Mumbai: Bollywood PR guru Dale Bhagwagar needs no introduction. The publicist has handled the media for some of the best actors including Hrithik Roshan, Shilpa Shetty, Priyanka Chopra, Govinda, Randeep Hooda, Shiney Ahuja, Vivek Oberoi and movies like the Shah Rukh Khan starrer Don and Farhan Akhtar starrer Rock On!!
But around this time of the year, the public relations expert is more in demand in the media and social media for his crisis management for Bigg Boss celebrities. The PR specialist who handled the hype and hoopla for Shilpa Shetty through the thick and thin of her international racism controversy in Big Brother earlier, has completed handling a full 20 clients for the reality show’s Indian version Bigg Boss.
He has handled the publicity for almost each and every controversial contestant from Rakhi Sawant, Sambhavna Seth, Kashmera Shah, Vindu Dara Singh, Sherlyn Chopra, Pooja Misrra, Ashmit Patel, Amar Upadhyay, Sonali Raut, Aman Verma and Rahul Mahajan.
Even Pakistani starlet Veena Malik received an offer to enter Bigg Boss due to a controversy with his PR client, actress Neetu Chandra, which Dale propelled in national media. But we tracked the publicist down this month not to speak about these, as much to reveal about his latest and 20th client in Bigg Boss… the firebrand Mandana Karimi.
Yes! The Iranian born actress who is now appearing in Ekta Kapoor’s ‘Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3’ with Tusshar Kapoor and Aftab Shivdasani, is making all the right noises on the show. Dale Bhagwagar is reported to have thoroughly guided her before she entered.
How long has your association been with Mandana Karimi?
I was referred to Mandana by another client of mine some two years ago. When I met her for the first time, she came across to me as a smart girl who was kinda tracing her footsteps back to her roots. See, though Mandana hails from Iran she is born to an Indian father and an Iranian mother. She’s grown up in Tehran, before globetrotting and landing in India.
Apart from her smartness, was there any other trait that struck you?
Yes, we PRs look for quite a few qualities before taking up a client, and Mandana fit pretty well in most. In the first meeting itself, I realized that she was a good mix of smartness, beauty and moreover, talent and versatility. There was a certain kind of vulnerability to her persona as she was still to find a foothold in the film industry. But she asked me so many intelligent questions about PR that I knew she was a beauty with brains.
Do you remember anything she told you before signing you on as her PR then?
She said she was ready to experiment with roles from everything cliché to bizarre. Her aim was to enact varied characters with all kinds of shades. I liked that vision. And we worked at establishing her brand and image for the next year-and-a-half.
What happened after that?
We went on a PR break for a few months during which she also signed a three-film deal with Ekta Kapoor’s production house Balaji Motion Pictures. But when Bigg Boss happened to her, we decided to get back as I have handled many clients for the controversial show, and crisis management is also my forte.
Has she come up to your expectations with controversy?
Lol. You ask me as if I train my clients in controversy. Ha ha. Yes, I thoroughly brief all my clients about how to stay in news and how to survive all the onslaughts a reality show offers. But trust me, I do not create controversy, or ask them to. By Gods grace, my clients often fall into them, and keep me on my toes to handle the media on their behalf. (laughs) But I love it. I simply adore my clients and my job.
Coming from a foreign country, did Mandana take time to learn Hindi?
When I met her first, she told me she was taking Hindi lessons. I realized that she could speak the language pretty well, though she needed to perfect her accent. Her favourite pass-time was to watch Hindi film songs, apart from other Hindi news programmes on television. As far as Bigg Boss is concerned, I don’t think she has watched many seasons apart from Season 7.
We have read that even you were invited for Bigg Boss Season 7 as a contestant, but decided to skip it.
Ah, I can see from your questions that you have done your research well. I did get calls from the casting department of the production house Endemol, to join Bigg Boss 7 as a contestant. It is the greatest reality show on Indian television and I was flattered with the offer. Plus, I would have loved the opportunity to interact with Salman Khan every week. But I think I am a misfit for Bigg Boss. If I went on the show, I would definitely end up playing my PR games with the whole House, and then all my manipulative PR secrets will be out. That’s kinda scary. (winks)
Oh! That’s amusing. Coming back to Mandana, she has also done fashion shows and advertisements before entering Bigg Boss, right?
Correct, she has walked the ramp for many fashion designers including JJ Valaya, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, Rohit Bal, Anna Singh, Satya Paul and even done an advertisement for Royal Stag starring none other than the Badshah of Bollywood Shah Rukh Khan along with the Nawab of Pataudi Saif Ali Khan, and another one for Sony Ericsson with Kareena Kapoor.
Do you think Mandana is suited for Bigg Boss?
