The Ring

Reading recent pieces, and Karan Johar’s comments about the importance of publicists and stylists in Bollywood, you are reminded of the time, not so long ago, when the relationship between stars and the media was not so complicated.

Stars used to have a secretary, who was an all-rounder, doing everything from negotiating contracts to fixing appointments with journalists. More often than not stars answered their own phones, except when they wanted to avoid someone, then a servant would say they were in the bathroom; that was the euphemism for unavailability.

Now they have a whole battery of managers, publicists, image consultants, and to get to them is like swimming through shark-infested waters. It’s not even as if all these people are particularly efficient or professional. They still come up with dumb excuses like “didn’t get mail/sms” and when they answer e-mailed questionnaires on behalf of their client, the replies are boringly monotonous.

Nobody had heard of stylists—stars got the hair cut that suited them best, and then kept it forever, wearing wigs if they were required to look older or younger. Only villains and comedians had get-ups. In public they wore whatever they had picked on their foreign jaunts, and nobody noticed or cared if they wore the same shoes or belt twice. If they had a bit of a spare tyre around the middle, it was okay, they were prosperous. The term six-pack was unheard of!

Now, for every film, their hair and bodies are changed—and the media catalogues it all. They cannot wear anything but designer outfits costing obscene amounts of money. If they dare carry the same bag twice, they are reviled. If a female shows too little cleavage she is an ‘aunty’ is she shows too much, she is desperate. Flab must never be seen, and god forbid if there’s a bit of cellulite—might as well retire. It’s a wonder they can bring themselves to go out at all, considering everyone is looking with magnifying glasses at their flaws.

Star stylists, hair dressers, trainers and dieticians are stars themselves, these days, their fee going up as their clients ascend the Bollywood hierarchy. Earlier stars used to travel to shoots with their hair-dresser, make-up man and spot boy, now their entourage includes personal trainers, stylists, dieticians, cooks, publicists and managers. They have “spokespersons” if statements are to be made or rumours refuted. If their image has taken a battering due to some misdemeanor, or just a flop film, it’s the image consultant’s job to fix it—organize exclusive TV appearances, flatter, threaten, bribe or cajole the right people, and lo and behold their auras are clean again, and their films are always superhits.

At least in these matters of “image” our film celebs are aspiring to be on par with Hollywood. The films they make… that’s another matter altogether!

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