Four racy videos and several risqué images later Poonam Pandey has arrived as a brand to reckon with. Not yet a graduate, unabashed about her style of marketing herself, Poonam Pandey is oh so visible. Jack Dorsey has made it impossible for us to ignore this firecracker. At 21, this self-confessed "new generation" girl has got your attention where information overload is a reality. You have an opinion on her, right? That implies you've devoted mind space to this petite 5 feet 7 inches tall frame. You can hate her, love her but can't not know about her existence.
I think she has carved the proverbial niche in a cacophonous space where so many models are willing to shed inhibitions along with their clothes. Is she India's answer to Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton? Sure, she too is famous for being famous. She evokes extreme reactions, most viewing her as a disparaging exhibit of female form or a belittling of feminist issues. But hasn't she subverted the patriarchal rules by using objectification of women to her advantage?
Her business acumen is intense. She employs a team of ten, headed by Vipin Medhekar who is her business strategist. Has Poonam managed to crack the code of social media marketing? Err...What is she selling again? She is the product. Look up her Twitter profile and at last count her following had reached 143,845!
"Pandey’s name is featured in the top 10 of the Google Zeitgeist 2011 list of fastest rising celebrities in India, alongside Katrina Kaif and Anna Hazare. Digital media company Pinstorm scores her online influence at 70.2, which rates just outside the 30 most influential Indians online, behind Priyanka Chopra but ahead of Lara Dutta and Genelia D’Souza," reports Tehelka magazine.
So, how much do you think she makes in a month? Wait for it... approximately 50 lakh a month! So, how does she mint this moolah? I pose this query to Medhekar and he tells me that the biggest chunk comes from Voice Chats that mobile service providers anchor. He hints that Poonam gets paid much more than many celebrities for her voice chats. Then there's events she attends and tweets that she posts. All of it in one way or another is filling her coffers.
She has also signed a Bollywood film, details of which will be made public only after April 20. Medhekar avers that she has rejected several film offers till date.
I thought it best to reach Poonam Pandey to understand this 'open book' and perhaps decipher how a young girl who wears sexuality on her sleeve make it large. Spoke to her on phone when she was in Chennai for an assignment recently. Excerpts from the chat:
Hindustan Times: You've just turned 21. From being a Kingfisher model to featuring in Tehelka magazine tell us a little bit about your journey.
Poonam Pandey: I would compare my journey to a Bollywood story because it all happened all of a sudden. I never expected any of this. But I did not ever ask for all this, I never sat and prayed to God urging God to bestow all this on me. God has been kind to me. My journey started with Gladrags in 2010. That was the first platform where I wore a bikini. It was like a big thing. And then all of a sudden I jumped into Kingfisher. And then the World Cup came (she laughs at this point). It all happened very fast.
Hindustan Times: We read stories about how models confess that they've been propositioned and how it's unsafe for young models? Have you ever received indecent proposals?
Poonam Pandey: People that I'm working with...I have a big team and I have never faced something like this. I've never been asked to do something I'm uncomfortable with. I'm comfortable because people know me to be bold. Ten years ago India was very different. I personally feel it's a new generation. I am a new generation girl. I'm happy that it's all changing. For me it doesn't feel something really big.
Hindustan Times: An Open magazine April 16, 2011 write up says about you: What is Poonam Pandey? Is it a promise? Is it a hashtag? Is it a pithy way of saying ‘fooled ya’ to the media? So who is the real Poonam Pandey?
Poonam Pandey: (After a pause) If you ask me who Poonam Pandey is, then I would say whatever it is that you see of me and read about me, is me. People love me because I am not fake. I am who I am. The way I am while talking to you, this is me.
Hindustan Times: What happened in Kolkata?
Poonam Pandey: One of my fans morphed the image (of Sachin Tendulkar's) and when I saw that image for the first time I was very upset. Many people crosschecked with me. I was caught unawares. It became such a big issue. The whole thing was not intentional at all.
