Life in La La Land: Extreme fans whose lives have been shaped by Bollywood
Films have dictated their course, career and life choices – and it’s paid off in surprising ways.Updated: Jan 22, 2017 11:36 IST
When you grow up in Mumbai, you grow up in tinseltown.
“The texture and atmosphere of the city screams Bollywood much like Los Angeles is all about cinema,” says film critic and author Anupama Chopra. “Living in this city makes Bollywood accessible, makes the tinsel dream feel realistically within reach.”
That glamour can be seen on the streets of suburban Lokhandwala, where buff bodies and picture-perfect hair mark out the struggling actors.
But that’s only the most obvious kind of aspirational fandom. Unseen in the bustle of office-goers is another kind of adulation — extreme fans who have had their lives shaped by Bollywood in ways even they wouldn’t have expected.
Like the teen who was such an ardent Ranbir Kapoor fan that she was mistaken, online, for a publicist, and now runs a digital marketing agency that helps promote some of the biggest releases of the year.
Or the six-year-old named Anjali who was convinced she was the real-life version of the Anjali in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and pursued a dream for the next 15 years, studying mass media and working on ad films, with the aim of someday meeting Karan Johar and Shah Rukh Khan. (Read on to find out if she made it happen).
“This kind of fandom is certainly better than standing outside an actor’s home all your life,” says Bollywood talk show host Devansh Patel. “It’s driven by passion, and in turn drives interesting educational choices, internships and creative careers.”
Location makes all the difference, adds Amitabh Bhattacharya, executive producer at Nomad Films India, where Anjali ended up working as an associate producer, and eventually met both Johar and Khan.
“Being from Mumbai made her dream accessible, and therefore sustainable. She chose Bollywood, but she did a mass media degree and literally worked her way in. My advice to fans? Work towards carving out your own identity. You may have the wings but you need some wind beneath them in order to fly.”
FROM FAN GIRL TO FILM PR MANAGER
Abhishek Bachchan’s wedding in 2007 broke Harshita Vaishnav’s heart. The 16-year-old announced back a few months later, though, when she saw Ranbir Kapoor in Saawariya.
This time, she decided to be more vocal about her love, and took to social media sites Orkut and Facebook to write to him and about him.
By 2007, she was creating a dedicated page for every release, and was soon fielding messages from other ardent fans.
She finally did meet Kapoor, in 2009, after winning a Bollywood trivia contest, and wrote about the experience on a Facebook page called Ranbirholics.
“It was then that people started approaching me to help them set up a meeting with actors,” says Vaishnav, 26. “Many thought I was a professional publicist.”
After getting a BCom degree, she decided to turn her passion into a profession and got a post-graduate degree in public relations and journalism.
While still in college, in 2012, Vaishnav met Arjun Kapoor through friends in the marketing team for the movie Ishaqzaade. What followed was a series of fan pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram called Arjun Kapoor FB (for ‘Fan Base’).
In the same year, she started a personal page called The Fan Girl, just to share her fan moments and encounters. “An overwhelming response led me to think about making The Fan Girl a brand,” she says.
The Fan Girl is now a PR company that represents new and up-and-coming film personalities such as Shraddha Das (Great Grand Masti, 2016), Varun Sood (of MTV Roadies and MTV Splitsvilla).
As PR manager, she handles accounts for Aishwarya Rai’s and Amy Jackson’s make-up artist duo Asif and Adrian.
Her fan page following also means that anytime a Dharma Productions movie is out, the marketing team gets in touch with her to set up contests and promotion campaigns.
“It’s been a good show so far. Vaishnav’s fan clubs are so big that actors and marketing teams like ours know them personally. And fans play a pivotal role in promoting movies,” says Alpa Golcha, senior marketing manager for Dharma Productions.
Vaishnav’s best moments are still with the stars. “When I bump into Ranbir and he asks me how work has been, or when Arjun Kapoor turns up for a meet-and-greet that I have organised for one of his movies, I know I’m doing things right,” she says.
SHE PICKED COURSES, CAREER WITH THE AIM OF MEETING SRK
Anjali Barot was six when Kuch Kuch Hota Hai came out in 1998 — and she became convinced that Kajol’s character, Anjali, was named after her. For years, she lived the movie. She played basketball and even announced to her parents that a boy named Rahul had joined her class, and she would be marrying him.
Growing up, she had one goal: to work with Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar.
“I got a degree in mass media because it was a step closer to the film world,” says Barot, 24. After graduating in 2013, she took a position as associate producer at ad film production house Nomad Films and worked on brands such as Lakme and Wrogn with ambassadors such as actress Kareena Kapoor and cricketer Virat Kohli.
Barot got lucky when Nomad landed Vero Moda and Colours Infinity, both of whom had signed Karan Johar as ambassador. There, she finally met and worked with one of her idols.
The way she met the second still gives her a thrill. “I was working on a shoot and heard that Khan was shooting in the next studio. I went over, said hello and got a photograph clicked. It was a meeting straight out of my dreams,” she says. “ I realised then that I had achieved what I had been working towards all those years — and it was time for a new dream.”
