The festive season is upon us and the last few weeks have seen some elegant evenings that have involved serious red carpet dressing. Movie premieres, fancy mall openings, high-powered parties as well as several fashion events have had stars and wanna-shines show up in their dazzling best. Diwali parties with paparazzi waiting outside the gates have just begun.
Among all this was the opening ceremony of the just-concluded Mumbai film festival, or MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Image). It returned after four years to bring back to us a room full of glittering movie stars from across India, South Asia, and some from Europe and the US, too. Since two of the co-hosts are Isha Ambani and Priyanka Chopra (the third is journalist Anupama Chopra, who puts it all together), the event was filled with A-listers. It was so refreshing to see the likes of Mani Ratnam and Kamal Haasan show up and take their seats on time, almost two hours before everyone else did.
Most importantly, the two wore their own clothes. As did several filmmakers and actors from across the world. But so many of our Bollywood celebrities—both big and small—came dressed to the nines, almost as if a small team had put them together.
Not even half the celebrities who attended stayed for the opening ceremony and the ensuing awards. They made an appearance on the red carpet outside, against a massive backdrop featuring the names of all the sponsors, posed for the few dozen paparazzi photographers, said their hellos in the waiting area, and then just left.
This makes me wonder whether stars are at an event only for the red carpet. The answer is often yes.
Appearances count the most in this visual age of digital media. Your stake is often worth just how many media houses and social media handles have posted your photo. None of this is vanity, mind you. This is all work. Celebrities have understood that their public image depends on red carpets and airport looks alone. They may despise it or deride it all they want, but they all partake of the new paparazzi culture.
This week alone I have watched a top heroine attend four public events. This means she has to spend half the day getting ready, hiring a stylist, a makeup artist, and a photographer to organise it all, with the help of her personal manager. Each event must cost an actor Rs1 lakh to Rs2 lakh just to show up.
Often, this is paid by the actors themselves. Unless it is a film promotion; then it is the production house that foots this bill. The stylist’s job is the toughest here. They may act as friends with the stars, but their main work is to hustle between designers, HMU (hair and makeup) teams, and accessories labels, and get the best look at the lowest cost.
Post MAMI, I read a heartwarming post by actor Rajshri Deshpande discouraging her struggling colleagues to dress up for events. “As a part of glamours media (sic) world there is a myth people have created that one has to wear designer stuff to gain a certain reputation,” she said. “And I know many who can’t afford it…. No good casting director will cast you seeing your designer dresses. Honestly most of the celebrities look the same so create your own style that may get different ideas to the creators to cast you in different roles.”
I can’t say I agree. Talent alone won’t build a career. But talent in a killer dress shows you are ready to play the game.