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    Fake fans, paid crowd: As Bollywood combats flops, how stardom is manufactured on Instagram, at film events | Bollywood News

    Fake fans, paid crowd: As Bollywood combats flops, how stardom is manufactured on Instagram, at film events | Bollywood News


    But in these three years, while the Mumbai-based industry tried to get back on its feet after the Covid-induced shutdown, stars and marketing agencies cracked a novel, although damaging formula of distorting perceptions and projecting a heightened reality: planting fake crowds.

    Indianexpress.com spoke to multiple industry sources, from film publicity teams, marketing agency professionals, actors to paparazzi, to piece together how some artistes are rigging the game, as the industry recovers from heavy losses with back-to-back failures. This is, the faking and making of a star.

    “The culture of manufactured crowd mobilisation has started post pandemic,” reveals a veteran industry source, who explained that there was a race among young actors wanting to be termed superstars when things were resuming slowly after lockdown. This was also the time South films started peaking and with them, there was a sudden conversation about their stars and their mythical fandom. With Hindi film releases far and few, the actors here–together with their agencies–crafted various ego-pleasing labels for themselves, such as ‘People’s superstar’, ‘Fan made superstar’. So, the crowd became the new PR tool to distort audience perception.

    “Post pandemic, people were barely out on the streets, so celebrities resorted to having crowds manufactured. This works meticulously where the crowd supplying agency ties up with the marketing teams of film for promotions. They charge anywhere between Rs 30,000 to 1 lac depending on the crowd one needs,” the source revealed.

    The crowd supplying agencies term this a “fan engagement” activity, where in reality, most of the people who eventually end up inside an auditorium aren’t even fans of the actors. The process is simple. The said agencies have a network of colleges, where they speak to the student co-ordinator or the student head of college festivals. The deal is usually a barter, where the agency asks for constant student crowd in return of a celebrity for their college fest.


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    These agencies work in close tandem with the marketing teams and function as an “external agency” hired by the marketing team, the costs for which is seen as a marketing expenditure borne by the producer.

    Do you want to be my fake fan?

    “There was a time when this movement was organic. Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan have genuine fan movement around them,” says veteran journalist Bharati Dubey, who has been covering the film industry for over three decades. “Today, this audience for some stars is manufactured. The crowd is told where to go and how to create an environment, which is actually just misleading the audience.

    “The companies, which supply these crowds, also make flags, posters, placards, and provide whistles. There is a budget given to the agencies, who get this done. It’s almost like what a politician does during elections. Mobilise a crowd and create frenzy. You can’t bring in that organic crowd anymore, so they use these tools” she says.

    Indianexpress.com attended several Bollywood events in the recent past, where this pattern was striking. The press conferences are now no longer journalist-only events, as fans have been thrown into the mix. At a film’s promotional event, where this journalist was present, the crowd supplying agency volunteers were seen instructing the “fans” the order in which they would do things: First chant the name of the film’s male actor, then the others would chant the name of the female actor, then all of them would hoot and blow the paid whistle they are given.

    Almost every film and OTT event today comes loaded with the “fan engagement” activity, where the crowd is seated behind cameramen. A marketing professional, who hosted a film event where “fake crowd” was planted, explained, “See it is simple. When you are in a room and your trailer has just played, an artiste wants to hear the sound of applause, cheers and whistle, Now, the media won’t do it, and on top of it can also be critical of the said film or star. So what do you do?

    “You crowd the auditorium with people, who will do as they are instructed. If the stars and makers on stage hear a whistle, they will feel, ‘Boss, picture hit hai’. Truth be told, everyone is in a bubble, for which they themselves pay!”

    An actor, to on the condition of anonymity, said that one can figure out if the crowd is “organic” simply by the energy in the room. The actor, who recently had a release, said there were people in the crowd, who simply didn’t care about the film.

    “You also  see how they react. Fans, by definition, are passionate. You can fill in your auditorium by paying an agency, but can’t buy the on-ground actual love. It never reflects on stage, even when we stand and watch them cheer for us,” another star said on the condition of anonymity.

