The wheelers and the dealers of Bollywood

In all my earlier posts I told you stories about Bollywood stars. In this post, we will be talking about a tribe of professionals who remote control Bollywood stars.

They are better known as publicity managers or PRs.

These are the people, who actually decide which stories should reach your ears and which should never see the light of the day.

Till 15 years back, Bollywood stars used have the phone numbers of most film journalists in their phone-books. Almost all film reporters had direct access to the stars. Reputed journalists were known to party, dine with stars and had free access to their homes and film sets.

During that time, it was common knowledge that top Bollywood stars had their own coterie of journalists and they used to play an equal part in helping the star get the kind of publicity he or she aspired for.

As a result, Bollywood as a beat used to be bitchy, full of gossip and candid confessions. Entertainment journalism during those days used to be interesting and fun.

Some of the best articles and journalists have emerged during this period and a lot of them continue to rule the roost even today.

In the last 15 years, journalists have developed the same kind of access to star publicists as they had with the stars before.

Replace the word ‘star’ with ‘PR’ and you will get a picture of Bollywood journalism today. Today, having direct access to PRs of stars is as close as one can get to the stars themselves.

So, now every star PR has a coterie of journalists. Some journalists have free access to a particular PR of a star, while others can never get through to that PR. Whether or not a journalist will be able to write an exclusive story or get a star interview is determined by the PR.

In short, roughly about 85 per cent of the Bollywood news and interviews that you see circulating in print, electronic and online media have been sent out by PRs though the journalists they have on their ‘lists’.

Journalists close to most number of PRs have the most number of Facebook display pictures where he or she is grinning beside a  star. Ask the star about the journalist and more often than not, the actor will give you a blank look and point out towards his or her PR.

This is what entertainment journalism has come to today. Are there exceptions? Yes! There are, but they are a minority.

So, remember that most of the things that you read or see in the traditional media these days have been ‘manufactured and packaged’ after a lot of meetings and discussions in a PR or a star office. After journalists have been handed the ‘news package’, he or she just adds their own garnishing before serving the ‘news’ to the news desk.

There are some ‘journalists’ who don’t even make the effort of garnishing the piece of ‘news’ handed out to them. Instead, they copy and paste from their emails and send them off to the news desk for editing. In some cases, these news pieces are not edited at all due to a severe crunch of good people on the copy desk. As a result, there are times when you see a PR press release appearing as ‘news’ without any intervention from a journalist or a sub-editor.

There are also strange instances where a PR ends up getting more publicity than the stars they are representing. A classic example would be of Dale Bhagwagar. There was a time when Dale was representing Shilpa Shetty. Dale got great mileage, specially with the Hindi TV channels, with every small news about Shilpa Shetty that he deftly curated. Instances such as Shilpa Shetty getting a few crank calls would be blown out of proportion and Dale would be seen defending  his client on a ‘live’ interview with two TV anchors grilling him. Watch how this interview starts looking funny after a point.

Is there a star without a PR?

There are Bollywood stars, who don’t have PRs, but they are so rare. For the longest time, John Abraham and Rani Mukerji used to function without a PR. But even they have decided to have a PR of late. There are a lot of stars who don’t have a regular PR, but when the need arises, they always ensure that there’s a PR to shield them from a journalist.

Every big Bollywood star has a PR today. Right from Amitabh Bachchan to the Khans, from Katrina Kaif to Asin Thottumkal — they all have a PR, who are constantly monitoring the journalists and in turn, regulating the information that is flowing into the entertainment space masquerading as ‘news’.

Unfortunately, entertainment and lifestyle journalism (which usually involves writing about luxury brands, socialites, fashion houses etc) have become ‘beats’ where news and interviews are strictly regulated and monitored by a handful of publicists.

There is no other beat, where news is moderated the way it is done in the entertainment and lifestyle space. In other beats, journalists are more independent and have to work harder on their articles.

Are there film journalists who work on their own and have their contacts at the right places? Yes there are a few of them. But the numbers of such journalists are dwindling so fast that you can almost count them on your fingers.

Today, an entertainment journalist is known by his or her Facebook photos. To figure out how ‘prolific’ an entertainment journalist is, you just need to go to his or her Facebook profile and browse through the photos. Now, count the number of pictures where he or she is grinning beside a Bollywood star, who appears nonchalant to the charade they are taking part in. There you go!

In most of the cases, the star would never remember the journalist, but the PR of the star would swear by the journalist.

But inspite of all this, the entertainment beat is more or less ‘clean’ – it has lesser instances of underhand dealings or bribes.

Then how does a star PR wield so much power? Well, that’s the subject of our next post.

Before we go, here is a short and funny video of how a PR goof-up can become big news. Here is a news report about how Dia Mirza sacked her publicist after she revealed to the media that she has no Bollywood films in her kitty.

The next post on the same topic -> Why Bollywood journalism is endangered

Short-link of the post ->

17 replies »

  1. Shilpa Shetty won Big Brother in 2007, but I remember she was constantly in controversial news and gossip headlines for every little thing from 2004 to 2010. I often read the name of this Dale PR everywhere and saw him addressing various controversies on Shilpa’s behalf on almost every news channel! He engineered maddening hype for Shilpa Shetty, inspite of the fact that it was Aishwarya Rai, Rani Mukerji and Kareena Kapoor who were actually giving all the superhits during that period. Later on, I read that this publicist was hired by Swami Nithyananda and felt very angry. Why would a spiritual guru need media publicity? The very fact that this PR accepted this assignment, proves that he can hype anyone for money.


  2. It originates from the word ‘Propoganda’. An Austrian-American guy called Edward Bernays is considered to be ‘the father of public relations’. In India, Dale Bhagwagar has given a totally new dimention to contemperory Bollywood PR by spinning controversy into hardcore news.


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