Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore him. If you are a celebrity, well there is no way you can escape his lenses. Mumbai’s Bollywood and fashion photographer turned content creator, Viral Bhayani, is perhaps the most popular of his kind on social media. But that is one area one must tread with caution, as social media, they say, is a double edged sword. Not a first, but Viral recently had a brush with Deepika Padukone on his social media page when the actress commented on one of his videos (Late actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s dead body being carried in an ambulance from the hospital to the crematorium), “Right. But it is OK for you to take this video and not only post it but also probably monetise it without his or his family’s written consent?” Viral did respond to this in a series of tweets on his account last night, but we got in touch with him to discuss the matter at length, the line of privacy and more about the paparazzi culture in India. Also Read – ‘Inshallah acting seekh li,’ Sara Ali Khan pays tribute to Sushant Singh Rajput for guiding her in Kedarnath — watch video
Cutting to chase, he explained that funerals are never a pleasant thing to cover. “Earlier, putting out such pictures (of dead bodies) wouldn’t be such an issue. Over the years, people have become more emotional about these things. Now, if it becomes too much, we will stop covering funerals. As photographers, even we are emotionally connected to such incidents. A funeral is a very sad thing. It’s not at all about making money (as assumed). If I were to make money, I can instead do a glamorous shoot; there are many ways we can make money, get followers and likes and all that,” he says. Also Read – Alia Bhatt’s mother Soni Razdan on nepotism controversy: Those who have made it on their own will also have kids one day
On Deepika Padukone schooling him on his coverage
Prod him on the fact that Deepika schooled him on his own social media page, and he quips, “Deepika Padukone did the right thing, Kangana Ranaut also did the right thing. It’s a human thing to react. They were not trying to be my enemy or anything like that… it’s a very natural thing and I appreciate it. I also answered that I am also a human being, and when I cover such a thing, I do it with emotion and I also connect with the people. I understand how people have become so mean today. When there is a party, everyone will turn up, but when it’s a death, nobody comes. I have only seen Raza Murad and Ashoke Pandit at all the places, none of the other celebs turn up.” Also Read – ‘Is this something that we have just realised?,’ asks Sushmita Sen on the existence of nepotism in Bollywood
On receiving hatred on social media
But is it the repercussion of his presence on social media that gets him more hatred? “Social media can be accessed on the phone anytime, anywhere. So there is a direct effect. If I put up a picture of a starkid, I get trolled badly. But when newspapers and magazines publish the same thing, they won’t get as affected because there is no direct communication with the audience. Here, it is live and they are directly communicating. Even in case of electronic media, there is no live audience… they cannot speak to you. But when I put some content, I get gaalis and I have to reply to them, you know, because when they abuse me, I have to answer back.”
Narrating the series of events on the day of Sushant Singh Rajput‘s funeral, Viral adds, “This time it was even more challenging as it was raining. I am sure the photographers would have maintained certain distance… I know it did not go as planned, the photographers got a little closer to the celebs. But that was because of the rains, that’s the only reason. Otherwise we don’t want to go into that zone. The moment I started posting content on my page, somebody sent me WHO guidelines that this is how it has to be covered.”
But this is not the first time he faced wrath for a funeral coverage. “Even in the past, when I put up one picture of Sridevi from her funeral, I was trolled big time, and within 10 minutes I removed it. There was a picture where she was wearing a red saree and it was very beautiful. But a lot of people didn’t like it. So I removed it immediately and thereafter I don’t put up any of the close-ups. In the past we used to do,” he recalls.
