While Bollywood is facing its worst ever crisis with an economic slowdown during the Coronavirus lockdown, there is one PR guy who has been indifferently grabbing work in abundance. Not only that, he has been unabashedly boasting about it on his social media.
This publicist is none other than the most known name in the Indian entertainment PR industry — Dale Bhagwagar, also popularly known as Bollywood’s only PR guru. For the uninitiated, over the years, Dale has handled the PR for actors like Hrithik Roshan, Shilpa Shetty, Priyanka Chopra, Govinda, Randeep Hooda and films like the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Don and Farhan Akhtar-starrer Rock On!!
But many know him as the ‘media manipulator’ who openly admits to controlling and opportunistic PR tactics. Actually, he is notorious for being the biggest ‘control freak’ in entertainment media. Plus, he is famous for milking the media and getting away with planting and plugging articles about his PR clients.
This Mumbai-based PR who started out as a journalist a few decades ago, is often approached by top scribes for stories and photographs of his clients as well as other filmstars. Because he has an established network of contacts and connections in the film industry, which give him a reach over a lot of inside information. But Dale is infamous for refusing to part with gossip, information and even photographic content, unless the media toes his line and PR strategy.
Some journalists manage to keep away from his over-imposing PR tactics, but most have given in to his media maneuvers over the years. Unfortunately, this has helped this spin doctor to be at the top of his game in web media, where content is king. He is known to push journalists to swing articles in his client’s favour (even if his clients are in the wrong), or drop the stories altogether.
PRofiteering from Corona crisis
After the Corona crisis, as online media takes precedence over print media, Dale has happily begun flexing his controlling spin muscles in the media even more. All this, while Bollywood actors and actresses are running to sign him to tide over the Corona slowdown the film industry is facing. This is because celebrities believe in the dictum, jo dikhta hai woh bikta hai.
Recently, when this Bollywood publicist first announced on his Facebook that three new clients had engaged his PR services within a span of 14 days during the lockdown, not many took notice. After all, it could be just by chance that he got new clients in quick succession. But they say in journalistic circles, God and Dale Bhagwagar have a reputation of working in mysterious ways. Grrr.
Ironically, he’s the Bollywood PR legend
In the past, Dale has imposed and enforced a lot of trends in PR. Like making legal agreements compulsory for Bollywood PR agency clients, introducing the system of advance payments to publicists, pressurizing film journalists to shift from receiving hard copy and photo bromides to digital press releases and images even before their time had come, discouraging his clients from appearing at Press Conferences during crisis and doubling up as their spokesperson himself, then making the media chase him for quotes and views, stage-managing online positioning for his clients, planting his PR thoughts on impressionable young minds by giving guest lectures at colleges teaching mass communication, introducing them to his scheming concepts of guerrilla PR, and influencing students with his propaganda thoughts by becoming a guide for their thesis and dissertations (he is learnt to have once told a journalist that he wants to convert more and more mass media students into Mini Dales so that they can patronize and follow his best PR styles when they get into jobs in different Bollywood PR agencies in Mumbai. His students are said to be working in various Bollywood and corporate PR agencies in Mumbai.).
The list doesn’t end here. It goes on and on — Dale has been exercising control over media by distancing his clients from journalists, asking for copy approvals for their media stories, insisting that journalists and editors refrain from making changes in PR content, and persuading actors and actresses to completely shift focus from the traditional print media to digital media. And most importantly, he has always gotten away with such wacky PR policies, just as he has gotten away handling the PR for 20 Bigg Boss contestants (read weirdos), and being hired by controversial Godmen and Godwomen to manipulate the media.
By now, Dale is even famous and popular as a Bollywood PR legend, and has been quoted in newspapers, TV channels and websites in various countries. This ironically places him amongst the ranks of the most talked-about and extensively-quoted film publicists in the world. So much so, that if one happens to Google his name, the search engine returns thousands of results. #Facepalm
Though Dale has set an example of being in top form when it comes to setting new norms and trends in entertainment PR, no one wanted to believe that during a pandemic, once again, this guy was defying norms and being an exception in the PR profession.
But when he posted a screenshot of an online money transfer receipt from his fourth new PR client in four weeks, everyone sat up and took serious notice. This Bollywood public relations consultant was actually enjoying the headwinds of the Corona virus crisis, and being offered assignment after assignment. And then came the big splash.
Opportunity in crisis
The publicist posted yet another screenshot of yet another bank transfer to announce that a fifth (yes, believe it or not, fifth) new client had signed him. All this in just a matter of six weeks.
So basically, he had his earlier pre-Corona time clients with him, but these five were actually new clients he added to his portfolio during the lockdown. Now that was something that really shocked everyone. And while people have been feeling stagnated due to the lockdown, Dale had the guts to even brag about his new clients on Facebook.
Now it’s about brand survival
But he did one good thing on social media. He went on to explain the reason why Bollywood is frantically looking out for PRs during this time of economic slowdown. Here are Dale Bhagwagar’s own words, just as he wrote them on his FB profile. (Even if he deletes this post now, all journalists, PRs, as well as film industry folks on his FB account have seen this admission):
Signed yet another PR client today. My 5th new client in 6 weeks. And they say there is dearth of work. Don't know about…
Signed yet another PR client today. My 5th new client in 6 weeks. And they say there is dearth of work. Don’t know about other PRs, but thanks to my early adaptation to cloud networking a few years ago, my PR business is booming in Corona crisis.
An actress friend on FB just saw this post and pinged me on Messenger. “How come you are getting new work in your line?,” she asked. I am editing this FB post to add in the answer I gave her.
My answer: “Actors, actresses, music people and even some filmmakers and Bollywood technicians… they want and HAVE to SURVIVE THIS PHASE. And there is no other option rather than staying consistently afloat IN NEWS. Because, by the time Corona crisis ends, a new lot and generation would be ready to replace the earlier one. The only way to maintain continuity at such a time is to STAY in news and not get OUTDATED. So, inspite of the fact that they may not earn for the next few months, they prefer to spend on PR for now, than perish with time.”
Guess what my actress friend replied to that message of mine. She says: “How much would you charge if you do my work?” (Not revealing her name from a work ethics point of view… but will post the money transfer screenshot when I get my next client.)
That’s an audaciously brazen admission. But then, no one normally expects Dale to be diplomatic either. For all one knows, maybe he believes diplomacy in PR is for others. But if this development is any clue to what the near future could hold for the PR industry in Bollywood, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the entertainment PR profession could emerge as Corona-proof.