Varinder Chawla waited for a helipad in Alibaug, a coastal town about 96 kilometers (60 miles) from India’s financial capital, Mumbai.
According to his sources, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan may take a helicopter from there to his palatial home in Mumbai.
Khan’s birthday was November 2, 2022. The celebrity always greeted the thousands of fans who gathered outside his house to wish him well on the special day. Chawla was confident Khan would not let them down, so he waited patiently.
Finally, a car with Khan inside approached. Chawla motioned to the actor, who waved back, and pressed the button. Click.
“That was a great shot. My efforts were rewarded, “Chawla explains.
He is one of Bollywood’s growing crop of paparazzi, who follow celebrities on bikes, befriend their managers and drivers to get information about their whereabouts, hang out at airports and restaurants, and even memorize stars’ vehicle registration plates to track them down.
According to Mandvi Sharma, a former publicist for Khan who now runs her own public relations firm, the paparazzi have a “co-dependent relationship” with Bollywood’s celebrities.
They rely on stars for publicity, and stars rely on them for a living. However, this relationship can become toxic, and observers believe that the dynamic is changing in the age of social media.
In February, actress Alia Bhatt called photographers who photographed her in her living room a “gross invasion” of her privacy.
Saif Ali Khan made headlines earlier this month when he sarcastically told paparazzi to “follow him into his bedroom too” after they followed him and his wife, Kareena Kapoor Khan, into their building.
The video was shared widely on social media after it appeared on the Instagram account of Viral Bhayani, a popular paparazzi.
In 2019, Saif Ali Khan had said that he found the paparazzi stationed outside his house, waiting for a shot of his child, “disturbing to say the least”.
Manav Manglani, a paparazzo for nearly two decades who now employs 15 photographers, claims that social media has created an insatiable appetite for celebrity content.
Several decades ago, only newspapers and magazines purchased photographs from the paparazzi.
According to Sharma, things changed dramatically in 2015 with the influx of digital media in India, as media and celebrities learned to leverage social platforms for work. “It became a massive publicity blitz.”
Today, according to Manglani, paparazzi must cater to a plethora of platforms that millions of Indians use to keep up with their favorite celebrities.
“We shoot, upload, post, share stories, or live stream on multiple apps like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Roposo, and Snapchat,” he explains.
Indeed, many of the well-known paparazzi share content on their massively popular Instagram accounts – Bhayani has 5.2 million followers, Manglani has around 2.6 million, and Chawla has 1.3 million.
Amateur photographers and YouTubers are also attempting to capitalize on the demand, further muddying the waters.
Chawla agrees that in the heat of the moment, “boundaries get crossed” as everyone competes for the best or most exclusive shot. However, he claims to avoid posting content that would offend anyone.