Hindustan Times: You've gifted a saucy picture to Virat Kohli recently. Do you ever hear back from these cricketers?
Poonam Pandey: So far I haven't heard back from anyone. It will be a dream realized if I get a reaction.
Hindustan Times: Are you a serious cricket fan?
Poonam Pandey: Yeah of course (sounds surprised) I play cricket. I still play cricket when I go to my mum's place, with the society friends...whenever I find time I go there and enjoy the game. I don't bowl so well, I can bat very well though.
Hindustan Times: You often quote philosophers, do you read a lot?
Poonam Pandey: I don't plan my tweets I am very spontaneous. It's like how any other person would tweet.
Hindustan Times: Are you a graduate?
Poonam Pandey: I'm not a graduate. My college is still on but I don't really go, in fact I discontinued when I got into Gladrags (2010 end). There's just so much on my plate right now. How much can a person do? I had so many assignments, modeling assignments; it was just the beginning of my career. It was my dream to find my feet in the glamour industry ever since I was a little girl.
Hindustan Times: Who's in your family?
Poonam Pandey: There's my mother, my father, my siblings. I have a brother who's elder to me by 2 years. (Nilesh Pandey is a software engineer). I have a younger sister Shradhdha Pandey who is very cute. She is taking her exams right not, I hope she does really well.
Hindustan Times: How does extended family react to you and your work?
Poonam Pandey: Being very honest somebody had posed this question to my mother also and she replied saying nobody talks to her face, and it doesn't bother her if they gossip behind her back. My mother trusts me. I will give you the same answer. I really don't care. This is my career and my image. Why should I change myself and my career choice because of some gossipmongers? This is how I am.
Hindustan Times: So there has never been an unpleasant moment at home?
Poonam Pandey: There are moments when they get upset, At the end of the day I'm a girl and you know how it can be. I also face ups and downs at home but I manage. They know that I love my career. So they come around.
Hindustan Times: What was your first job, how old were you then?
Poonam Pandey: The first ever audition I gave was for Gladrags. I was 19 then.
Hindustan Times: Current assignments?
Poonam Pandey: I am a bikini model. And whatever work I have done so far has been chosen after much thinking. I've done the promo of the Grammy Awards recently. I'm in many calendars too. Right now I'm concentrating on movies.
Hindustan Times: You post risqué images, videos and crazy nuggets of information from your private space - e.g. how you like your shower. Why do you do that?
Poonam Pandey: I think by now people realize and know that only Poonam Pandey can do such crazy things. As I told you I don't plan and tweet, I just do whatever comes to my mind. I'm a very free and very independent kind of a girl. I love to entertain people and keep myself entertained too.
Hindustan Times: You are famous for being famous? What is your talent?
Poonam Pandey: I'm not sure if one can explain over the phone as to what my talent is. I am damn sure that when the day comes I'll be able to prove myself and stun everyone with the outcome. I'm not overconfident, I just know my worth.
Hindustan Times: What would you like to tell feminists and others who judge you for the skin show?
Poonam Pandey: I would say to them that I am a new generation girl and also that to each his own. I wish more and more people become open-minded in their approach to life.
Hindustan Times: Now, a clichéd question. How did you come up with this idea of stripping for Indian cricket team?
Poonam Pandey: Seriously so many people have asked me this question. There was no idea. It was just something I said out of excitement. I cannot change people's mentality. It was no publicity stunt. I would obviously not go through with something like that. I respect the law of the land. I said this and so many court cases followed. I've faced all that. I know what all I have gone through. I had no intent of hurting sensibilities.
Hindustan Times: So then are all cases settled now?
Poonam Pandey: Since I did not commit any crime, it's all good now.
Hindustan Times: Are you seeing someone right now? Do you think it will take a very strong man to date someone as independent as you?
Poonam Pandey: No, not right now. And I don't need a superstar to date, I don't know if somebody wants to date me or not. But I wish that whoever I fall for should have the qualities that my father has.
Poonam Pandey: I don't think I'll ever regret anything that I do.