Anil Thakraney’s Hard Knocks: A problem called film publicists

10 Oct,2011

Part of my work involves doing big, detailed interviews with movie stars. And meeting these mighties is often a tedious process. Interviews get cancelled at the nth hour, or the star will arrive hours late for a pre-arranged meet. And therefore instead of it being a routine story, the ritual turns into an exercise in testing one’s patience. Of keeping your cool. Most filmi journos, for whom actors and directors constitute a regular beat, have reconciled with the waiting game.

 

Though I must mention that an interview with Amitabh Bachchan starts sharp at the appointed time. On the occasions I have met him, I never have had to twiddle my thumbs. So if the ultra-big and the ultra-busy Big B can be so disciplined, it makes you wonder about the younger stars. Perhaps they get some jollies out of making journalists wait? Or they are simply disorganized folks, and haven’t been brought up to value other people’s time.

 

And what makes things worse is the role played by the star’s PR agent or Publicist (or whatever fancy title they’ve acquired these days). Except for very few senior agents, who are a little more professional, I have often had rotten experiences with these front men and women. The job of representing movie stars (and close proximity to them) seems to give these people a false sense of self-importance. And the boom in the media, which also means a boom in celeb journalism, has resulted in too many journos chasing these PR agents with interview requests. And this has made the fronters feel even more powerful.

 

The PR agents are often abrupt and rude. Indisciplined too, perhaps influenced by their bosses. And their egos massively inflated because they believe they ‘own’ the stars. As journalists, most of us have learnt to live with these ‘obstacles’ enroute to meeting the actors. Some junior reporters even indulge them, so that interview requests don’t get turned down, and gossip about rivals keeps pouring in. And the show goes on, as it should.

 

But a few of them have gotten so drunk on their access to celebrity, they refuse to leave the room even AFTER the interview begins. They continue to hover around like a nasty presence, like ghoulish shadows. Completely ignoring a basic principle of journalism: That the best interviews (at least for the print medium) happen one-on-one, and it’s in their interest if the discussion with their bosses is insightful and meaningful. I have had PR agents politely evicted from rooms, but some die-hards still won’t get it. They’ll hang around despite being ticked off.

 

I hope one day we see some degree of professionalism come into this job. So that meetings with film stars can be a joyful ride. And not a pain in the you-know-where, which it often is.

 

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PS: My best film interviews, in my own judgment, have so far been with Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan… in both cases there was no middle person involved. And with Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor, because their agents were wise enough to leave us alone.

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