Once upon a time, apart from the other perks that came with stardom, celebrities enjoyed the luxury of complete privacy. Stars could choose when to make a public appearance or retreat into their private space, with some of them living in proverbial ivory towers. Back then, Bollywood stars were not easily accessible and thanks to limited media exposure, they were free to lead normal lives, without attracting untoward attention.
Hrithik Roshan gets manhandled by a fan at a multiplex, during the screening of his last release, 'Bang Bang'
Bollywood’s reigning stars are far more exposed to public glare, thanks to an omnipresent media and the social media boom. A star’s every waking moment is on record. And every bit of information — from what the star eats to where s/he travels — is out there for public consumption. Although the effect of this on actors’ popularity charts is debatable, it does leave them vulnerable. While stars today share a personal rapport with their fans, on the flip side, their safety is compromised. And here is where a bodyguard comes in.
While yesteryear stars managed to conduct their lives and careers without being surrounded by beefy men, today’s stars cannot imagine a life without their personal bodyguards.
Mayur Shettigar has been Hrithik Roshan’s bodyguard for long
“During the ’70s and ’80s, a star’s visibility was limited to films. To get an autograph or catch a glimpse of your favourite star was a task in itself. Today, there are so many mediums through which a fan can come in close contact with a favourite star,” says an industry pundit.
While celebrities struggle with over exposure, it is not an easy ride for their bodyguards. They not only have to keep overzealous fans at bay, in most cases, they also monitor the stars’ moods and double up as their confidants and secretaries. In some cases, where the bodyguard ends up working for the star 24x7, he is treated as family.
Shahid Kapoor with bodyguard Yusuf Ibrahim
Mayur Shettigar, who has been Hrithik Roshan’s bodyguard for long, says he is treated like a younger brother by the actor. But it doesn’t make his job easy. “It is tough to handle a superstar because of fans and stalkers. You not only need strength, but also presence of mind. There is always an optional route or exit plan ready since we can’t rely on one entry and exit point (at public events and appearances).”
Amitabh Bachchan arrives at the airport with bodyguards in tow
Talking about an incident where a fan got too close to the star, catching him off guard, Shettigar says he had to act quickly. “Last year, when Hrithik had visited a multiplex for a special screening of his film, a young fan arrived from nowhere and held Hrithik’s neck from behind. I was taken aback for a second but quickly sprung into action, freed the actor from the man and escorted him safely to the car. In no time, the youth dissapeared from the scene. Such incidents are common,” he says.
SRK with his entourage
Sunny Leone feels that the safety and security of an actor should be given priority. “I am not sure about the trend in the ’80s, but safety is always a priority for me. It’s the most important aspect while doing our job.”
Bodyguard Yusuf Ibrahim with Sunny Leone
Yusuf Ibrahim, who has handled stars’ security for the last five years, agrees that escorting a star has its challenges. “It all depends on the situation we are in. I do my homework before escorting any superstar to a location. The problem I face is when we exit a venue and travel to an event. Some crazy fans ride their bikes rashly to get a glimpse or take pictures with the star. To control and convince them not to risk their life is a problem.”
SRK with his entourage
Don’t flaunt it
Actress Raveena Tandon, feels that it’s fine to have a bodyguard, but there’s no point in flaunting one. She says, “Honestly, we worked in this industry without bodyguards earlier. But these days, it seems imperative and convenient since so many security agencies have cropped up. To control crowds at events, trained personnel are necessary to prevent an untoward incident from taking place. But I think some people overdo it. I’ve seen some stars travel with eight bodyguards in protected places like airports and restaurants. That, I feel, is a bit much.”
Zarine Khan, who made her debut with Salman Khan in 'Veer' (2010), says, with time, fans have grown more aggressive. “Earlier, bodyguards were hired only for the top lot (of actors). Today, along with it being a status symbol, it’s also imperative to have one for security. Fans show their appreciation and love with aggression. It could get quite dangerous not only for the star, but for people around as well. Hence, one should be alert while stepping out. The world has changed. With it becoming more competitive and aggressive, support staff is extremely important.”
On the other side of the spectrum, there are stars who step out without any protection. Richa Chadha, for instance, hires a bodyguard only while attending an event. “I don't have one. I don’t need one at present. I only request for bouncers when I am headed to a crowded event or location.”