Rajat Arora speaks to the PR specialist Dale Bhagwagar who has handled the PR for about a dozen of celebrity participants including Ashmit Patel.
Bollywood PR guru Dale Bhagwagar has handled the media for the maximum number of celebrities on reality shows. Shilpa Shetty (during Big Brother), Vindu Dara Singh, Rakhi Sawant, Sherlyn Chopra, Shamita Shetty, Zulfi Syed, Diana Hayden (Bigg Boss), IshQ Bector (Iss Jungle Se Mujhe Bachcho) and Natasha Suri (Big Switch) are just a few names. Another Bigg Boss winner Rahul Roy has been Dale’s close friend, while the controversial Ashmit Patel is his client during the stint in Bigg Boss. Even Pakistani starlet Veena Malik got invited on the show because of the controversy with Neetu Chandra, yet another of Dale’s clients. The PR specialist has recently discussed a few media strategies with Ali Merchant for both, him and Sara Khan, and has even received an offer to handle Rahul Bhatt. Here’s a tete-a-tete with the man who rides controversy and understands reality shows like the back of his hand.
Q) The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) has given a diktat that reality shows Bigg Boss and Rakhi Ka Insaaf can only be telecast at late nights, between 11pm and 5am, as they contain obscene and adult content. You have handled PR for maximum reality show contestants, most of whom have courted controversy. What is your expert opinion on the current crisis faced by the shows?
I think the I&B Ministry is taking the word ‘reality’ literally. The first thing to understand about all reality shows is that they are ‘shows’ and meant for entertainment. They are there to increase TRPs for channels and earn monies; just like any other serial, soap, entertainment bulletin or sponsored programme. So they need to be viewed and reviewed the same way as any other medium of propaganda and entertainment.
Q) But if they are for ‘entertainment’, how can they be termed ‘reality shows’?
That is just a term and not to be taken literally. Everyone on the show knows there are cameras almost everywhere. They wear mikes and roam around with controlled emotions and body language. Even if the reality shows aren’t scripted, every participant goes on them, with an agenda in mind and does things accordingly. They are given ‘tasks’ which heighten the amusement value.
Q) Are you saying that what goes on in reality shows like Bigg Boss is justified?
Yes! It’s just another medium of entertainment. Just like a film, serial or daily soap.
Q) What about the rude Dolly Bindra and her repelling antics, the Sara Khan-Ali Merchant marriage controversies, your client Ashmit’s flirtations with Sara, Aanchal Kumar and Veena Malik?
Has Bigg Boss shown any nudity? No. Has Bigg Boss failed to bleep out any foul word from airing? No. Has any awkward or revealing intimate moment of Ali Merchant-Sara Khan’s suhaag raat (wedding night) been aired? No. Then, how is Bigg Boss obscene or unfit from airing on the timings similar to other entertainment programmes and news bulletins; which actually show much more than what we see on Bigg Boss.
Q) Do you mean to say, Bigg Boss is not crossing the line?
What I am saying is that the I&B Ministry needs do a ‘reality check’. We are living in the 21st century; the time of true freedom; the time of the Internet; the time of Twitter and Facebook. Today’s kids and teens watch porn all over the internet; see heroines in bikinis in movies; watch rape scenes or hear foul language in films like Omkara; get to hear obnoxious insinuations in various advertisements on TV; hear almost detestable language in serials and daily soaps; witness the most stinging words from news readers and hosts of various TRP-seeking news channels everyday. Sections of the media have even gone to the extent of frequently showing mutilated bodies from accidents and bomb blasts. If all this is cleared and passed, either in the name of news or entertainment on prime time, then why have double standards for Bigg Boss or Rakhi Ka Insaaf? Just because the shows have the word ‘reality’ prefixed on them? That’s unfair.
Q) Had you discussed PR with Shilpa Shetty before she went on Big Brother?
We were new to the concept of reality shows when Shilpa went on Big Brother. Even as Shilpa was gearing to go on the show, I was frantically doing my research on the Internet. But she had various discussions with me about it and even shared her insecurities before going on the show, as she felt uncomfortable with the idea of cameras watching her almost 24x7. I remember talking to her over the phone just before her flight took off for UK. She never expected to win Big Brother, but in a few days of her being on the show, I realized the potential and began addressing the media likewise.
Q) Have you briefed Ashmit Patel before he went on Bigg Boss?
I’ve told him all I know about reality shows.
Q) How do you think he is faring on the show?
I think he is clearly one of the most matured and balanced contestants so far. He’s friendly with everyone and actively participates in all of the House activities. He doesn’t back-bite and comes across as a loveable guy. Moreover, he refuses to take things lying down and is bold enough to face all challenges. Look at the way he confronted the brazen and unruly Dolly Bindra last week. He also maturely handled the latest situation about the Dolly-Sameer Soni confrontation. I think he is doing well for now.
Q) What is his ‘real’ relation with Sara Khan?
He’s her “Pops”. From what I understand, he takes her like a daughter, who is also a friend.
Q) But Ashmit is just a few years older to Sara and not at all in the fatherly age-bracket. Plus, he’s seen openly flirting with her as well as Aanchal Kumar and Veena Malik. And now he is eying the latest entrant Pamela Anderson too.
I agree, Ashmit’s more like a casanova now. Or should I say, India’s just got its first real casanova. But mind you, most of the time, it’s not him chasing the girls, but the other way round. If the girls are falling over him, it’s not his fault. He’s mostly reciprocating, and that too, in a dignified manner.
Q) Dale, are you trying to justify Ashmit’s flirty moves?
Yes (breaking into laughter). I’m dong my job.
Q) Excuse us, but Sara Khan is now ‘married’? What kind of a person would flirt with a married woman?
A casanova (laughs again, though Dale seems cornered this time). On a serious note, I think Ashmit considers Sara a ‘kid’ who he shares a very friendly rapport with. But at times, his love, caring and affection is misunderstood.
Q) Ashmit often puts his face into Sara’s hair and smells it. What kind of ‘affection’ is this?
Probably, Bigg Boss has edited out the part where he must’ve praised Sara’s shampoo (winks).
Q) We hear Ali Merchant has now discussed PR with you for Sara and himself?
Yes, I had a long meeting with Ali immediately after he came out of Bigg Boss and we discussed media strategies. Contrary to speculations, Ali does not have issues with Ashmit anymore. Whatever misunderstandings he had with Ashmit, have all been sorted with his visit to the Bigg Boss House. If our PR deal works out, I also hope to help Ali and Sara further their career dreams.
Q) Has any other Bigg Boss contestant approached you for PR?
You might be surprised to know that Dolly Bindra had. But that was a long time ago. Yesterday, through a common friend, I received an offer for Rahul Bhatt, but I haven’t met him yet. I know and respect his father Maheshji a lot. Rahul suffered so much when his name was unceremoniously dragged in the David Headley case. At the time, his silence in the media was more detrimental from the PR point of view. It’s good that Bigg Boss happened to him and he’s more vocal now. Rahul is a good human being and deserves much better in life.