On whether he will stop covering funerals
“Sometimes we don’t get to go inside the crematorium. Everything depends on whether we get permission from the family. This time there was no permission from family because of COVID-19. But some people do it secretly. I know funeral picture and videos do get considerable views, but you can’t capitalise or monetise on it. To use a word like this is very derogatory. People think that paps have stooped so low that they are going to any extremes to cover a funeral in order to monetise it. This is wrong. We respect the fraternity and we follow all guidelines. We make sure there is no close-ups of the person who has died. What I have maximum done is, shown the ambulance. There’s no picture, no video, no footage of family members… I don’t want to show his sister crying, or his dad coming out of airport… I don’t want to show grief. I’ll show celebs… this is what I plan. I didn’t even take Rhea Chakraborty‘s picture at the funeral… she was his girlfriend. But when she came to the police station, I took her picture. At the funeral, I avoided clicking the relatives. But if there is a problem, we will stop clicking pictures,” says Viral.
On what drives him despite all the negativity
Well with so much negativity around, it can get difficult to focus on work. So what is it that drives him to do what he does every day? “If there is something wrong that I have done, I need to correct it. There are so many mistakes I commit… I am not a saint. Kaafi logon ne bola ‘har**mi photographer’. If I get affected, I will not be able to work. Work is religion, no mater what happens people will take you down from day 1. If you are working with a good motive, nobody can pull you down. The future looks so bleak (given the pandemic situation), but when things get better, I will rock again. I will be back,” he asserts.
On being more cautious
But after being called out by A-listers like Deepika Padukone and Kangana Ranaut in this particular incident, does he have a change in perspective about his work? “I appreciate criticism. If they mentioned, that means I need to be extra careful and if I hurt someone (with my work), I need to even stop covering funerals. Their point of view is very natural. They also have their perceptions like we tend to assume actors earn so well, they must be leading a colourful life. But they have their own challenges. Likewise, they also think we (paparazzi) are trying to make money out of this, but that’s not the case. There are so many perceptions, like we make a lot of money with Taimur‘s pictures. But it’s all false.”
On fans and their social media trial
Ask his take about outrage of fans and social media becoming a virtual court blaming celebs like Karan Johar, Salman Khan, Alia Bhatt, Ekta Kapoor and others for Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide, he says, “People want the entertainment fraternity to go down. We have always been in the limelight, we get all the love and affection. So they (people) get fun out of these accusations. But it’s a limited thing. They are probably freaking out on this as it is a death. But this is short term, it will change in just a matter of time once the verdict is out. Right now everybody is blaming the celebs. There could be so many factors behind Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide. But people are reacting out of their emotions, they don’t know the truth. It’s easy to pinpoint at someone.”
On Sushant Singh Rajput and Rhea Chakraborty
Remembering his interaction with the late actor Sushant, Viral recalls, “I found him a little different from other actors. When I went to his house, he was very warm and welcoming. I felt a little awkward as we often don’t get friendly with celebs. After his film MS Dhoni he became more popular and his pictures were in demand. In the last few months before the lockdown when Rhea Chakraborty came into his life, I could see the charm and the cheer on his face during his gym visits. We could see him giving us some fun pictures, smiling at us. Earlier he had even refused to give us pictures at times. But there was positivity as if he wanted someone in his life, and he was very happy with Rhea’s presence.”
Challenges during and post lockdown
While that is that, there is no denying the paparazzi have had a tough time during this pandemic with the lockdown imposed since March. Despite losses incurred and having expenses to take care of, Viral Bhayani took responsibility of his team of about 15 photographers, while the competition continued to work amidst the pandemic. “This pandemic has been a testing time. Celebs like Rohit Shetty, Hrithik Roshan, Athiya Shetty, Ekta Kapoor have helped us out with aids. We are taking precautions, ensuring to use masks and sanitisers for safety. We are planning to have PPE kits, but I don’t know how it will be feasible for photographers to wear them on the field all day. Some of them have been infected with COVID-19. They have recovered and resumed work on the field. They cover everything, they are not even scared to even go to dangerous areas,” he explains.
Talk about returning to normalcy, Viral concludes, “It’s very slow. People are not willing to come out. We will definitely maintain distance while clicking pictures, but still celebs are reluctant to come out. The only hope is once the vaccine/medicine is out, things will change.”
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