She had once told me that she has a fascination for a big futuristic television set for her living room. She was talking about a full HD web-connected TV, preferably with stereoscopic 3D. Now she gets that in the living room of Bigg Boss along with megastar host Salman Khan on it every weekend. What else can she ask for, as she really admires Salman.
Oh really? Is she that big a fan of Salman?
Mandana is actually not enamoured by Salman’s looks, marital status or movies. But she has always spoken about how much she would love to be associated with his charity ‘Being Human’, in some way or the other. She wants to reach out and help people grow in their endeavours and be their best. And I am not talking like a PR here. She has actually told me long ago that she wants to do these things some day.
But why is there so much interest in the cause?
I guess it’s because she hails from Iran and has seen a lot of conflict and emotional upheavals while growing up. That’s why being a good, just and fair human being is important to her.
Don’t you think that she has had many chances to show that side of hers in Bigg Boss?
She has. But sadly, she was targeted in the Bigg Boss House by most, right from the third day, and it never stopped. But from my point of view, the targeting helped her emerge a stronger person and a woman of substance, which she is.
She is the hottest face among all seasons of Bigg Boss.
True, but as I know her, that’s not the way she looks at things. She may be a lovely and ravishing looking lady, but those are not the only qualities she has. Mandana has grit, guts, emotional quotient, determination, spunk, figure, beauty, fashion sense, audacity, honesty, go-getter spirit, intelligence, smartness and a zest for survival and entertainment — and that is what really makes her a lethal mix for Bigg Boss.
These are most of the qualities we saw in your earlier PR client Shilpa Shetty too, who won Big Brother in the United Kingdom after the international racism controversy with Jade Goody.Have you given similar tips to Mandana for Bigg Boss?
It wouldn’t be fair to compare two individuals. Their minds, backgrounds and personalities are very different. However, I have to admit that I’ve given certain similar tips. I’ve asked Mandana to always stand for whatever she believes in and stand firmly. Bigg Boss is a reality show where everything gets magnified manifold. Mandana’s thoughts are clear, but she is still working on her Hindi and her accent. So to make up for that drawback, I’ve asked her to never shy from expressing her thoughts and emotions.
And we have seen the kind of praises she has received throughout, even from the media and other Bollywood celebrities.
Yes, she has; she has (smiles). On entering the Bigg Boss House earlier, Shahid Kapoor told the housemates that people outside are quite charmed by Mandana’s looks. Akash Soni, senior anchor from television channel IBN 7, Delhi, broke into a Persian poetry song for her and called her the only realistic and honest person in the House. Even Sonam Kapoor, who joined Salman for the promotion of their movie ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’, judged Mandana her favourite. Ayushmann Khurrana, who was also a guest on the weekend episodes, applauded her for understanding the Bigg Boss game and planning the best.
You must be pretty proud of her then?
Of course. Am proud of her grit and determination. We have seen the brainy and strong side of Mandana, the very emotional side as well as the glamourous side. Though we have heard the tag of ‘one woman army’ given to Housemate Priya Malik on the show, it is Mandana who has actually earned it for the audience. Reaching the final week of Bigg Boss along with Keith Sequeira, Rochelle Rao, Prince Narula and Rishabh Sinha; enduring the maximum number of nominations throughout the season, Mandana has repeatedly and consistently proved that she is winner material. Most Bigg Boss fans love her like crazy as she embodies the essence of what the show is all about — standing up for what one believes in, and with that dollop of frenzied entertainment. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call her the soul of this season.
Yes, we remember you mentioning her as winner material earlier too. Tell us honestly, what is the kind of brief you have given her as a publicist, before she entered? Do you PRs also influence a client’s thinking? Be brutally honest here, Dale.
I’ve briefed her on the lines of the art of war. You win; you break; you stand; you fight; you hold; you breathe; you fight back; you survive… somewhat on those lines and much more. The underlining strategy is to be herself and showcase her true persona. See, Mandana thinks Bigg Boss is a game. Though I’ve asked her to treat it as one, I don’t completely believe in that. I don’t take Bigg Boss as a game. I think Bigg Boss is twisted reality; a hard fact of our lives craving for voyeuristic drama. Apart from that, it’s serious business… the business of entertainment. It’s a vicious cycle that begins from consumerism and ends at psychology. In a broader perspective, it also gives an edge to the fabric of society and influences way of life. And that is why the Boss is always righteous.
In that sense, do you think Mandana has made a good mark?
Oh yes. She has stood up against all odds and proved it to the nation that a woman might hail from foreign shores, but her message of empowerment is universal. That a woman can get emotional at times, but when she decides to get up and stand against all odds to fight, she can be nothing less than a leader in the true sense. And that is also why I can proudly say, Mandana is in a league of her own.