that “star scouts” — or instances where paps are supposed to bump into movie stars unexpectedly — are actually the result of meticulously orchestrated tip-offs by the stars’ publicists themselves? So the next time you see a pap photo of a future “spotted” actress in front of a hotshot producer’s office, just remember that the photographers were unlucky. They were tipped off so the “scouting” could lead to the desired speculation that the actress might be on the verge of landing the filmmaker’s next big thing.

Jahnvi Kapoor is another celeb who is constantly ‘paved’ outside the gym

About two years ago, when I learned that an actor whose star was rising had paid paps to ensure he was in the news regularly, I expressed my surprise to another actor I was meeting that day. Sheepishly, this other actor revealed that he himself had a group of photographers under contract: “They are waiting downstairs to take my pictures when I leave here.”

Today, just about every publicist has a monthly paps tab for their clients. And because “everyone does it”, there’s little embarrassment (or shame) associated with something that, let’s face it, should be ridiculously weird – how to pretend to be surprised when paps show up in a restaurant you take your parents to? “Aap idhar bhi pahunch gayeasked an actress innocently to a group of photographers waiting outside the restaurant as she walked in with her parents.

Taimur Ali Khan has been a paparazzi darling since birth

Better India?

Every once in a while, the paparazzi will be on something that sells…organically. Until recently, it was little Taimur Ali Khan. There is always Urfi Javed and his confusing clothing choices. Currently it’s Neetu Kapoor and his cute answers to curious questions about him damn Alia and the grandson who is on the way. Reality TV stars are also a hit.

You could say (and you might be right) that it’s better to have the kind of pop culture where photographers work with celebrities and basically release approved content than a culture where celebrities are treated like prey. Lest the appreciation of initiative and persistence be interpreted as boldness, it is important to consider that it was aggressive paparazzi who played a part in Britney Spears’ spiraling and death. Princess Diana.

A former film journalist, Rajeev Masand currently directs a talent management agency in mumbai

From HT Brunch, July 9, 2022

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