‘One spray will bring girls your way,’ promises the Facebook page of Adiction, Mankind Pharma’s deodorant brand. Among the men who don’t fall for such marketing gimmicks is Kolkata’s 27-year-old Saumalya Bhattacharya. In October last year, even when his friends were buying over 15 cans of Adiction each, Bhattacharya wasn’t paying attention. He bought the deodorant simply at the behest of the shopkeeper. Mankind Pharma had launched a contest in which every can gave you an entry into a lucky draw for a dinner date with porn-star-turned-Bollywood-actress Sunny Leone.
My long conversation with Bhattacharya tells me he’s an affable person. Naive, one may call him — excited about going on his first flight — but smart enough to temporarily hide his Facebook profile, remove his girlfriend from his friends list, tweak the settings and get back on the website for personal promotion. His girlfriend doesn’t know about his dinner date; neither do his parents. For them, he was visiting Mumbai on a “work trip”.
For 22-year old Neeraj Shinde from Satara, who is currently an engineering student in Pune, the lying wasn’t necessary. His girlfriend said she wouldn’t mind accompanying him to Mumbai and meeting Leone herself. He is grateful because the only other winner from Pune wasn’t “permitted by his wife” to go on the date. Makes one wonder what the wife thought would happen if her husband shook hands with Leone in a setup with over 100 other people. Shinde’s family, familiar with Leone’s Bollywood career, didn’t find anything alarming about his dinner invitation. It’s only upon a bit of prodding that he reveals his family’s ignorance of Leone’s career in the porn industry. He brushes it off by saying that’s a different thing altogether.
Both Bhattacharya and Shinde could scarcely believe their luck when they were chosen as winners. Spending some time alone with Leone seemed unbelievable to them. Later, however, they discovered that Mankind Pharma had flown down a total of 100 winners to Mumbai and hosted a large dinner party with song and dance performances. Leone had addressed the crowd and then proceeded to have group pictures taken with everyone. The participation of others at their date was hardly a concern for Bhattacharya and Shinde. “I would have been happy with just a glimpse of the actress,” says Bhattacharya offhandedly.
What Bhattacharya truly desired was to click a selfie with her and make that his profile picture on Facebook. That would have been the ultimate triumph for him. He had posted pictures of his sponsored flight tickets as proof, but it was only after he returned to Kolkata with some shots from the event that he was championed a hero in his social circle. Shinde too had modest ambitions. He would have liked just to shake hands with Leone. What was most important to him was to convince his friends on Facebook that he was going to meet the actress in person. He went to the extent of recording voice calls from Mankind Pharma and posting them as proof for his friends.
Had Shinde actually been able to have a conversation with Leone, he would have confessed his love for her, and let her known that he was a big fan of her “history pictures” from Canada. It took me a couple of “I’m sorry, what?” to understand what he was trying to say because he’d dropped his voice to a whisper. Unlike a couple of other winners, with whom my attempts to speak about the date were unsuccessful, Shinde was surprisingly forthcoming about his knowledge of Leone’s former career. Only, and this is interesting to note, he never once mentioned the word ‘porn’, relying heavily on euphemism.
Post his date, life has changed favourably for Bhattacharya. Adiction’s promise of bringing girls his way is holding true to a certain extent. “There are girls in my Facebook friends list who ignored me earlier. But, after seeing the pictures of my date, they have all started saying ‘hi’ to me on chat. I have purposely not replied to them. This is my time to act pricey,” he laughs.