    ‘A star pays Rs 1cr for digital image’

    An industry source shared how to book an event at a multiplex screen, the makers pay approximately Rs seven-eight lakhs. Then the agency to get in the crowd would charge Rs 50,000. Later, the producer would shell out an additional cost to paid trade influencers to build a narrative. The paid influencers, charging anywhere between Rs 15,000 to 60,000 per tweet, would hype the film or the star. Then, videos and pictures from the events would be pushed online, where these stars are seen interacting with the ‘fans’, getting touched by their gesture and thanking them for their love.

    “Even that push is paid for,” laughed the marketing source at the irony of it all. “But it is all about perception. This is being done exclusively for social media. Everyone from Bandra to Andheri knows this is a paid audience. But what about a guy sitting in Meerut, who happens to find the video on Instagram and perhaps can get influenced? He doesn’t know what we are feeding him, and that works.”

    Popular paparazzo Manav Manglani said genuine fan events are a great way for admirers to meet their idol. “This allows the fans to meet the stars. Does it lead to Instagram traction? Kind of, because you get good candid videos when fans and stars are interacting. So the moments are captured.”

    But the Instagram game is where actors are focusing their might on, holding meetings with agencies to make them “viral”. A publicist on the condition of anonymity shared how a female actor, mostly known for her character roles, had a peculiar request: To make memes on her so that she connects with her young fans. Today, meme-making and ensuring they are sent to online pages is a full throttle digital exercise. So, even the funny Bollywood memes that are exchanged over Instagram DMs aren’t always organic.

    According to sources, a mid-level male star spends Rs one crore a month on his digital image, which includes tapping into paparazzi and influencer pages, and seeding positive comments on Instagram about him. Besides, some of the events the star does, the crowd is brought in and “mixed” with fans to project a heightened reality.

    Pre-pandemic, the paid activities were more media publicity driven, as Instagram wasn’t as big. So a campaign would guide a star to get “spotted” at public places, while the team would activate the said actor’s fan database so that they can gather before he or she arrives at the spot. This would also be done for birthdays of mid-range stars and, in some cases, film success parties, where actors would compete to call “maximum fans” to show their might.

    Post pandemic, as people got disillusioned with Bollywood and the star hierarchy further strengthened, agencies came up with another strategy: Place actors in a crowded place, so that it looks like they can create a huge frenzy. Which has also led to some embarrassing failures, as at one event, fans were captured wondering who they were cheering for, as the star present on the stage said how much he loved them all.

    “Sometimes the stars don’t know, they are living in their cocoons,” Bharati Dubey says as she reflects on the practice of manufacturing frenzy. “The social media age has killed the star, who remains only on social media. Beyond that, he doesn’t know what to do. If the social media goes from his life, what remains? Nothing. It is dangerous. In this digital age, everything is fake and manufactured.

    “There are producers who spend Rs five crores on multi-city events and tours. The stars may benefit in terms of perception, but the producer then suffers because they are spending that money to create a perception that their film is hot, that their leading star is hotter. So then they do these activities to mobilise people. But that’s the catch, mobilisation here is limited only to mobile phones– people don’t show up at cinema halls.”

    Let’s rig the ‘Gram!

    Various sources Indianexpress.com spoke to shared how most of the paid-crowd activity is purely an ego massage. “Earlier people would buy awards, now since the credibility of awards has vanished, showing audience frenzy is the parameter to define superstardom,” a source shared.

    A paparazzi, on the condition of anonymity shared how some actors in their desperation to come across as crowd pullers, either plant fake fan moments, or act candid over a well orchestrated fan meet.  “Some of them will say how their fans have come from far to meet them, so they will call the paps to capture that moment. The superstars always have that kind of crowd. But others do it to get some publicity out of it, that keeps them in the news cycle.

    “But the audience has become smarter today. They know what is happening, how things are functioning. So they write in comments that, ‘Ye toh paid fans hai (the fans are paid)!’ so the authenticity takes a beating and has in fact reduced today. Every actor wants to be in the A-game, so they resort to this.”

    So, a star might get the desired visual, of a packed auditorium or fans dancing for them ahead of their film release, but it rarely translates to fair results and is now running the risk of ridicule as the online hype of the actors don’t match their box office pull.

    “You are a superstar only if your movies make money. New generation stars are up and about everyday at the same eateries we visit, same gyms, same streets we frequent. So, there’s no exclusivity. The overexposure on social media has also faded the charm and mystery of stars. Which is why, the culture of buying the crowd,” the source concluded.



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