It’s safe to assume that social distancing is inversely proportional to social media distancing. If you are already bored out of your mind at home, you’re most likely seeking refuge in the many joys of Instagram. And let’s be honest, for a lot of us that equals keeping tabs on Taimur’s playdates, obsessing over Janhvi Kapoor’s gym wear and tracking which star has boarded a flight in which outfit. But the clampdown on gyms, film shoots, travel, and life in general, has interrupted the livestream of Bollywood celebrity sightings many of us are now addicted to. Now we must make do with videos of celebrities teaching us how to thoroughly wash our hands to beat the Coronavirus.
But when celebrities are homebound, where does that leave those who tail them – the Bollywood paparazzi? When we checked in on Viral Bhayani, he was busy sorting his hard disks to dig out old photos for his Instagram. “Earlier I used to get 80-100 celebs a day. Every day was a rocking good day. Now getting 2 or 3 will also be difficult… But I’m not worried about my handle. I have millions and millions of photos and videos to last me two years,” he says. Over the last few days, Bhayani has posted some real throwbacks from his early days as a photographer. There are videos of Hrithik Roshan tattooing his now ex-wife’s name on his hand, a younger Sunil Shetty doing photoshoots, and Salman Khan reminding us of a time when men wearing hairbands was a thing. “Everyone has changed so much. Some actresses look so different now that I think if I put up an old photo of any of them they may sue me,” he adds.
A few days ago Bhayani put up a post on his Instagram (which has 1.3 M followers) announcing that he will slow down work in the general interest of safety. “No matter what happens – we never stop. But some things are to be taken more seriously. Coronavirus is a major threat to all of us,” he wrote. When we spoke to Bhayani, he said he had given his team of 12-13 photographers off but some crucial events cannot be missed. A few days ago Bombay Times hosted a celebrity fashion show that he had to cover. “What if Alia Bhatt returns from her birthday celebration with Ranbir? The whole world wants to see that. We can’t miss it… Also, I don’t see any of my competitors slowing down,” he says.
Manav Manglani, another popular celebrity photographer, hasn’t fully paused work but he’s being cautious. “The task force is down to 50%. Those who are willing to work are working. We are not at that much risk because we move alone. I’ve told photographers not to touch anything, keep sanitizers with them, and drink lots of water,” he says. More importantly, he’s instructed them not to go near the actors and ask for selfies. “Just to sound tough I told them if you ask for selfies, you’ll lose your jobs,” he adds. That said, actor Arjun Kapoor recently chided paps for mobbing him after a doctor’s appointment at a time when we all need to give each other space. “Short term distance is better for long term proximity,” is the friendly advice he gave them on his Instagram.
In a normal non-Corona world, photographers like Manglani and Bhayani work crazy hours. Their teams fan out across the city to spot as many celebrities as they can. And through the day their phones are exploding with tip-offs from celebrity PRs on where their clients are flying to and when they’re landing and what time they’re having dinner with friends. “My day has changed totally. I haven’t got a single WhatsApp message. Otherwise by now I’d have 50 messages and calls by now. I am going out regularly for my jog which I used to. So these 15 days I think should be good,” says Manglani.
(With inputs by Sneha Menon Desai and Mohini Chaudhuri)