With all shoots, premieres, parties and events facing a shut down in Mumbai’s entertainment industry, and social distancing becoming a necessary precautionary measure to fight the coronavirus pandemic, Bollywood actors have stopped stepping out of their homes. So, what’s left for Mumbai’s buzzing team of celebrity photographers to track and shoot?
Celebrities Hard to Spot
“Celebrity sightings have come down to 10%,” says Bollywood photographer Manav Manglani, “so I don’t feel the need to send as many photographers out now. Let’s say I have 10 photographers working for me, 5 are working today and 5 will work tomorrow and do their shifts”.
“Earlier we used capture around 20-25 celebrities at various locations, but now we can spot hardly 2 or 3 actors outside. But, we still have the pressure to create content, if we don’t keep delivering something to channels and publications then we will have to shut down,” Manav laughs.
“Half my photographers are bored sitting at home also, so they go around looking for news features, like a dog wearing a face mask, you know that kind of stories because celebrities are hardly stepping out because of the coronavirus,” says Viral Bhayani another Bollywood photographer who has a paparazzi team. He was the first amongst Mumbai’s team of photographers to announce on his Instagram that his team would largely be offline because of the coronavirus threat.
“The only celebrities we see are those who step out to meet friends, like on Wednesday there were some celebrities who were spotted at Karan Johar’s mom’s birthday,” Viral adds.
“If stars come out and behave like things are normal, they will get trolled, it will send a bad message that this particular star is still partying, so there is some pressure for them to also stay indoors,” is how photographer Yogen Shah sees things.
No Pics Please, We Are Social Distancing
“I have told my photographers to maintain a distance from celebrities, keep a 10 feet distance and shoot, don’t ask for them to pose or anything. I have told them, don’t ask for selfies also, and even tell selfie-seekers to stay away from celebrities,” says Manav.
“Most photographers are also wearing face masks while doing their rounds now” says Manav, “we have asked them not to mingle amongst each other. Most of my photographers roam around solo on bikes, so it’s not so dangerous.”
“I have told my boys to wear face masks and not to hang around together too much, because normally everybody sits around in one place while they wait for celebrities. They have alcohol based hand sanitisers on them, so they are taking all precautions,” Viral adds.
Flash to the Future
With experts modestly estimating that the time taken for things to return to normal to be at least a couple of months, how bad is it going to be for these photographers to keep earning despite the drought of celeb spottings?
“As of now all my photographers are with me, there is no question of letting them go. Even if I have to pay them from my pocket, their salaries will be paid,” says Manav.
“All my photographers will be paid their salaries, just because you are sick it doesn’t mean that people working for you should suffer. My photographers have been with me right through the good times and bad times and now these are bad times for them so I will stand by them,” adds Viral.
Yogen Shah talks about a case where one of his lensmen did not want to step out of his home, “One of my photographers told me that his parents had told him not to go to work, so I had to allow him, we don’t want to force anyone to come to work at this time.”
Viral adds a cautionary note, “Even if this condition continues for 2 or 3 months, we will continue working with precautions. I think this will go on for some time, it is not going to end soon.”
“It will be a complete breakdown if things don’t get back to normal in a month, associations have to come together and raise funds for the daily wage earners, we’ll have to come together and do what we can,” says Manglani.
But there is a sense of unease among the photographers on the ground who do the daily leg work. “Some of our bosses are kind and understand that we should be protected during this time, but there are others who are not so kind, they will cut our salary if we do not report for work every day,” said a shutterbug who did not want to be named. “Right now I am sitting outside Kareena Kapoor’s house, and there are around 13 photographers here, so it’s not like we have cut down on our work,” he adds.
Though there has been a boom in the number of paparazzi one sees in Mumbai over the last few years, they are still quite an unorganised working class. They are not employed via contracts, nor do they get any salary slips or regular employee benefits. While the organisations like the Producers Guild of India and FWICE have announced their plans to help out the daily wage earners from the film industry during this shutdown period, Mumbai’s paparazzi would need to rely solely on their employers to see them through.
Here’s our award winning short doc which will give you a peek into the lives of Mumbai’s paparazzi: