Call My Agent is a beloved French TV show that captures the chaos of a talent agency in Paris. The show has guest appearances by top French stars playing versions of themselves, but the focus is on the agents who run their lives. They are sort of like the unsung heroes who are constantly putting out fires lit by their temperamental star clients. It's not surprising that the show has been adapted in many countries because no matter where you are, behind every movie star is a harrowed agent.
Netflix India recently released the show's desi version Call My Agent: Bollywood and it left viewers largely disappointed. One of its major issues is that the makers of the Hindi version opted for a literal copy of the original instead of adapting it to the celebrity management scenario in Bollywood. This is a pity because like its films, talent management in Bollywood also comes with its own kind of crazy and would have made for excellent viewing.
We asked Manpreet Bacchhar to tell us what the show doesn't. Manpreet has been a talent agent and manager for 9 years and counting. She has worked within an agency and then individually collaborated with actors like the late Irrfan Khan, Gulshan Devaiah, Tillotama Shome, Yami Gautam, Vijay Varma and many more.
"An agent in Hollywood is the person who gets you work. They handle conversations about the actor's films, deals, endorsements, etc. A star's manager looks into their career strategy, everyday logistics – they are the focal point of an actor's career and eventually their life too."
"Not always. We have a very secretarial thought process. Earlier actors were handled by secretaries who were usually men, probably because all producers were men too. The secretaries would handle their dates, make career decisions, etc and this role eventually became that of a manager's. Then as the industry started getting more corporatised and the endorsement market blew up we saw more talent agencies coming up that would provide actors with agents who could crack deals for them. Some of these agencies provide the actor with an agent, who will talk to the corporates for them, and a manager who is around them 24/7 and also works in tandem with the agent. But then some actors have only managers who they hire independently – that's what I did eventually. So then you become like a manager cum agent, rolled into one.
The confusion always happens because Bollywood runs on relationships and therefore it's tough to imagine us being fully corporate. Actors need that one person to they can trust and that's why independent managers are still around. In the show Call My Agent Bollywood, some of the things we see the characters doing is actually management, but they call themselves agents and the rootedness of the Bollywood desi way of functioning is what the show missed out on."
"It's hectic. Most times it feels we have no life, there are no fixed hours. A lot of us suffer from total fatigue and burn out. Now there is a conversation about mental health amongst managers and they are asking for better hours. I too have started to insist that I won't be on late night shoots for every actor. In fact, in the first episode of Call My Agent Bollywood, we see that Dia Mirza hasn't turned up for her ad shoot and the agent/manager walks in 5 hours later and finds out. This would never happen. There is no way your talent hasn't showed up and everyone's calmly waiting.
Good agents/managers also read film scripts and learn on the job about the process of filmmaking. This is an important skill because you need to take joint decisions with the actor about doing or not doing a film. There's great learning in these creative discussions and eventually could lead to more opportunities. Like we see in the original show, agents can some day become producers too."
"The main role of a manager is to play bad cop and have the tough conversations, because the actor is always the good cop. Actors will and should avoid difficult conversations or anything that could lead to an unpleasant situation because relationships have to be kept intact. And that's why they always need managers to talk on their behalf about things that could range from – 'I don't want to wear this outfit' and 'I don't want to say these lines' to 'My vanity is not big enough' and 'My loo hasn't been cleaned'. You become the bridge between the actor and any third party. The actor's job is to deliver on set and not get bothered by other distractions.
Over the years I have done things like cutting an actor's toe nails to picking up their laundry. Once I had to go out and buy an actor underwear because no one else was available and honestly, I didn't mind because there was genuinely no one else and it's a job that needed to be done. A manager should be able to humanize these larger-than-life personalities and look at them with empathy because this a high-stakes job and having an efficient manager goes a long way.
Sometimes you also have to have tough conversations with the actors too. For example, the producer will tell you the actress needs to fix her clothes, or lose weight , or clean her teeth. There have been times when the producer will want the actress to get some cosmetic work done on their face and you have to be the one to tell them."
Over the years I have done things like cutting an actor's toe nails to picking up their laundry. Once I had to go out and buy an actor underwear because no one else was available and honestly, I didn't mind because there was genuinely no one else and it's a job that needed to be done.
"You don't need a degree to be a manager, just the ability to handle people with massive egos. I have been in several awkward situations where the director and actor have had a massive falling out and you have to jump in to tame the situation.
Then there are also cases where the actor you're dealing with needs a reality check. He or she is only one film old but will ask for the moon. So I'd say expectation management is a big part of the job. You have to be diplomatic, you have to be a people's person and you need to have common sense and presence of mind. Knowledge of the business is key. If you are able to understand the numbers, you can negotiate better on all fronts for your actor."
"For me this job is supremely exciting and hence I am very passionate about it. There are a lot of perks. You get to travel abroad, you get fantastic gifts, you get to be a part of this glamorous world… If you're a good manager, the actor will also do whatever it takes to keep you happy. They will take you on their family vacations, shop for you, buy you expensive gifts. This is how they show their appreciation for you because they know that the agency takes that 10 percent commission, not the manager.
However the biggest perk for me is that I have been able to curate a talent pool I feel most inspired by and hence I too get so much to learn along the way. You become an intrinsic part of their successes and that feeling is unbeatable."
You don't need a degree to be a manager, just the ability to handle people with massive egos.
"The hours are crazy and the stress levels are too high. Managers are not the healthiest or fittest people. You're constantly stress eating. I once had hair loss from stress alopecia. True story! It's good for managers to have therapists because being a constant punching bag can take a toll on you. You also have no social life because the actor's life is your life, their stress is your stress.
If you aren't passionate enough and it's just a job for you, then it's the most harrowing thankless job. But if you give it your all and are able to look beyond the 10% commission, it's undeniably the most exciting career choice.