‘Don’t you have good things to say about Bollywood? One look at your blog and it seems that our film industry is full of people who have gone mental.’
These were the words of an actress I spoke to last night. She might be right. But there are exceptions.
And today, I am going to narrate one such story that goes against all unpopular notions about Bollywood actresses.
I consider organising photo-shoots with Bollywood actors the most difficult part of my job. Don’t get me wrong, it’s got nothing to do their legendary nakhras, but for the sheer amount of coordination that goes into it.
Apart from getting a proper venue or a studio, one has to coordinate with the PR, dress designers, make-up person, stylist and the star photographer.
Any Bollywood journalist will tell you that it might take months to coordinate a proper glamourous photo-shoot with a leading Bollywood star. We are all used to the hard work that goes behind it and there’s no greater satisfaction than to see an edition getting picked up for its cover picture.
But one day, Vidya Balan busted all these myths!
Same Day, Last Year
Last year, a special team of journalists re-grouped in Kolkata to launch a new Bengali newspaper called Ei Samay (The Times). I was also included in the launch team as a Bollywood specialist.
Spearheaded and steered by the finest hands and brains from The Times of India group, the paper’s launch was a resounding success.
But it was just the beginning.
Close on the heels of the super-successful launch, we faced another challenge of bringing out a special edition for Durga Pujo, the biggest festival of Kolkata.
We decided in the edit meet that a special shoot with an A-list Bollywood actress would make our edition stand out in the Puja crowd. As expected, I took up the responsibility of arranging that, but not without a lot of apprehension.
Just before the Puja, I lost my mother to cancer and my world had come crashing down. Given the situation at home, I had not decided on my return date to Mumbai.
In desperation, I sent out text messages to 12 people on my phone-book, requesting them to help me by arranging a photo-shoot within seven days with a top Bollywood actress.
Most of them thought I was out of my mind. Two of them never responded, three sent smileys as an answer and four others were worried that I had not recovered from my personal grief.
What happened next was surreal.
How are you?
… was the text message from Vidya Balan four hours later. I thought she was being nice to me and in reply, I enquired about her health.
She specifically asked about the deadline of the shoot. I said I just have seven days to get it done. I acknowledged that it was too much to expect that she would leave her shooting behind for this.
She sent two smileys back.
I finally called up my editor and said that I won’t be able to deliver the photo-shoot. My editor said I am taking too much pressure and should go on leave considering the tragedy in my family.
Two hours later my phone was buzzing again. It was a call from a member of Vidya Balan’s team. She requested if I could speak to a particular photographer and brief him about the shoot. He is one of the best known fashion photographers in Mumbai.
When I called the photographer, he told me that Vidya had already briefed him about the shoot. He just wanted a reference photo. He also told me that he wouldn’t charge us a penny as he was shooting purely on Vidya’s request.
One hour later, her PR called to ask if I have a budget for the shoot and whether I will be able to pay for make-up, hair and styling.
I said yes.
Half an hour later, she called me again to confirm that they have arranged for the make-up person, stylist and a hair-stylist — all within my budget.
Another hour later, I get a message from the photographer that he will shoot in his own studio and that too, free-of-cost.
Towards the end of the day, Vidya told me that she will wear a Sabyasachi saree for the shoot, so I need not bother about the dress designer.
All this was happening when I was dealing with a posse of unknown relatives who had descended at my Kolkata house.
The day passed like a daze.
Five days later, the shoot was done.
On the day of the shoot, Vidya’s PR called me just before the shoot to tell me that she was in the studio, getting ready for the shoot. For the next three hours, her PR kept updating me about the progress of the shoot even informing me about the exact time she finished doing her make-up.
By late evening, I got another text message from Vidya saying that the shoot was done and that “the photographs have turned out to be nice”.