In my previous organization, I worked in a role where we organized several conferences a year. Even though it was a corporate that focused on business development in the media and entertainment sector, at least one of the conferences would be a huge star-studded gala kind of a thing. The reality was that no one would come to a boring-ass set of speeches and panel discussions if you didn’t have at least a couple of stars wandering in and out. So our mandate last year was to make sure we got at least 10 stars to attend at various points through the three days of the conference.
While we did manage to get six celebs who were big stars - actors and actresses with multiple Bollywood blockbusters to their credit - to make up the remaining ‘star quotient’, we invited a few TV celebrities. They proved even harder to get hold of than the movie stars, actually, because they were shooting pretty much every single day and were hardly likely to cancel three days of shoots just to glam up our conference. Especially because, even though we were arranging travel, etc., for them, we weren’t paying for their time. So it was quite a coup for me when I managed to track down the manager of...let’s call him X, and after weeks of pursuit, get him to agree to come. X had made his TV debut a few years ago on a reality show, and after coming close to winning it, he’d managed over the years to be signed on for several modelling and acting gigs. And he was only going to get bigger with time because he finally had a starring role as the main protagonist of an immensely popular Hindi show.
The conference started, and I forgot all about the glitz and glamour of having stars around. Instead, I was exhausted from the whole production of actually hosting and coordinating with dozens of delegates. My colleagues and I may have secretly dreamt of hobnobbing with the stars, but those dreams were ruined quickly enough - the stars themselves treated us no better than lackeys at their beck and call. They were each attending only one panel or two, but even those three or four hours of their presence was enough to make us want to cry. From makeup artist to stylist to bouncer to waitress - I think I played all those roles for our beloved tinseltown divas. So did my colleagues.
X, however, was actually going to be staying at the hotel where the conference was happening. His panel was the first one on the final day of the conference, so he was flying in on the evening of day two. It was around 8 p.m. when I was introduced to X at the lobby of the hotel. One of my colleagues had escorted him from the airport, now it was my turn to make sure he was taken care of until his stylist and his assistant arrived (they were due to arrive in another hour or so).
I put on my best hostess smile and greeted him enthusiastically, even though I was quite exhausted. We’d been running on a diet of Red Bull and coffee, pretty much, and surviving on two hours’ sleep a night. It wasn’t too difficult, though - X was a charming guy, and certainly much politer than some of the other celebs we’d dealt with. As we took the elevator so I could show X to his suite, I told him what we were hoping to accomplish for the media and entertainment industry through the conference, what sessions were going well, etc., etc. He responded with intelligent questions and comments, and I was pleased to think that he’d add more than glamour to his panel discussion, that he’d actually have great insights to share.
Once I’d shown him into his suite (it was a really swanky one, possibly the plushest one at the hotel), I gave him my number in case he needed something, ordered room service for him at his request and then turned to leave. X had ordered a single malt bottle, and I was mentally calculating how much that would add to our expenses, when he said: ‘Hey, where are you going? Aren’t you staying?’
‘Uh, no, I have to get things ready for tomorrow morning.’
‘Arre, ek drink toh le lo…’
I was close to fainting from hunger and tiredness and needed food and sleep much more than a drink. ‘Why don’t you rest for a bit?’ I said as politely as possible. ‘I’m sure your colleagues will be here soon…’ I trailed off, a little alarmed by the fact that he’d moved quite close to me while I was speaking.
‘Babe,’ he said, putting an arm around my shoulder. ‘It’s all very well to do good for the entertainment industry and all...par kuchh mera bhi toh entertainment hona chahiye, hai na?’ And so saying he actually squeezed my shoulder.
Honestly, the only thing I could think of was EWWWWW!
Here was a handsome, successful, popular guy, with a wife and kids at home, and he’d just asked me to be his ‘entertainment’ for the evening? YUCK.
Luckily for me, my phone rang right that moment - I answered, desperate to escape.
‘Pia, kahaan ho, yaar?’ growled my boss into my ear. ‘Kal ke liye saare printouts nikaal ne hai…’
I have never been as thankful to have a demanding boss as I was at that moment. ‘Sir, will be there in just a moment,’ I gasped in relief. ‘So sorry,’ I said to X, twisting out of his embrace, ‘I have to go now. See you tomorrow!’ And then I just basically ran out of the suite, not even bothering to stop and hear what he was saying.
The next morning, I switched rotas with one of my colleagues and had him take over all duties for X’s session. I also made sure to play least in sight whenever X and I happened to be in the same area, and the one time he waved at me during lunch, scowling, and gestured that I should go over to his table, I pretended not to see and just abandoned my lunch and ran off to my room.
Thankfully the conference went well as a whole, and when I later told my boss about the X incident, he said I’d done the right thing by leaving. I left that job soon after, though, because I had to move back home because of a family crisis and get a job in my hometown. And I have made sure to stay away from any form of TV celebrity ever since then!
* Names changed to protect privacy.
Published on Nov 25, 2016