ookalikes of Hindi film and TV actresses are in great demand in Mumbai's flesh trade. These duplicates charge anywhere between Rs 25,000 and Rs 5 lakh per hour, excluding tips and agent commissions. Many of them have had their appearances cosmetically altered to resemble a popular heroine. Some of them get to travel abroad to entertain clients. Many are even known to charge "service taxes" for the services provided, say their pimps who have given themselves the glorified appellation of "event manager" or "model coordinator".
One such "model coordinator" Rustom (name changed) opens up to this newspaper about the "business" after much prodding. "Not all clients know whether an actress hired by them is the original one or a duplicate. Prominent among our clients are Arabs. They are so enamoured of Bollywood beauties that they do not look at them closely enough and cannot make out the difference," he says.
"There are many girls who act as body doubles for Hindi film actresses. Most of these girls are not repeated in front of the camera. Some fail to get roles because they resemble a certain leading actress. Some of them eventually turn to prostitution to make ends meet or make fast money," says Rustom.
"The present going rate this season for the lookalike of a certain television actress who won a reality show is Rs 135,000 per hour," he says.
Rustom says that the girls come from all over India and abroad. "You can find them hanging out at Juhu and at Bandra's numerous coffee shops post 7 p.m. The ones coming from small towns undergo various makeovers including nose jobs and boob jobs to look like the actress of their choice."
The girls are, however, warned not to get too cosy with their clients. "We fire them whenever we notice a slight romance brewing. It is bad for business," Rustom says. Pune based businessman Rajendra Jha (name changed) tells this newspaper that he often uses these duplicates as escorts to entertain his clients. He says that several rich foreign nationals and Non Resident Indians (NRIs), mainly builders and businessmen visiting India regularly, not only hire these lookalikes on an hourly basis but also give them expensive gifts. "They even get to travel abroad, with Dubai being the most common destination. These girls generally fly out on Thursday and return over the weekend loaded with expensive clothes, jewellery, etc., thanks to their rich patrons," he continues.
The festive season of Christmas and New Year is a time when these girls are most sought after.
A lot of secrecy is involved in the business. Jha says that the girls can be available only through recommendations. The photographs of the girls get exchanged mainly through BlackBerry Messengers before a deal is finalised. "Everyone is aware it's an illegal business. Hence one has to be very careful. Equal care is taken to see that the day the duplicate entertains a client in a five-star hotel in Mumbai, Lavasa or Pune (the three most popular destinations) the original actress is nowhere in the area," he says.
The charges are so high because of the "investments" made. "When entertaining clients they too travel in style, like a film star, in a limousine with body guards, etc," says Jha.