Barot is now a voiceover artist for ads and an aspiring actress. You may have seen her in TV commercials for Myntra and Manyavar.
KAUN BANEGA… BOLLYWOOD REPORTER?
By the age of four, Vinesh Prabhu had already torn five shirts just as Shah Rukh Khan did in his 1997 movie Koyla. His parents tried to keep him away from the TV set and avoid the movies, but Prabhu was hooked to showbiz.
“I watched every big release growing up, and my aim was to meet every one of the actors I had seen on screen. It still is,” Prabhu says.
Through high school and college, he pursued that aim by entering every Bollywood contest he came across. Each time he won, he got to meet an actor, and he still treasures those early pictures of himself with A-listers such as Amitabh Bachchan and Ajay Devgan and, more recently, Alia Bhatt, Deepika Padukone, Parineeti Chopra, Siddharth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan.
After getting a degree in management studies, Prabhu decided he couldn’t intern at a bank or a finance company and turn his back on Bollywood.
So he landed himself an internship with Oxygen Entertainment, an event management and brand consultancy company, in 2015.
Among his many roles, he was told to live tweet from the annual Filmfare awards and help take care of the actors and others in the VVIP lounge.
“What more could I have asked for!” says the 22-year-old. “Shah Rukh Khan is my favourite actor and I got to meet him. That’s also when I realised that the media was my calling.”
Prabhu is now doing a post-graduate management diploma in media studies and plans to work with a PR firm that manages celebrities, or get into advertising.
“I think these fields will leave me enough time to enter and win more contests,” he says.
“I’ve seen many Bollywood fans wanting to take up jobs in the related field because they feel like if they can’t be in movies, they can at least be close to the actors if they manage events or handle social media,” says director of Oxygen Entertainment, Neil Sanghavi. “Though education is a criterion to get people on board, it doesn’t hurt to hire people like Prabhu who know Bollywood like the back of their hands.”
A GREAT BODY OF WORK
Shardul Srivastava, 31, spends his days as vice president at his father’s medical device manufacturing business, and his nights moonlighting as a fitness trainer.
“I am so passionate about Hrithik Roshan that I first built a body as fit as his and now I am helping others stay in shape,” he says.
When Kaho Na… Pyaar Hai was released in 2000, he was still in college, which left him enough time to hit the gym and watch fitness videos online. He also followed fan pages and tips from actors’ personal trainers.
“Two years into building a body, I realised I was really into it. People commented on how I had transformed from a lean boy into one who was competing in bodybuilding competitions,” he says.
Srivastava is a certified fitness coach and sports nutritionist. “When people saw how I had worked on myself, they started approaching me for advice and that’s when I first thought of this as a profession,” he says. In 2014 he had two clients, currently he has seven. “I don’t take too many people on at the same time, because I don’t want to take chances with anybody’s body. This requires personal attention, because changing sizes is not a joke,” he says.
GROUNDED, AND LOVING IT
Vidya Punekar, 36, started her career as an air hostess 18 years ago. “I wanted to fly because I was in love with Bollywood and thought I’d meet a lot of celebrities in the air,” she says.
She found this wasn’t so, and the lifestyle was a bit too turbulent for her, so she switched to a career as a grooming instructor in an air hostess training institute.
Then her son was born, in 2010, and she took a break. “I found myself following a lot of fan pages in my free time, keeping myself updated with what actors were doing and wearing. I also learnt to sketch,” she says.
It’s Punekar’s love for Bollywood that makes her strive to do better, which works well for the company. A sense of what’s happening in the Bolly world along with a flair for design has made her coming on board a success.Falguni Peacock, designer
After a brief stint as a jewellery designer, she was hired as head of operations at fashion designer duo Shane and Falguni Peacock’s studio (Falguni’s brother was a friend and showed some of Punekar’s designs to her).
Punekar’s job includes liasing with celebrity managers and stylists on what stars will need to wear to various events. “Each actor has more than one function to attend each day with a no-repeat protocol, so the days are quite busy,” says Punekar.
So far, she has helped style Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Deepika Padukone and Katrina Kaif, among others.
“I get to meet celebrities, understand their styling needs, and speak with them personally and that gives me a high,” she says. “Of course at times the going does get tough. There are all-nighters to pull, but then you see the outfits on celebrities and it’s all worth it.”
Recently, one such hectic day meant that she couldn’t take the day off for her son’s sixth birthday. “We were shooting with Shah Rukh Khan for a magazine cover and Falguni knew how big a fan my son is, so she told me to bring him and his dad to the shoot too,” Punekar says. “Khan wished him, played with him for a few minutes, we clicked pictures and he says that it will be one of the most special birthdays.”
Falguni Peacock says, “It is her love for Bollywood that doesn’t stop her from working on any of her family members’ birthdays. This is the least I could do to make it special for her son.”
First Published: Jan 21, 2017 22:26 IST