Mumbai's college students turning paparazzi and are getting paid a tidy sum for it
From college students to delivery men, the Mumbai paparazzi is now your average celeb-struck guy armed with a camera
It's a weekday evening, and the lane towards Kareena Kapoor's residence on Bandra's 29th Road looks desolate, save a few people camping outside the highrise. Had we arrived 15 minutes earlier, the scene would have been different. For now, the hullaballoo is over.
The 12-odd men, who were at the spot with their phone cameras and DSLRs have shot a "spotted" picture of Dangal actor Fatima Sana Shaikh and dispersed. Some, though, have chosen to stay put because who knows, Bebo may step onto the balcony for fresh air, or Saif might take little Taimur for a stroll. Anything can happen. But, at no cost, can it go undocumented, at least not under their watch.
Rise of the new-age paps
But these men are not your run-of-the-mill paparazzi. Admittedly, they are fans first. And, it seems their fandom is paying off. Having spent years fervently tracking the movements of their favourite celebrity, clicking selfies with them at events and thereby building their own fan base on Instagram, they are now being hired by established paparazzi photographers for their services. "I'm still doing what I did two years ago. Except now, I get paid for it," says Bivash Biswas, who has been working with photographer Viral Bhayani for the last nine months. Unlike other photographers who have zipped off to Juhu and the airport for more celeb spotting, Biswas' territory is concentrated in Bandra West.
His areas of interest are mapped out: Bastian at Linking Road, Sequel Bistro & Juice Bar on 33rd Road, Otter's Club near Joggers Park and Gold's Gym at Pali Naka. "Of course, if I get a tip off, I have to rush to whatever the location might be," says the 21-year-old Kalyan resident. His bio on Instagram - populated with just celebrity images - reads, "Bollywood Photographer, Social Media Monkey, Wish me 21 October". But a two-minute scroll is enough to tell you that for Biswas, Ranveer Singh is king. "After watching Band Baja Baaraat, I was floored by his energy and enthusiasm," he says. Even if it meant, waking up at 5 am, attending college in Kalyan from 7 am to 10 am and then heading to Bandra where he'd keep watch till 10 pm. In the absence of a vehicle, Biswas hitches a ride with other photographers or takes an auto, spending Rs 200 just moving around Bandra.
Sneh Zala, an 18-year-old SYBCom student at a Vile Parle college, who works for photographer Manav Manglani, says he's in the job for Deepika Padukone. His forte is taking videos. "My happiest moment was when Deepika addressed me by name," gushes Zala, who actively started tracking Padukone through fan pages on social media three years ago and then started spotting her at Bandra events. Zala says in 2017, when Padukone completed a decade in the industry a press conference had been held to mark the occasion. With other photographers, he bought her a cake. That's when he got his first picture with his favourite star.
Bhayani, who has turned a few fanboys into paps, pegs this as a typically Mumbai phenomenon given the craze around Bollywood. "Honestly, it's we photographers who birthed the trend. A couple of years ago, newspapers had begun rejecting the late night party images because it had become run-of-the-mill, so we had to reinvent our portfolio," he says. Flushed faces of celebrities exiting the gym became the prototype. "It was positive, inspiring and aspirational," he says.
"They had the news before us"
By now, the number has gone up with more young men, most still in their teens, joining the clan. It's also clear that the average age of the paparazzi has gone down with more fresh faces in the midst of seasoned news photographers. Photographer Manav Manglani, who regularly supplies celebrity images to leading websites and publications, has roped in two youngsters as well. "They are college students and are passionate about doing this on the side," he says. Manglani recalls the time, three years ago, when he started receiving DMs (direct messages) on Instagram from random people offering their selfies with celebrities. "Initially I ignored it, but later I realised that they have confounding information about celebrity whereabouts. Sometimes, they used to get the news before me!" he laughs. The boys receive a monthly salary which starts from Rs 10K and can go up to even R40K depending on their performance.
Bhayani, too, admits that 80 per cent of the time, he receives the tip-offs from fans. He has even hired a former delivery boy and an airport loader. Their network is built by scouring celebrity hangouts and befriending locals around the periphery. It's a full-time job, says Bhayani. "They might rank low on photography skills, but their passion is unmatched. You and I will not be willing to spend six hours waiting for a celebrity to emerge from his home, but they will, and happily," he adds.
His words ring true. On an average, Biswas spends anywhere between 10 to 12 hours on field. Once the deed is done, he and his paparazzi gang return to pavilion which is the lane outside Saifeena's home. It's not uncommon for the Bollywood couple to offer them tea or coffee. "We usually decline because they are sweet not to object to our presence here. Which is why this has now become our adda," he laughs. Sayyad Khutub, another fan-turned-pap, admits he has had to sleep on the platform and sometimes even at the airport because he missed the last train. The challenge, though, is not the long hours, but in beating competition. "Particularly pesky are bouncers who sometimes want to squat us like flies. Once in the melee outside the airport, my camera dropped to the floor," he says. The job, even if fun, is much like any other job.
All three admit to barely having a life outside of work. Zala, who is still in college, takes leave during exams. "Education is a priority, and my boss doesn't cut my pay for this," he says. Khutub, on the other, says he has had to cut down on the girlfriend time.
Bivash Biswas, 21
Part-time paparazzo since April 2018
Haunts: Ranveer Singh
Best picture because: He had returned from Simmba promotions, and on seeing us he broke into this little jig. I appreciate the way he treats photographers and fans. He is friendly, fun and always ready to pose with us.
A matter of ethics
While it's a win-win for the ordinary pap and the person hiring their services, others in the business are not pleased. A senior photojournalist with a leading broadsheet, says, "These are random phone-wielding fans who will do anything for a selfie. Etiquettes and ethics take a backseat, which is why in the wake of any untoward incident (unsavoury comment or manhandling), the entire frat gets blamed because who can tell a photojournalist from a pap," he argues.
A female photographer who works at a broadsheet says it's unfair that a person with no training gets it this easy. "We have been working in the field for over a decade, but these people are getting a one-up only because they will go to any lengths for a picture. There's no love for journalism here."
Sayyad Khutub, 27
Former AC repair guy
Part-time paparazzo since March 2018
Haunts: Shraddha Kapoor
Best picture because: This one is special because it was the first-ever picture I had shot as paparazzi.
Rajnish Kakade, secretary of the Bombay News Photography Association (BNPA), admits that they have received several complaints from stars and fellow photographers on the issue. "Stars have complained that they are being stalked. And that their conduct has been unprofessional. So we have issued warnings to the freelance photographers who have hired them," he says. Kakade, however, adds that due to the lack of regulation, they aren't in a position to put an end to the practice. "We can't because nowhere does it say that you can't do it."
The paps, though, are unfazed. While Zala wants to be a photojournalist, Biswas wants to continue being a paparazzi. "I have attended PR events where it's all organised, and that's no fun. The kick is in the chase."
Over the last three years, with the rise in demand for 'spotted' pics and access to platforms such as Instagram, once fans have now turned much-in-demand celeb photographers armed with a smartphone or a basic DSLR
Driving the traffic
Malini Agarwal of MissMalini.com sources images from various service providers including Bhayani and Manglani. "How much they send us depends on how much activity there is on a given day. But yes, spotted pictures do well, but it also depends on the subject and occasion. Celebrity baby spotting is always a hit because people love cute kiddy photos." What also works are weddings, A-listers, candids, airport style and red carpets.
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