A Day In The Life Of A Celebrity Photographer
Viral Bhayani, 34, is a Bollywood and society photographer who provides pictures to dozens of publications in India and abroad. His photos of celebs like Priyanka Chopra, Shah Rukh Khan and Katrina Kaif can be found in magazines such as Vogue and Grazia and on websites, like ours, among several others. In the midst of Lakme Fashion Week mayhem, Bhayani, who got into the business ten years ago without any formal training, explained to us the trials of trailing celebs, his daily grind and why he doesn’t really care much for any of it. Edited excerpts:
“I did my B Com and MBA in Mumbai. I’ve been writing for a long time, right from my college days, when I was associated with several papers. I started my career with The Indian Express and Afternoon Despatch & Courier and used to write for them on youth and music.
I began sourcing images for stories, when some of these publications couldn’t find them. After that I got into Bollywood pictures because the boom began. This was ten years ago. Back then I used to carry a very small camera, which people used at house parties. I started very slow and learned everything myself and didn’t take courses. Then eventually I got an SLR camera.
I didn’t really have one big break. My stories were already big, because I was writing on Bollywood and Hollywood for the Bombay Times. I’d call up the White House, call up international stars like the Spice Girls, who were quite big at the time. Then I stopped writing because I lost interest, because Bollywood was churning out the same old content.
I grew from supplying to one publication to many but my model is not to give it to everyone. I stick to people I like and I haven’t really jumped to making a lot of money and selling pics to 50,000 people. I sell to a good amount of websites and magazines—Grazia, Cosmopolitan, Femina, Vogue all take pictures from me. I supply to all newspapers, and to various agencies who supply to other people.
A typical day is a bad day. I spend five hours at a single event, and sometimes nobody gives you water even. After the events—there are six to seven in a day—I come home, edit the photos until 5am, then send it out to everyone. I wake up early around 8am or 9am, do some work, then go back to sleep, then go to work again. I work seven days a week, even if there’s a war I still have to work, because websites have to run, they need content.
You can’t sit and think you’re going to get calls to cover events, you have to keep reading, managing dates, looking at the papers. Like this week is Kajol’s birthday so now you have to understand an artist, their habits, what they like, what they don’t like, which restaurants they will go to. You go or send your guys there, but 99 per cent of the time you don’t get pics. It’s just a fluke, you’ll go to the Grand Hyatt or the six or seven places you think they’ll be but it’s not assured you’ll get a picture.
Earlier I used to go to all these restaurants and wait for hours, but now I send my boys. I have four of them working for me. But I have to keep chatting with them, motivate them to wait, sometimes for four to five hours. If a hotel tips you off, you have to pay them, and I don’t have the budget for it.
I remember one day I had gone at 6am because Priyanka [Chopra] had thrown a party at SRK’s house for Hollywood actor Gerard Butler. I waited and I got a photo of him at 6am just below the flyover in Bandra in an auto-rickshaw. Karan Johar’s birthday [bash] was the biggest party of this year and I was hired exclusively to work for him, to be inside the party, and that was a big thing for me.
Normally in a day, there are seven to eight events happening, and every day there is some problem, some artist who doesn’t want to give you pictures. There are a lot of tantrums. For example, Abhay Deol [and] Ajay Devgn are moody people, Abhishek [Bachchan] is also moody, they work according to their own rules and regulations. Today many stars don’t want to be associated with big parties where a lot of drinking is involved. If it’s an event for an NGO, then they will all pose, but if it’s associated with drinking, they’re not interested in posing. If it’s the party of some faltu politician, then they’ll ask us not to take pics.
Some celebrities like Sameera Reddy and Priyanka [Chopra] are more obliging, and they go out of their way to pose. They now recognise me, but I don’t consider any of them friends. I can never do that, because it’s a give and take relationship and they call us when they want to promote themselves. They are here for a purpose, I am here for a purpose. Sometimes they feel like friends, but they’re not friends; they might not recognise me, but I don’t feel bad. Bollywood is strange—you see so many people grow in front of you but when they become big they start showing their attitude. It happens in every industry though.
These days it’s getting risky with stars’ security and regulations. A lot of fights have taken place and have ended with the media being in a cop station, so it’s better to keep it cool. Even if I don’t get a pic I don’t give a damn. My own personal safety is more important than getting a picture of say Aishwarya Rai’s daughter. When I came to know about her baby, I thought it could be my son, and I didn’t feel comfortable taking a picture because people could use it to kidnap her. I don’t want to be paparazzi, I’d rather be a socially responsible photographer.
July was a bad month, but every month is generally hectic. In August, there a lot of things happening, Fashion Week, Couture Week, a lot of big private parties where the hosts will call me to shoot for them; I even got a call from the management for Nita Ambani. With Fashion Week, I have to go for the post-parties, so I’m there till 3am, then I’ll file until 5am, and start work again by 11am.
I make money but it’s not enough so I have multiple businesses from where I recover my costs. I can’t rely on this solely. But I love taking photographs, and if I don’t do it for one day I feel jobless. I used to run a paper in New York, and have stakes in entertainment magazines in South Africa and Australia. Eventually I could start my own magazine, with the best pics, with the best stories, with all the inside info that nobody else has that would rock the world. But I haven’t got the time.”Tags: Bollywood, Celebrity Photographer, Fashion Week, Lakme Fashion Week, Society, Viral Bhayani