The Cannes Film Festival provided yet another opportunity for three Hindi film stars to take their fans to places that were inaccessible before.
From Deepika Padukone’s spaghetti lunch and Sonam Kapoor prepping for her appearance in a shimmering gown to Aishwarya Rai Bachchan hugging the people who made her look like Cinderella in Sex and the City – millions of celebrity fans were treated to carefully curated snapshots of the stars’ privileged lives. The smartphone, in the hands of star managers and family members, has become a friend, confidante and trusted conduit. It is a tool for the beautiful women to appear both accessible and fantastical at the same time, unlike the unsparing paparazzo, who would rather strip them of their aura. Had an enterprising photographer managed to get the same pictures without the star’s knowledge, it would have seen as a breach of privacy.
All three actors have had an uneasy relationship with the paparazzi. While Padukone had once taken on a section of the entertainment media for publishing top shots of her decolletage, Bachchan has kept photographers at an academic distance her entire professional life. Kapoor has never been a paparazzi darling. She puts so much of herself out there that there is precious little left for them to explore or imagine.
Thanks to Instagram, however, stars who are otherwise hounded by the paparazzi and have often been on the back foot over controversial and candid pictures, have established a direct, more personal mode of communication with their fans. The shared images are carefully monitored, filtered and prettified. Even the most seemingly candid or casual shot has a purpose and a team behind it. For millions of fans around the world, these social media pictures are the prized dress circle tickets to the theatre of Bollywood.
For instance, Katrina Kaif, who has only recently taken to social media, shared pictures of herself wrapped in towels, shot for celebrity fashion photographer Mario Testino’s famous series. Not very long ago, when the star was in a relationship with Ranbir Kapoor, she was photographed with him at Ibiza beach in a mismatched bikini. Kaif had slammed the photographer – a tourist – calling it an invasion of privacy.
Priyanka Chopra, who has had to bear the brunt of several paparazzi pictures during her early Bollywood years, is another example of how empowering Instagram can be for a star. As she continues to sweep red carpets in dramatic trains and sensuous outfits, her posts and tweets offer her fans a peek into her charmed life – her swank apartment, dinners with her Hollywood buddies, a khichdi and chicken soup meal she cooked for a friend. A paparazzo can at best click pictures of her in Mumbai, but he will be hard-pressed to get into her Los Angeles kitchen or her New York City dressing room.
Instagram has helped stars sculpt their public personas to their liking – a job that been previously the preserve of magazine editors and Photoshop artists. Kaif is not exactly a conversationalist, neither is she known for her sense of humour. But her Instagram pictures, especially the ones in which she appears to channel her inner child, go some way towards making her seem more accessible and warm, even fun.
Alia Bhatt has been showing her fans glimpses of her quintessentially Mumbai life and loves – her new apartment, her book shelves, her sister, father, mentor, friends, shoes, clothes, and diet and exercise regimen. The pictures reinforce her youthful image while giving off the aura of a fun loving professional, independent woman who cannot be dismissed as a poster child of nepotism. Which media photographer in the world could do this for her?
Ranveer Singh, who along with Virat Kohli, Salman Khan and Shahid Kapoor, is one of the most followed Bollywood celebrities on Instagram, works hard to perpetuate his image – of an individualistic, goofy, eccentric star who wears his heart on his sleeve. From his gym sessions to behind-the-scenes of his films and rambunctious parties, Singh’s energetic Instagram presence has turned him into an advertiser’s darling. His mix of personal and commercial posts is perfectly tempered and designed to keep each one of his millions of fans familiar with and hooked to his idiosyncrasies. He carries the same energy over to the screen in his movies.
Clearly, Instagram, while giving the stars complete control over their narratives, has defanged the paparazzi to a great extent. The once powerful arbiters of stardom have been reduced to hangers-on at airport departure and arrival gates or outside bars and pubs, hoping to catch an inebriated star and stoke a controversy.
Fans are not exactly complaining. For the average person out there, hanging on to every single shred of information on a star, the Instagram photo offers a vicarious pleasure that is also far more intimate and lived-in. By simply looking at the pictures and liking, sharing or commenting on them, devotees earn the privilege of a direct darshan, of engaging in conversation with a person who will always remain inaccessible otherwise. They are not in the frame or in the moment, but as followers, they complete the picture that the star wishes to paint. Every picture posted by a star thus breaches the proverbial fourth wall and reinforces it at the same time.