The news of the passing away of Gopal Pandey set off a train of nostalgia. Even though I had been out of touch for a long time, and the journalist-PRO acquaintance had been very brief, he represented the friendly side of the film industry.
Today, films are handled by PR companies, and staff that keeps changing, so that there is no chance to form any kind of connection. The phalanx of managers, spokespersons, stylists, trainers who accompany the stars nowadays, just exist to make sure nobody gets to meet the stars even for a professional assignment, unless they think there is something to be gained by the publicity. When a film releases, or there is a controversy to clear, then mediapersons are lined up in order of importance and soundbytes rationed out.
In Gopalji’s (as he was called) time, there was very little film content on TV and the net didn’t exist. There were a handful of film publications, mainline newspapers and mags had just about realised that Bollywood news sells.
Gopalji handled PR for a whole lot of top stars and production houses — and at time, the Southern film industry was ruling the roost. In those days, there was no open rivalry between film people and no secrecy at all. Journalists walked in and out of studios and make-up rooms of stars. It seems strange now, when ‘Keep Out’ signs are all over the place, but back then press people used to be invited to cover shoots, in Mumbai and outstation. It was the PRO’s task to herd the journos through airports, trains, buses cars or whatever mode of transport was needed to make it to the location.
Outdoor shoots used to be a picnic, and Gopalji made sure everybody enjoyed the trip, had time to themselves to see the sights in the city and do their shopping too. The stars used to have meals with the visiting journalists and it was all very pleasant and informal. He would arrange interviews and drop by personally to the journos’ office or residence with photos and stills (this was before email) of his films.
Over a period of time, he knew what kind of story a journalist would be interested in, and carefully handed out ‘exclusives’ so that no publication felt left out. And if you criticised one of his films, he would laugh about it and say, “I didn’t like it either.”
Now, if a film by a major production company or star is panned, some of them stop sending the critic preview invites. Gopal Pandey was one of a kind and the last of the one-man PR companies, before the corporate took over. Gopalji, RIP.