He is the most-talked about publicist in Bollywood. If you have the slightest doubt, check out the 27,000-odd entries his name throws up on Google. Here’s a no-holds-barred exclusive interview with the self-styled spin doctor, Dale Bhagwagar at his candid best. Check out his brutally honest answers.
Which are the clients you’ve enjoyed working for the most?
Hrithik Roshan, Shilpa Shetty, Priyanka Chopra, Diana Hayden, Pooja Batra, Nikita Anand, Esha Deol, Shiney Ahuja, Randeep Hooda, Arbaaz Khan, Daler Mehndi, Nadeem-Shravan, Chunky Panday, Manoj Bajpai, Shamita Shetty, Upen Patel, Zulfi Syed, Sameera Reddy, Nandana Sen, Sherlyn Chopra, Vivek Oberoi… a lot of them. And yes, I’ve also enjoyed doing PR for films of Sanjay Gupta, Akbar Khan, N.Chandra, Kaizad Gustad, Jatin Kumar, Manoj Agarwal, Vinta Nanda, Tata Infomedia Ltd, Tips Industries, Ashok Amritraj, Ritesh Sidhwani and Farhan Akhtar… including Don and the recent Rock On!!. These are just a few names I can remember off hand. My 23-years-young career, first as a journalist and later as a PR, has been no less than spectacular. Sometimes I think, if I were to die today, I would have no complaints. I have led a thoroughly fulfilling life till now. And come to think of it, I’m still in my thirties. My funda of life is simple — to try and make each day my masterpiece.
What is the best thing about meeting and dealing with celebrities as clients?
The fact that glamour and glitter is all around.
What is the worst?
The fact that we PR’s know from deep within that all the glamour and glitter is illusory. In real life, every star and superstar is as fallible as you and me. We are living in a world where perception is reality. But readers, listeners, viewers and surfers have come to prefer it that way. They want to believe in the auras; in what they read, see and hear. That’s why PR’s reign. Cause most of the time, we are the perception builders.
Who was your first celebrity client as a PR? And what did you do for him?
My first big client was Shekhar Suman, way back in 1998. His TV show ‘Movers & Shakers’ went on to create history on Indian television. And Shekhar wanted better branding then. He hired me for his personal PR and I harped in the media about him being the ‘First Superstar of Indian Television’ till he was unanimously accepted as one. Though he desperately wanted it, I take full credit for getting him that tag. It was fun, especially as it also made me understand the reach of a publicist. Shekhar was a very demanding client, but wonderfully witty, with no dearth of quotable quotes. I grasped and learnt a lot of PR tricks while I planned and carried out his promotional exercises for the three years we worked together. Those were also the best years of his life. He was impressed with my work, and even got me the PR account for ‘Movers & Shakers’ later.
When you take on new clients, what is your first piece of advice to them?
‘Be honest with me. Even when you want me to be a little dishonest with the media.’
Are you dishonest with the media at times?
I exaggerate stories and spice them up at times. Today’s media wants a little tadka with the news, so I give it to them. Otherwise, I have to live up to a long-standing reputation for ethics and correctness. I wish my conscience would allow me to cook up stories like many other PR’s do. But it’s kind of strict with me.
Can you name a celebrity you haven’t worked with, but intend to?
I am keen to work with Salman Khan, simply because I feel he lacks in his media promotions. I have watched his films from my college days. Trust me, he has managed to maintain a mind-boggling fan-following till date. But Shah Rukh and Aamir Khan are the ones who make all the right media moves, while Salman doesn’t! That’s why he is clearly losing out in the perception game. His imaging mostly goes for a toss. Luckily, his consistent hits have kept him going at the top. Salman doesn’t know how to play with the media, while the other two Khan’s are PR masterminds.
How do you deal with snooty, snobby, tantrum-throwing stars?
I try to put them out of my scheme of things as soon as possible. I want all the other PR’s to have them and stay busy, while I get the cream. I am here to plan, strategize, place, image, brand, and if need be, scheme and manipulate perceptions in favor of my well-paying clients. That’s my job.
What do you cherish?
I like to make a name for my clients and for myself. I’m always keen to make a difference to their lives and be known for that. It gives me a high. Luckily, I’ve achieved almost everything I’ve desired. At times, I feel like God’s favourite child.
How do you handle controversial issues in your client’s lives, such as break-ups, affairs and so on?
If my client gives me freedom, I play it up a bit in the media. If not, I find a way to divert the media attention with something equally spicy and sensational.
How would you handle clients like Rakhi Sawant or Raja Chaudhary? What would you advise them? And how would you work the publicity in their favour?
When it comes to media mileage, I am quite kicked about craziness. That’s also why I agreed on a second term with newbie Sherlyn Chopra in spite of her having chucked me out the first time round. (Sherlyn had publicly criticized Dale earlier, saying he was trying to be “God” in her life, by “manipulating every move and news story”. But after a few months, and a media down slide, she hired him back). It’s another matter that I had a difference of opinion and couldn’t continue with her more than a month in the second term. Maybe, I was foolish to opt out, as she was paying me almost four times my current price for having me back for another year. I often act on instinct, and my PR friend Parag Desai feels that this is my only drawback.
What is the biggest mistake most celebrities make in terms of trying to keep themselves in the public eye?
They try hard, and that is it. They could leave the trying to the calculating minds of PR’s. See, we publicists are pros at handling media, but at times, many actors try to be their own publicists. Apart from a few exceptions, most don’t hit it right. If they did, they would turn into national and even international brands, just like Shilpa Shetty.
Glad you brought up Shilpa Shetty. Having created the brand she is, why did you part ways?
Contrary to popular belief, I did not create “Brand Shilpa.” I only enhanced it. The Big Brother win was what created the uproar. On my part, I made sure she went to the next level, with continuous hype and hoopla for the next two years. I had become like an opportunist PR, leaving no stone unturned to put her in the headlines in maximum cities and countries, even if the news was tragic. Yes, I used a lot of street-smart-type PR tactics to get her widespread recognition. My aim was to keep branding her as the “Controversy Queen.” We worked together for five years and amicably parted ways when we differed on strategy for two months. Nevertheless, more than anything else, Shilpa is a wonderful person, happy, content, genuine, warm, affectionate and good-hearted. A combination of qualities you rarely find in people today. Though I miss her as a client, I will always cherish the fact that I gelled so well, working with her for so many years.
Where do you go from here?
I always move on with bigger plans. In the year gone by, I enjoyed doing PR for Rock On!!, hyping my client Shama Sikander for the reality show Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena, getting various write-ups done on Randeep Hooda, changing Vivek Oberoi’s image a bit with a few admissions about past mistakes in the media, and had a thrill hijacking the PR exercises of ‘Bigg Boss’ in favour of my clients Sherlyn Chopra and Zulfi Syed. You sure remember Sherlyn’s demand to wear bikinis in the shower if she were to participate in the reality show and Zulfi Syed’s pangas with Raja Choudhary after the show. Sorry Colors! I admit, I did it! I had to. As I said before, all this and lots more is just my job.