Who is making Taimur Ali Khan Internet's most followed toddler in India?
Celebrity child Taimur Ali Khan has a following that rivals an A-lister's, and fanatic support from fan groups. What makes him India's most photographed celebrity kid?
A facebook page called Pictures of Taimur Ali Khan To Distract You From Real Issues rests on a formula that marries the paparazzi's performance with socio-political opinion. Every few posts, there is a Taimur twist to national news or opinion that's largely critical of the government. "Has Taimur hacked your heart just like our supreme leader's regime hacked into EVMs" reads a post from May 28, 2018.
Actors Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor's nearly-two-year-old son is inspiration on social media. Even before managing to build any body of work, he has spawned fan groups that rival those of established stars. The latest on that front, published in the entertainment pages of this paper, is that founders of fan groups have lovingly christened him Tai Tai.
Taimur snapped on a swing at his Bandra residence. Pic/Shadab Khan
Aparna Sudhir is one of them. The 18-year-old resident of Vasai has skipped college and travelled all the way to Carter Road to tell us what makes her mad about Taimur. @taimuralikhanpataudi, the Instagram fan account she has been running since 2016 has gathered 74,000 followers. She started it back when Kareena Kapoor Khan announced her pregnancy.
"At that time, I had called the account JuniorSaifeena, and it carried pictures of Saif and Kareena," she tells us. Sudhir clarifies that she is first a fan of the actor couple. The account was born when she wondered, "how do I get closer to the two of them?"
Supriyo Mukherjee, 25-year-old behind an FB page that uses Taimur’s photos for social and political commentary. Pic/Nishad Alam
That she had bet her time on a celebrity in the making even before he was born makes her smile proudly. "Taimur is very young, and hasn't achieved anything yet, but I feel deep admiration for his parents." It took us a while to convince Sudhir to come meet us. She has preferred to remain anonymous after Instagrammers trolled her for exploiting a child for publicity.
"They said I have extra time on my hands, that I am using a kid to gain fame. But they are a minority. Most followers genuinely like the pictures I curate and post. He is too cute. How can one not like him?"
Soha Ali Khan
The idea of the pseudo relationship she shares with the Kapoor-Khan family makes her responsible for what she posts. She stays away from sharing pictures where his family chooses to cover his face in a private moment, or when he is being chased by fans. A video that was shared widely of a passer-by attempting to take a selfie with him outside his residence, before his nanny chased him away, is one that Sudhir stayed away from and in fact, criticised. "That day, my post was about why it was wrong to have done that to a child," says the daughter of a schoolteacher.
The creator of Pictures of Taimur Ali Khan To Distract You From Real Issues is Delhi-based Supriyo Mukherjee, who works with bookmyshow.com. When the young man noticed how Indians preferred entertainment news and gossip over discussion about the state of their country, he thought, why not take a little help from social media sensation, Taimur.
"I get it [why we prefer entertainment news]. We all lead stressful lives, and a look at him takes the stress away. So, I thought, let me use his pictures to offer a social message," says Mukherjee, 25, whose earlier experience at a viral video website taught him the art of using humour to make a point. "He is too young to be thought of in a certain way. But people are polarised over him! At least, this way, the page gets attention, and I can poke people into introspection."
The social media star
Interestingly, the first picture of Taimur that appeared online a year and eight months ago, stirred a debate about fake and real. While fans celebrated the first glimpse, Kareena's publicist denied having shared any official pictures. It was not until much later that an arresting close up of his face — his eyes narrowed, pout in place — appeared online. And since then, his life has been photographed, documented, shared, and coochie-cooed at, every day. Celebrity obsession, fuelled by Instagram, is at its peak, and this means that children of famous people are tracked even more closely than their parents. Fans, roaming the streets of Bandra and Juhu with mega-pixel cameras, compete with trained media photographers.
British celebrity photgrapher George Bamby
Instagrammers spend hours trawling for pictures of Taimur, discussing his swag, alabaster cheeks, quirky shoes and weakness for toy horses. The photographers spend an equal amount of time outside his Bandra residence waiting for a picture. Senior photographer at mid-day, Shadab Khan, who has often been on "Taimur duty", says there are two likely points in the day to bag a photo — late morning, when he may appear on the balcony for time on the swing, and in the evening, when he heads out to play. That he responds to photographers instead of recoiling like most children his age, looks them in the eye and often breaks into a gurgling smile makes him an easy delight with the press.
Entertainment websites, usually given to offering delicious slideshows, agree that Taimur's pictures are a gamechanger. A spokesperson from Pinkvilla, a Bollywood and TV gossip and news website, says they experience higher reader engagement when his pictures are posted. "It's a pattern we see with all star kids, but with Taimur, it's different altogether." Their only brief to independent photographers that feed them is to capture expression. Although there isn't a mandate on how many Taimur pictures can go up in a day, there is a "focus to cover him without fail whenever spotted".
Luxury and lifestyle writer Riaan George likes Taimur's family's happy vibe
The fame-is-no-big-deal family
Riaan George, a luxury blogger and writer, admits he is a fan of the toddler. Taimur's pictures are common in his Instagram stories. "He has good genes. Everyone likes his father, and is obsessed with his mother, so why won't we be obsessed with him? He looks happy, and it's that happy family vibe that I like best," says George. Unlike other actor parents, the Kapoor-Khan family doesn't break into a sweat when their kids are photographed. While Kareena and Saif don't have social media accounts of their own, Saif's sister Soha Ali Khan (1.5m followers), Kareena's sister Karisma Kapoor (3.4m followers) and Taimur's older sister Sara (218k followers), who awaits her Bollywood debut, are far from reluctant to share vignettes from Taimur's life.
