India is having such a moment in the world right now. With ‘Naatu Naatu’ sweeping a bagful of awards, including the Oscar, and the Dior fashion house presenting an international collection in Mumbai, 2023 is indeed historic for India.
Other than the powerhouses creating and fronting both these mega events, there is a small army of people who are actually bringing these visuals to us, to our phones. These are our photographers, rudely called the paparazzi, but singularly responsible for making stars so accessible to us. We have all seen the viral videos of these hardworking and funny men calling out to Gigi Hadid, Zendaya and Nick Jonas in the colloquial manner.
India’s paparazzi culture is new, but I am certainly glad it has come at a time when we are ready for it. Our digital prowess is renowned: According to Statista.com, we have 692 million internet users and 467 social media users as of February 2023. These numbers are gobsmacking, and have led to such an amazing democratisation of media that it deserves comment.
When I started working as a journalist 22 years ago, my newsroom had no internet or even computer monitors in colour. In fact, it was the first time I began to write on a computer. I remember telling my editor, the very old but so au courant Behram Contractor, that I would write my article in a notebook and then type it out on the computer. He gently said, “Then you’ll be doing that forever, just get used to writing on a computer instead.” And so I did.
We had one computer in another room that had an internet connection, and we could check our emails whenever we wanted to. Press releases came hand-delivered along with photographs from the event or party the day before. The captions were written by pen behind the photos. Often party photographers like Yogen Shah and Viral Bhayani would come to the office and wait in the lobby with a few hundred celebrity photos. They would get paid a measly Rs200 for each photo used, and we could use it multiple times.
The new world order has thankfully changed that. Paparazzi photographers are the most sought-after people in the media today. Newspapers and websites still depend on them for celebrity pictures. But now, thanks to their gargantuan number of followers (Bhayani has over 5.3 million followers on Instagram, Manav Manglani has 2.6 million, Varinder Chawla has 1.3 million and Shah has 1.4 million), celebrities are chasing them to get their photos taken.
These shutterbugs have smartly started getting paid for posting pictures, often by A-list celebrities too. They now charge between Rs10,000 and Rs50,000 per post, depending on the celebrity, the brand and the assignment. Where they would make a few hundred rupees a day, they can now make a couple of lakhs.
For example, now that ‘airport looks’ are such a big deal, celebrity managers used to tip off the photographers when the star would be arriving and from which gate. Stars walk in and out of the airport looking surprised that they are stalked, knowing fully well that the photographers have been paid by them to be present. But now the photographers are so in demand that celebrities have to go to the section of the airport where they are waiting, just to make their job easier. You want your picture taken, you come to us, we ain’t running between gates waiting for you.
So many of them may remain faceless to the half a billion people checking out their work on the phone, but we can hear them, “Kareenaji left side. Priyankaji right side.”
Yes, they are finally heard.