I’m almost famous. I was wearing a suit for the first time in over nine months. I shaved this Sunday morning, a day earlier than usual; combed my hair, another rare act; and even applied deodorant. My wife, our driver, our son, and daughter-in-law (DiL)—the entourage—piled into the car. We were on our way to my first photo shoot and it’s companions: fame and fortune.
Let India Change You.
We read as much as we could about India prior to our move here. There were blogs from other expats, books about corporate culture, and articles highlighting India’s sometimes tumultuous history. We learned about the caste system and how people from different religions relate to each other. We learned that in Hindu, the trinity includes the gods Brahma, the Creator; Vishnu, the Protector; and Shiva, the Destroyer. We read about the various meanings of the Indian head bob. But the best advice we read before arriving—don’t try to change India, let India change you.
Change comes in many sizes. I’ve been paid to do a lot of things. At various times, I worked in a butcher shop; as a delivery driver; unloaded semi tractor trailers by hand—a brutal job in summer; served cheeseburgers; refurbished homes; and repaired aircraft. I’ve been paid to research, analyze, write, engineer, manage, lead, speak, recommend, teach, and code, by everyone from mom-and-pop shops to my favorite uncle, Sam.
We are also private people; neither my wife nor I aspire to fame. We take great pains to protect our identities and avoid the limelight. We make anonymous donations, advocate on behalf of others, and tend to minimize our own contributions.
A paid gig as a model with it’s inherent exposure was definitely outside our normal operating parameters—a big change.
We’re looking for a 40-60 year old Caucasian male.
The post on a local expat Facebook page seemed harmless enough. They wanted someone interested in sitting for a photo shoot for an ad campaign. We were on holiday and the shoot was scheduled for a few days before our return. I sent a private message (PM) to the post author, “If you can wait until we return, I’d be interested in helping out.” I didn’t think anything would come of it.
To my surprise, the author PM’d back requesting a head shot. My wife and I chuckled as we took another drink at the hotel bar. We definitely did not have a head shot. We did, however, have a mobile phone with a camera. After all, what is a head shot, but a really nice selfie. So I snapped a photo and sent it on its way—again, not expecting much.
Imagine our surprise when we received another PM. The photo shoot was postponed pending our return. We had no details about the shoot. Was it for a magazine? How many people would be there? Are there contracts for this type of thing?—If so, I don’t read Hindi and I’d hate to sign something committing to exclusivity at this stage of my new modeling career. Who knows where this thing might go?—Would I be wearing clothing? Off went my enthusiastic reply with a small request for clarification.
Do you own a grey suit?
I honestly had no idea whether I owned a grey suit or not. I’d not worn or looked at business attire in over nine months. During the last formal event we attended I wore Indian attire. They wanted a dark grey suit, white shirt, and a tie for the photo shoot. My wife remembered seeing a suit in the closet. Thank the sweet baby Jesus. There was definitely at least one dress shirt—a sexy, slimming, striped number worn a couple years ago while officiating a wedding—but we weren’t sure about a white shirt. There were no dress shoes in the closet.
I sent an email to friends in Hyderabad:
Does anyone have a pair of dress shoes I can borrow for a day? I’ve been asked to appear in a photo shoot in a suit. The suit I have, the shoes I do not. Something between 10.5 and 11.5 would be perfect, but I’m not doing any walking in them so bigger or smaller might work.
A couple hours later the email replies started. There were 9.5s, 12s, and one pair of 10.5s just waiting to be worn.
After returning home, we discovered a white shirt in the closet. The ensemble was almost complete. We just needed a tie.
I have a tie, of course. It is a 20 year old, dark blue tie sporting guitars in a variety of colors; it is my lucky tie. It probably wasn’t what they were looking for in a professional photograph. Luckily, the shoot coordinator had extra ties he could bring to the session.
Your motivation is…
“You are a big time executive, a CEO, at a major western company. You’ve just closed a deal with the head of an Indian company. You are really happy! This deal gives you access to a market of 1.2 billion people. You’ll shake hands with the Indian lead.” These were the instructions from the photographer.
I am excited. The 1.2 billion person market could potentially make our fictitious company gazillions of dollars. The photographer yelled, “Action!”
I leaned forward, reached my hand toward my new Indian partner’s hand, smiled, and provided a nice firm handshake. “No, no, no,” said the photographer. “You are happy. Smile.”
I was supposed to feel the smile from inside. Let it flow from my heart to my cheeks—I’m not even sure what that means? I smiled again, more broadly, thinking of just how crazy this entire event was for us. “Yes, that’s it!” the photographer exclaimed.
Action was called again. Lean in, smile, firm handshake—“Stop.”
To add a sense of business reality, there was a laptop on the small coffee table sitting in between me and my Indian counterpart. Our handshake was below the top of the laptop screen, which just wouldn’t do. After adjusting the handshake height, we shot the scene several more times until the photographer found what he felt was the perfect photo—or at least one he could make perfect with Photoshop.
What’s it like to be almost famous?
Being almost famous is a bit like being almost pregnant—either you are or you aren’t. However, being potentially famous is something entirely different. In physics, potential energy is the energy possessed by a body by virtue of its position relative to others, stresses within itself, electric charge, and other factors. In other words, a sky diver waiting to jump from an airplane has a huge amount of potential energy—as soon as she jumps, all that potential is converted into kinetic energy.
Potentially famous is similar to potential energy. An article on fitsmallbusiness.com suggests a single billboard will be seen approximately 2.1 million times in a city the size of Atlanta with a metro population of about 4,170,904 people and a population density of 630 people per square mile—I know, I linked to Wikipedia; just wait until you see my mathematical assumptions. Hyderabad is home to about 8.7 million people as of 2014 and has a population density of approximately 47,900 people per square mile.
In August, they will release the photos from our shoot, placing billboards throughout our city of 8.7 million people. There were approximately .503 views per person per billboard in the Atlanta statistics. That means each billboard in Hyderabad will be seen approximately 4,380,363 times. If they place advertisements on 5 billboards, it will be seen 21,901,815 times. That is a heck of a lot of potential famousness!
In other words, if I were the aforementioned skydiver, just prior to jumping from the plane I’d have zero potential energy relative to the vertical and a vertical velocity of approximately zero feet per second—provided we were flying at a constant altitude of 13,000 feet prior to the jump. If I were a normal person, my velocity would increase at a rate of 32.15 feet per second for every second I am free falling; however, I’m not normal, I’m potentially famous. Therefore, my speed increases at a rate 21,901,815 times normal. Rather than impacting the earth at 623 miles per hour, I’d be traveling at 480,097,740 miles per hour when I touched down—negating the effects of friction and a failure to open my chute, which I would certainly do so I could continue to enjoy my fame.
The billboards go up in late-August.
We’ll have to wait to see just what impact the billboards will have on our popularity and financial success. Although confident in the calculations, a rounding error could account for far fewer views than estimated. Until we know for sure just how famous I’ll be, I’ve asked my wife to consider the following question with everything she asks of me: How will this impact my modeling career? Being almost famous means thinking long term.
Special thanks to Krishna for arranging everything, Akhil for coordinating the shoot, and the world famous photographer, K. Vishwender Reddy, Secretary of the A P State Akademi of Photography, for his amazing work and direction.
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Unless otherwise noted, all photos and drawings are those of the author. Copyright can be found here.