A June 20 picture of the family in London on Karisma's Insta page ran with the message, Missing Taimur, leading the media to wonder why the little one hadn't accompanied the parents on holiday. The most recent posts to have created a tizzy on the net were from Rakshabandhan, with Taimur dressed in kurta-waistcoat, hanging with cousin and Soha's daughter, Inaaya Naumi Kemmu. Whether handling fame comes naturally to them or whether they choose to publicise their family to protect them from more dangerous and intrusive methods of news digging, is debatable.
Aparna Sudhir, 18, runs a Taimur fan page. It has 74k followers. Pic/Shadab Khan
Unlike in the West, where several celebrity children have their own Instagram accounts run by their parents (tennis star Serena Williams's daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Jr has 1,61,000 followers. She is one year old), Taimur will have to wait till he is 13 to do this since his parents aren't on social media. When this writer had met Kareena for an interview earlier this year, and asked why she wouldn't get on, she had said, "Even if I am not there [on social media through an official account], I am all over Instagram, na?" Her baby shares the same fate.
Blogger Zenia Irani, who posts his pictures with obsessive regularity, says the access the parents have allowed makes things less complicated. "Kareena and Saif seem pretty liberal with him. That's what makes it cool. Doesn't he look like the cherubic angels painted on European murals!" Yogen Shah, one of Mumbai's well-known independent entertainment photographers, says he is yet to hear of an instance when Kareena has snapped at photographers. The ease with which she handled them when she was pregnant is evident even as she flashes a relaxed smile when they call out, 'Taimur, Taimur', trying to get a picture of them as they get into their car. Independent Bollywood photographer Viral Bhayani says his nanny is equally calm. "Gentle and cooperative, she never says, don't take a picture." No digging the infant's face into her arms to shield him, or walking away brusquely when the photographers call. She usually offers them a half smile, a moment to take their picture, before she carries him away safely. "She is protective without being paranoid. She is a half-celebrity herself, now," laughs an entertainment reporter, who does not wish to be named.
The question of ethics
India may be just catching up, but the paparazzi culture now aided by social media frenzy has been a phenomenon for long in the UK. In fact, in 2015, a court awarded British musician Paul Weller's kids a total of £10,000 in damages for breach of privacy, leading to a fear of photographing celebrity kids. Brooklyn Beckham, son of David and Victoria Beckham, or the royal children, especially Prince George, have always been a favourite of paps. One of UK's most popular paparazzi photographers, George Bamby, who has a 25-year-long career, and is known for his candid pictures of the Beckhams, tells mid-day that if there is money to be made, no one is off limits for him, not even celebrity kids.
"They are born into celebrity culture. As soon as they enter the world, they acquire fame. People want to see candid moments from their lives. Everyone was obsessed with Brooklyn since he was two. He is now 18, and has millions of followers, although he hasn't done anything [to deserve it]. These days, Prince George rules the roost. Not only is he the future king, he looks good, and dresses well. That makes it better. Everyone forgets he is just a child."
That is also the case with Taimur, always dressed for an occasion. His tee was striped in the colours of the flag on Independence day this year. Yogen Shah, whose staffer bagged a picture of him holding the Tricolour — a snap that almost broke the Internet — says no other kid comes close. When attending Sonam Kapoor's wedding earlier this year, his usually unruly locks were combed into a Great Gatsby slick hairdo as he twinned with father Saif in churidhar-kurta. An hour before this article is filed, Viral Bhayani posts a picture of Kareena and Taimur leaving their car, both dressed in pale denims, white tees and smart navy keds. As is tradition, Taimur looks straight into the camera. The picture gathers 10,000 likes in less than an hour. A handle that goes by the name @tawdesudeep posts this message: Love u. Humaari mulaqaat zaroor hogi, bro.
Why photographers love Taimur
'Because he is a true prince'
Viral Bhayani, independent entertainment photographer
I treat Taimur like royalty. I believe that in Bollywood, genes matter. His mother belongs to a prominent Bollywood family with a legacy, and his father is a royal with a mother who was a famous actress. This itself makes Taimur stand apart from other celebrity kids. Taimur is not told to smile or pose. He is just himself. Inaya (Soha Ali Khan's daughter and Taimur's cousin) is his closest competitor in popularity.
Then there is Taimur's nanny, gentle and cooperative. She never says, don't take a picture. We (photographers) are constantly around the Kapoor-Khan home, to get the best shot of him, as he goes out to meet his aunts or to play. I think when he finally grows up and gets into acting or endorsing, he will destroy competition.
'No one compares to him'
Yogen Shah, founder of a Bollywood photo service
Maine aisa baccha apne career mein nahin dekha. He has always reminded me of that kid from the Murphy Radio ad that used to come back in the day. When you see Taimur, you are left with a positive feeling; you want to see him again. He has recently begun looking into the camera. Most stars hide their kids, but Kareena and Saif are different. Sometimes, Saif does get miffed, but not Kareena. For instance, we don't get to see Karan Johar's kids as often. If Kareena and Saif had to seclude him, they would easily. My favourite picture of Taimur is where he is seen holding the India flag. When the photographer on my team brought me this photo, my heart melted. I told him, iske liye tujhe inaam milega.
Taimur's global Competition
Prince George of Cambridge, 5 years: After multiple illegal attempts made by the British paparazzi to get a shot of the adorable future king, Kensington Palace released a letter asking the media to boycott these pictures.
North, 5, Saint, 2, and Chicago West, 7 months: Like mother, like kids. Their every move is documented. The camera follows Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's kids everywhere they go.
Back from a drive and At the baddy court
Off for a shaadi
Time for a swim
At the airport. Pics/Sameer Markande, Shadab Khan
Also View Photos: Little Taimur Ali Khan can't get enough of his toy horse
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