‘Don’t you have good things to say about Bollywood? One look at your blog and it seems that our film industry is full of people who have gone mental.’
These were the words of an actress I spoke to last night. She might be right. But there are exceptions.
And today, I am going to narrate one such story that goes against all unpopular notions about Bollywood actresses.
I consider organising photo-shoots with Bollywood actors the most difficult part of my job. Don’t get me wrong, it’s got nothing to do their legendary nakhras, but for the sheer amount of coordination that goes into it.
Apart from getting a proper venue or a studio, one has to coordinate with the PR, dress designer, make-up person, stylist and the photographer.
Any Bollywood journalist will tell you that it might take months to coordinate a proper photo-session with a leading Bollywood star. We are all aware of the hard work that goes into it. But then there’s no greater satisfaction than to see readers appreciating it and picking up copies from the stands.
I must admit I used to hate organizing these Bollywood photo-shoots.
Same Day, Last Year
Last year, a special team of journalists re-grouped in Kolkata to launch a new Bengali newspaper called Ei Samay (The Times). I was also included in the launch team as a Bollywood specialist.
Spearheaded and steered by the finest hands and brains from The Times of India group, the paper’s launch was a resounding success.
But it was just the beginning.
Close on the heels of a super-successful launch, we faced another challenge — of bringing out a special edition for Durga Pujo, the biggest festival of Kolkata.
We decided at the edit meet that a special shoot with an A-list Bollywood actress would make our edition stand out. As expected, I took up the responsibility of arranging that, but not without some apprehension.
Just before the Puja, I lost my mother to cancer and my world had come crashing down. Given the situation at home, I had not decided on my return date to Mumbai.
In desperation, I sent out text messages to 12 people on my phone-book, requesting their help to arrange a photo-shoot within seven days with a top Bollywood actress.
Most of them thought I was out of my mind. Two didn’t responded, three sent smileys as an answer and four others wondered if I had lost my common sense.
What happened next was surreal.
‘How are you? 🙂 :-)’
… It was a text message from Vidya Balan, four hours later. I thought she was being nice to me and in reply, I enquired about her health.
She then specifically asked about the deadline of the shoot. I replied that I had only seven days to get it done. I acknowledged that it was too much to expect that she would upset her shooting schedule for the photo-shoot. I still thanked her for showing interest.
She again sent two smileys back.
Next, I called up my editor and said that I won’t be able to deliver the photo-shoot. My editor replied that I am putting too much pressure on myself and ordered me to proceed on leave considering the tragedy in my family.
But two hours later my phone was buzzing again.
It was a call from a member of Vidya Balan’s team. She requested if I could speak to a particular fashion photographer and brief him about the shoot. He is one of the best known fashion photographers in Mumbai.
When I called the photographer up, he told me that Vidya had already briefed him about the shoot. He just wanted a reference photo. He hastily added that he wouldn’t charge my company a penny as he was shooting purely on Vidya’s request.
The picture on the right is the reference photo that I mailed to the photographer and Vidya’s PR.
The next day, Vidya’s PR called up to ask if I have a budget for the shoot and whether I will be able to pay for make-up, hair and styling.
I said, ‘Yes’.
Half an hour later, she called me again to confirm that they have arranged for the make-up person, stylist and a hair-stylist — all within my budget.
Another hour later, I get a message from the photographer that he will shoot in his own studio and that too would come free-of-cost.
Towards the end of the day, Vidya texted me that she will wear a Sabyasachi saree for the shoot, so I need not bother about sourcing her costume.
All this was happening when I was dealing with a posse of unknown relatives who had descended at my Kolkata house, apparently to grieve with my father.
The day passed like a daze.
Five days later, the shoot was done.
On the day of the shoot, Vidya’s PR called me just before the shoot to tell me that she was in the studio, getting ready for the shoot. There were no requests made for a vanity van where she could get her make-up done. The make-up and her hair was done in the studio itself.
For the next three hours, her PR kept updating me about the progress of the shoot, even informing me about the exact time when the first shot was clicked.
By late evening, I got a text message from Vidya saying that the shoot was done and that “the photographs are very nice”.
Here is the best photograph from the shoot. Look how exactly Vidya has replicated the reference photograph that was sent to her staff.
Unable to express my gratitude properly, I just sent her a ‘thank you’ text.
She then sent me the last text message for the day, “My deepest condolences for your mother.”
I was so overcome with emotions that I couldn’t send a reply to that message.
Till date, I feel I have not thanked her enough.
For people who can read Bengali, here is the newspaper page where the picture was published.
Here are a few more pictures from the shoot.
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* The post has been updated on October 4, 2014.
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