Their duties go beyond handling the star’s calendar and liaising with journalists; they decide which event the actor will attend, which advertisement he/she picks up and even what questions a reporter should pose to the star.
Recently, Hema Malini and her daughter Esha Deol walked the ramp at the Lakme India Fashion Week for designer Sanjukta Dutta. The event was proceeding smoothly till the mother-daughter duo had an interaction with the media. They were amicably chatting and the discussion soon veered towards Esha’s upcoming directorial Cakewalk, when someone posed a question about the short film. An enthusiastic Esha was rudely interrupted by the coordinator, saying the media should restrict its questions to the event at hand. This interruption annoyed Esha who walked off in a huff.
Hema Malini feels that there was no need for the anchor to get so antsy about it. “The media doesn’t get a chance to ask us about our work whenever they want. So there’s no harm if they pick a specific venue and event to ask us about activities that are not related,” she said.
Well, this is a case where the actor wanted to talk about her upcoming film they all need publicity but in most cases, the actors ignore media requests that are not approved by the PR/manager.
Recently, actor Hrithik Roshan visited Hyderabad to promote some brand and a fitness programme. The PR for the event asked the press to keep the interview to just five minutes with no personal or professional questions. They were told that Hrithik “would only talk about the brand.” None of the major publication houses covered the event.
PR agents generally specify the duration for which a journalist can talk to the celebrity. When actress Kriti Sanon and Sushant Singh Rajput were in the city to promote their movie Raabta, the PR kept interrupting the journalist for asking a question after the specified “time limit”, while the actors simply smiled and kept quiet!
Actor Shatrughan Sinha feels the PR-manager team wields too much power today. “In the past, many heroines wouldn’t open their mouth without their mothers’ permission. Now the same is happening with the new generation of stars who pay a huge amount of money to these PR companies to build and protect their image. These image-makers are allowed to take over your lives. This is sadly happening with many stars,” he says. Trade analyst Amod Mehra agrees, “Today, the stars are mere puppets in the hands of their marketing teams. The marketing team decides how to project and protect a star. Eight out of 10 times, their perception of what is right for a star is wrong.”
PRs defend their role
Hema Upadhyay of 1H Media Consultants (who was handling Kangana Ranaut till last month) says a celebrity and a journalist shouldn’t be interrupted when an interview is going on. “Most celebrities are capable of handling media queries and know how to respond. But at events, sometimes the purpose of the gathering gets lost because of questions that are completely not related to the event,” she says.
Communications Manager for fashion designer Rahul Mishra, Aamina Simone, feels it’s important for publicists and managers to mediate interactions with the media because nowadays, there is ample scope for anything to be blown out of proportion.
Says Aamina, “As a publicist, your priority is to have your client’s best interest in mind but it’s easy to get so caught up in the job where you might even forget common courtesy. Such is the job, extremely demanding and high pressure; so I don’t blame the PR in this situation, he/she was clearly just doing their job.”
The PRs have also become virtual censors for the stars, much like the CBFC that controls what they say on the screen.
“I have got contracts from PRs that ask me to consult them before making any comment. In fact, I am told to take the question from the journalist and then consult the PR before sending across my answers. They call it the ‘corporate way’ of answering things so that the words are not used out of context,” says a young actor requesting anonymity.
It seems as though the team that manages the celebrity sets the rules and the star has to play by them. Is this a healthy trend?
Shamita Mazumder Ganguly, Sr PRO, Spice PR, refutes this claim. She says, “The publicist bridges the gap between the media and the star. There has to be a healthy discussion between the publicist and the celebrity beforehand about what exactly has to go out in the media. Strings are interconnected amongst the star, publicist and the media, there’s no such thing like setting up of rules or boundaries for the celebrity.”
Some stars also prefer to use PRs as their protective shield. “You cannot blame us for everything. We only follow orders. The PRs and star secretaries often end up playing the bad cop so that the star is not in the bad books of the media. The entourage, including the secretary, hair and makeup person, and the PRs, convey all bad news because the star does not want to disturb his/her image before the media,” says a PR.
Harinath, manager for many actresses like Pooja Hegde, Rakul Preet Singh and Catherine denies controlling his clients. He says, “I look after all their schedules but never interfere in their media interactions. My primary job is to take care of their safety, and not what they are talking about. It is ultimately their decision.”
— With inputs from Reshmi Chakravorty, Suresh Kavirayani, Vanessa Viegas and Cherylann Mollan...