Coronavirus impacts Bollywood paparazzi's day at work

Mumbai, Mar 20 (PTI) With gyms, airports and film studios out of bounds for Bollywood stars amid coronavirus scare, celebrity photographers in the city say they are struggling to come up with newer ways to keep their followers happy.

Gyms, malls and screenings are the 'hotspots' for photographers to click the celebrity as there is a huge demand for 'who wore what' on social media.

Senior photographer Yogen Shah, who has been in the business since 1992, said these were 'unprecedented times' and something he is still figuring out.

'I got only two paparazzi pictures the other day but it was eight the next day. It is truly bizarre, the way this is unfolding. With our prime locations shut, we will have to find new spots as the frequency has taken a hit,' Shah told PTI.

Popular Bollywood photographer Viral Bhayani said the number has gone drastically down from the usual 70-80 spotting of stars in a day to four-five.

Bollywood photographer Varinder Chawla, who has a team of 10 people working for him, said the outbreak has affected the morning paparazzi routine of clicking celebrity photographs outside the gym.

'With gyms shut down, the entire morning paparazzi has stopped. Theatres are closed down so even the screening spotting has died. Normally, we would have 10-20 celebrity spotting in a day, now it's mostly three to four. The other day, we didn't even get a single picture,' he said.

Gym and airport looks of celebrities are a hit on Instagram, with fans of stars and even the general audience consuming 'who wore what' on a daily basis.

Popular celebrity photographer Manav Manglani said the number of paparazzi pictures have now gone down to '20 per cent' as everybody stays home.

'There's hardly anything happening. There's no content. Tip offs from PRs have completely stopped. There are only a few meetings happening between the stars, producers and directors. That's where the focus is now,' he said.

With visa ban and minimal air travel being advised by the government, even the airport spotting has taken a hit.

'We have removed our staff from international airport and placed them at domestic terminal because internal travelling is still happening. Some South stars will come to Mumbai or someone from here will head there for a meeting,' Varinder said.

This, in turn, has also severely affected their Instagram engagements.

Viral, Manav, Varinder and Shah collectively have more than 22 lakh followers on Instagram and all of them are brainstorming how to keep the numbers intact when not many new pictures are available.

Viral said he is looking at uploading classics as he has a bank of unreleased pictures and videos, but there is a small catch.

'I've realised the audience wants to see only happening, trending stars. They don't want to see anything else. If I put a classic picture of a trending star, it'll work but not of the old stars,' he said.

From falling back on archival pictures to re-using photos posted by stars, photographers are managing to keep their audience somehow engaged, but wonder for how long.

Shutting down the business is not an option, at least for now.

Team members reach the field with full precaution- masks, sanitisers, water. 'I've told my photographers no selfies with celebrities, maintain distance, click from at least 8-10 feet, no hand shake. Even if the public is asking for a selfie, I've told my team to discourage that as well,' Manav said.

The photographer said he keeps his team of 15 on rotation to avoid any health risk.

'If six work today, the others work tomorrow. We are working on half the load. They all working with masks, sanitisers and water.' Chawla's instructions to his team are also clear: Click pictures from a distance, no physical contact and respect privacy.

'This is my agenda anyway, but in times like these, I am all the more clear about the guidelines. If the star isn't comfortable getting clicked, we won't.' Viral had initially decided to go 'offline' but with competitors still working that was not a viable option.

'I'm keeping a balance of both, of working and taking precaution, as my competitors haven't stopped working. I'm not going strict on my team, but we are working with full precaution. All of them are wearing masks.

While the photographers battle dwindling Instagram engagements, what works the best is a spotting of Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoors's three year old son, Taimur.

'Taimur creates huge engagement, every day he will come out and do something. The momentum in general has slowed down but Taimur's spotting hasn't stopped,' Viral said.

Taimur is one star even the paparazzos 'regret' missing irrespective of the situation, Shah said.

Varinder said his Instagram engagement shot up recently thanks to the toddler.

'His engagement, his reach is excellent. Coronavirus or not, Taimur will always be strong,' Varinder said while maintaining that they follow strict guidelines in clicking his pictures from a distance. PTI JUR BK SHD SHD