Amritanshu Gupta prefers to call himself ’social media manager’. He’s the one who writes out those tweets for boxing star Vijender Singh and former cricketer Mohammed Kaif (he also writes tweets for a former cricketer, a certain swashbuckling batsman, but doesn’t want to ‘out’ him). For each of these celebrities, he puts on a separate thinking cap. “I try and match the personality to the account, whether it’s Kaif or Vijender,” says Gupta. Kaif, for instance, is a ‘simple’ man and he wants that simplicity to reflect in his tweets. “He’s a thorough patriot, a fielding icon and a fitness freak, so his tweets are mostly about these.”
Ghostwriting on social media is not some shadowy, nether-world activity. A simple Google search throws up over 4,00,000 results. Several writers spoke to Outlook without any qualms. They consider themselves professionals who post content on social networking platforms on behalf of celebrities, who are either too busy or do not have the smarts to write themselves.
Professionals? Yes. It’s a buzzing economy out there—and it’s sharp witticisms and quick repartee that form its primary capital. Insiders say the going rate is close to Rs 2 lakh per tweet if a celeb with, say, 15,00,000 followers endorses a product or service,. “It may be a little misleading for the public, but celebs are brands unto themselves, and have to maintain PR with their fans,” says Pinaki Ghosh, another social media ghostwriter. “Sometimes the basic thought is their own, handed over to the hired writer, who puts them down in better words,” he says.
These writers have to understand how the celeb thinks, and then develop a full social media personality around that. Many clients insist on a non-disclosure agreement. “Clients want confidentiality, they get a non-disclosure agreement signed. They also want the option to get changes done as per their request,” says Ghosh.
Priyanka Panchal, a familiar face on television, who was in Mahesh Bhatt’s The Silent Heroes, uses the services of Sagar Thareja, a marketing consultant, for her social media accounts. “With my busy schedule, it’s practically impossible to keep track of what’s trending and what would bring about the best visibility,” she says.
It’s not just individual celebrities. The list includes brands and production houses, which require people on short-term contracts for, say, the promotion of a film. Sulagna Chatterjee and Tanya Chopra are a ghostwriting duo for celebrities like Shraddha Arya, Pavitra Punya, Amit Tandon and a Bollywood actor-singer whom they can’t name because of the confidentiality clause. “These are actors with hectic schedules who want to stay connected with their audience. At times, they do not know when to tweet what and how, that’s where we come in,” says Sulagna.
Amit Chakraborty manages singers Javed Ali and Ash King’s handles. He works with around 15 other celebs. “I have whoever I manage on a Whatsapp group with me,” says Amit. If there’s anything he considers necessary, he gets their approval on the group. “If any celeb tweets to Javed, we inform him and ask him for a reply.”
They also have to take care to see that the public persona and the individual are not too out of sync. A consultant says her actress-client did not put up pictures of herself wearing shorts on Instagram for over a year as she was playing a more traditional woman’s character in a TV serial. Sonarika Bhadoria, who plays Parvati in Devon Ke Dev...Mahadev, had to ward off trolls recently after her bikini photos on Instagram, while holidaying at a sea resort, went viral.
A gaffe like this would be curtains for the ghostwriter. Sometimes, when celebs want to put out a strong statement that could be a potential PR disaster, ghoswriters have to dissuade them. “They say, ‘par humko abhi bolna hai’, and we have to tell them the issue needs to die down before you can say anything,” says Chakraborty. In some cases, the ‘image’ doesn’t fit. For instance, a Shilpa Shetty would not be taken seriously on demonetisation as opposed to an Amitabh Bachchan (her Animal Farm gaffe in print did no harm to that image).
But isn’t ghostwriting inherently unethical? “I don’t think so,” says Pinaki. “If doctors use assistants while conducting operations is okay, or if a film director can direct multiple films on the same day using assistants, and actors can use stunt doubles, what’s wrong in using a hired writer?” he asks. But the question remains that if the fans found out that the smart one-liners from their stars on Twitter and FB are not actually their own, would they still follow them?
By Yamini Kalra and Siddhartha Mishra