Being a nation full of starfuckers, it’s very evident that India loves its celebrities. We care for politicians more than politics, and ‘stars’ more than films. And when the interaction with celebrities is restricted to the occasional selfie, the rarest currency, the paparazzi fulfil a key function: They make the celebrity feel more human, taking pictures when they seem to be indulging in ‘normal people’ behaviour.
Bollywood paparazzi Manav Manglani has fashioned our lust for celebrities into a business, without even starting a company. He employs 10 people (eight photographers, one videographer and one editor) to supply approximately 20-30 online and print publications (including HT’s Desimartini, ABP News, Pinkvilla, etc), funnelling all the content through his Instagram page which has over four lakh followers*.
To figure out the biz, VICE asked Manglani about his candid camera empire.
VICE: How did you become a paparazzo?
Manav Manglani: I got a diploma in computers and animation, and got my first job in 1999 to design a website for Vashu Bhagnani. At that time, websites were in fashion, and used to have massive launches. Movie studios would call the actors and media for the launches of URLs like Armanthefilm.com (starring Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor and Preity Zinta, released in 2003).
After I designed the website of Sunny Deol’s The Hero: Love Story of Spy, he invited me to the film’s music launch. My pictures were published in Bombay Times, and I started getting invited to other events. I joined India FM (now rebranded as Bollywood Hungama) as their Photo Editor, and I started a section there that published photos from parties, events and [movie] sets. It was the most viewed section on the website.
Who is your favourite celebrity to photograph?
Aishwarya Rai. She steps out in rare cases, so taking her pictures is fun. She doesn’t hang [out] as much in the paparazzi circuit, and makes even rarer general appearances. Everyone else I can photograph at the airport, restaurant, salon, gym, etc, but her, I can’t.
How do you know where the celebrities hang out?
I make connections with managers, studios, so I know the hotspots in Bandra [Mumbai], like restaurants, pubs, salons etc. And for the airport, I have two people on duty full time in eight-hour shifts.
How do you get the “airport look”?
My studio connections give us shoot schedules for movies. From there I know what day a movie is scheduled to be shot in another city, let’s say Chennai. Except Amitabh, Shah Rukh and Akshay, everyone takes general flights to travel in India, so I alert our photographer to look out for all passengers going to Chennai on the two days before the shoot is scheduled.
And if there’s a look the star wants to be clicked in, I am sometimes tipped by their manager.
What is the most extreme thing you’ve done for a photo?
Shilpa Shetty got married at her friend Kiran Bawa’s bungalow outside Mumbai. So, to get an exclusive picture, I climbed a tree outside their house, and got a good zoomed-in image of her while taking her pheras.
Even Lara Dutta’s wedding photo was challenging. She got married at the Taj [hotel] in Goa, which is on a hill. Media wasn’t allowed to enter from the main gate, so I went to the other side of the hill, climbed for 45 minutes, and got my picture. She was shocked to see us up there.
Describe the weirdest interaction you’ve had with a celebrity while trying to take a picture.
Five or six years ago, after a night of partying, Shah Rukh, despite knowing that me and some others had been standing for hours, asked us to not click his picture. “ Main thak gaya hun, mat kheecho (I’m tired),” he said and left. But after driving for only seconds, he got out, ran towards us, said, “Sorry yaar,” and hugged us. He added, “Next time accha picture doonga.” (I’ll give you a good picture next time.)
How does the average paparazzi day go?
We have to stand outside places for a long time. You drink water, pick up food from roadside vendors. Sometimes you have to stand for 8-10 hours to get a picture. Salman is nice in this regard, he sends biryani and water to those who regularly stand outside his house. Woh banda accha hai (That dude is nice). Sanjay Dutt and Shah Rukh also send sometimes. They’ve known us for a long time.
What is the best thing a celebrity has done for you?
One time at the airport I was backpedaling while taking a picture. I slipped and was falling when Akshay [Kumar] picked me up mid-air. Unse agile aur fit koi bhi nahi hai (No one is as agile and fit as him). He saved my back as well as my camera.
How has Instagram helped your business?
It helps in getting work. If a brand is collaborating with some celebrity, they want me to shoot for them so that the image is featured on my page. On brand launches, for example, I take pictures for them, and then mention the brand in the caption.
Have you ever been asked to redact an image?
Very rarely. But recently Zoya [Akhtar] asked me to take down Ranveer and Alia’s image with their look from Gully Boy because she feared it would go viral. I took it down because it’s her film; she must’ve had a plan to unveil the look..
But hamara bhi toh kaam hai (It’s also our job). It was being shot on the road. If a fan takes a picture and uploads it, it’s okay. But if I publish, it becomes viral, so I took it out. Karna padhta hai (We have to do these things). But I didn’t take down the Ranbir Kapoor’s look for Sanjay Dutt’s biopic. Dia Mirza was a bit angry with me.
*at last count.
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This article originally appeared on VICE IN.