Rachana Dubey tracks the trials and tribulations of the city’s paparazzi.
Working at unearthly hours, flogging "scoop" photos to publications which pay peanuts for candid pictures, and scorned by the glitterati – whom they trail from five-star hotel lobbies to beach bungalow parties – the Mumbai paparazzi soldiers on.
Most celebrities pretend to be indifferent or even harassed, but if the thousand flashbulbs don’t pop, the same stars would down more whisky sours, boggled by the thought of losing their popularity.
Jagdish Aurangabadkar, who has been in the flashbiz for more than 30 years says his profession has been overcrowded by the print and electronic media boom. His brothers, Ram and Shyam, were film photographers, too, and were respected by the film industry.
"But today," the surviving Aurangabadkar complains, "Many newcomers are spoiling the name of the photo-journalist community. They even take pictures of stars picking their nose or surprise them in the toilet rooms."
According to a photographer, who requests anonymity, "A colleague followed Feroz Khan to the toilet..the actor was a bit high..and when my friend tried to click him with his pants down, the actor whipped out a gun and threatened to shoot both of us. We fled from the spot."
Quite a few of the freelance photographers say that they are cautious of clicking Salman Khan. Ever since some photos of his nuzzling Aishwarya Rai appeared in a film magazine some six years ago, he has been particularly "rude."
Neither Aurangabadkar nor Yogen Shah, who have been on the beat for the last 12 years, approve of the word "paparazzi", saying that that they do not encroach upon the privacy of celebrity lives.
"The only time I did that, I got into trouble," Aurangabadkar rewinds to the 1970s when he had snapped Vinod Mehra and Moushumi Chatterjee with the matka king Ratanlal Khatri. The henchmen of Khatri surrounded the photographer who had to surrender his film roll.
Rakesh Dave, a recent entrant to the paparazzi brigade, believes, "You need a sher ka kaleja to survive in this trade. The hours are long and uncertain, the pay is lousy and the photographers with their own studios and glamour lighting get all the bhaav while we are considered downmarket."
He points that most freelance photo-journalists are bachelors ("Which wife would wait for them to return home after a 16-hour working day?") Although there have been three or four women who have tried their hand in the business, it's virtually a male domain.
Efforts were made in the 1970s by the Aurangabadkar brothers, in vain, to form a freelance journalists association. To date, there has been no solidarity among movieland's paparazzi.
At the same time, nearly 5,000 publications in various languages use their pictures "most of them without giving us a single rupee or even a credit line," Shah laments," Papers and tabloids particularly in the north just reproduce the pictures which have been printed by the glossy magazines and supplements of Mumbai."