What a year it has been – Zeenat Aman broke the internet by joining Instagram at 71. Jasmeen Kaur, a self-made entrepreneur who sells Indian ethnic wear on Instagram – take notes, venture capitalists – gave us the anthem of the year in ‘so beautiful, so elegant, just looking like a wow.’ The last prophet-superstar of our age Shah Rukh Khan taught the kids how it’s done by doing the impossible with two (and a third potential) mega-hits in a year. And a Lucknow-based 18-year-old content creator ended up giving us the Indian horror icon of the year – ganji chudail.
If you use social media, there’s possibly no way you’ve not come across the now infamous Orry or who has invariably been seen hobnobbing and rubbing shoulders with celebrities, actors, Bollywood stars alike. The question everybody’s been asking is Who the hell is Orry (?). It’s the staggeringly consistent and equal access he has had to so many stars in the film fraternity that’s added to the enigma and intrigue surrounding him. The other question behind the intrigue is what the hell does Orry do (?). As of January 2023, Orry had many a has-been job titles: fashion designer, singer, songwriter, creative director, shopper, buyer, football player, stylist, and executive assistant. And there is the ‘liver’ self-description since he loves living.
Most speculation points to him being an industry plant at the behest of a powerful business family based in Bombay that’s trying to cement its place as the power broker of the culture industry. Simply put, he’s believed to be a liaison between Bollywood and big business money.
His pictures with various celebrities have inspired a storm of a meme-fest, some harsh and scathing, and some endearing over months of growing popularity. Orry’s ability to sustain interest around him is a testament to him having arrived on the scene and his image-making brilliance.
For someone who stayed limited to niche subreddit circles, he has slowly and steadily climbed up into the mainstream discourse. A case in point is Karan Johar Janhvi Kapoor and Ananya Pandey on a Koffee with Karan episode as to who Orry is and what he does. The actresses rehashed his infamous description of himself as someone who is “…is loved, but misunderstood…,” and someone who “works on himself. He gets massages, he does yoga,” a throwback to his video interview with Sonal Ved at the top of this year.
Even as the Internet loves to hate and admire him in equal parts, one can’t help but compare Orry’s statements and zingers (“I’ve experienced attempted murder because my friend left me alone at a party without saying as much as a bye and I could have fallen off the roof and died, having had a couple of shots”) to the sheer carnivalesque absurdity of Rakhi Sawant – the queen of Camp – who has served, and served so consistently. That he’s made it as a wild card entry to Big Boss, the Indian pastiche version of the American reality TV show Big Brother, is in line with how you’d imagine his graph to grow.
There is, of course, a long list of people who’ve left a trail of crumbs on how to template oneself in the famous-for-being-famous-game. The OGs in this list include Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, the Kardashians-Jenners, Amber Rose, and the most famous reality TV housewife Lisa Vanderpump, all of whom are part of an infamous legacy of people who’ve built their empires on fame alone.
Parallelly, India saw the rise of fame-seeker celebs with the advent of Big Boss that first aired in 2006. A whole cohort of stars emerged from this franchise, many of whom have disappeared into obsolescence and who were once condescendingly snubbed as C-grade celebrities by culture writer Poonam Saxena in her 2009 column when she , “If you ask me, it’s only a matter of time before these C-grade celebrities create a parallel universe of their own and suck the rest of us into the vortex created by their own vacuousity.”
Orry does not need to have anything insightful, meaningful, cerebral or novel to offer. All it takes for this pursuit of fame is the sheer willingness to put oneself out there, wearing your heart on your sleeves and saying it like it is.
The pursuit of fame and power are a bit alike. The election of Donald Trump to the American Presidency is often traced back to the uncomfortable remnants of celebrity culture from the previous century – a heady mix of paparazzi, reality TV, and tabloid journalism. Even as his presidency may have been the rudest joke America has ever lived through, albeit deservedly, it would be foolish to not acknowledge how he was an invention of New York’s liberal studio and cable executives and tabloids who elevated him to national primetime celeb status.
Trump hung out with the power brokers, specifically the New York Post’s gossip editors, proprietors and investors – whose Page-6 writing made and broke careers – as the Showtime documentary adequately shows. Trump’s rise was greatly manufactured by Rupert Murdoch’s CMYK newsprint.
The steady minimal dose of narcissism it takes to hold on to power and fame – and one could think of many elected Presidents and Prime Ministers, probably not too far from home, in this scheme – is the fodder for the bipolarity of our age, equal halves of contempt and intrigue for celebrity famous for being famous.
The Indian media has always had their favourites who make for great headlines, copy, images, and blind items. Be it the ancient age of traditional network studios, legacy media and television or the current age of Tik-Tok, social media and YouTube, India’s appetite for invasive details about their favourite stars and public persons has always fed into the celebrity-industry complex.
In the post-Anthropocene age of the celebrity, the precise speed of it being 4.1 seconds – the average attention span of a person scrolling – being famous doesn’t necessarily need what was once a key requisite to be famous and revered – talent. In this terrain, what qualified you for fame and celebrity used to be the exclusive monopoly of actors, politicians, sportspersons, industry leaders, artists. Remember writers? This has long been disrupted with the birth of the influencer in the post-tabloid age. Being good or the best at something heretofore used to be a criterion to be famous. Today, simply living your authentic selves – or a mildly curated version of it anyway – is what audiences desire most. In a sense, the rules of who gets to be famous and for what reason have been dumped at the doors of Y2K.
The algorithmic democratic dividend has allowed many citizens from the farthest and lowest margins of society to emerge as local or micro-influencers and brought them a dose of fame away from remote obscurity. What remained the exclusive birth right of the feudal landed classes, or the caste group that enjoyed direct or indirect political power, the yuva neta, owners of the localised means of production or of the fiefdom that is Bollywood got completely shattered when small and big YouTubers, Vloggers, content-makers, Tik-Tokers, Instagrammers emerged with millions of likes and subscribers rallying behind them.
The brief period when Tik-Tok was allowed to be used in India, before its official banning by the government, had propelled thousands of social media stars and influencers who had emerged to sudden fame and recognition out of their immediate anonymity. In banning Tik-Tok, India relegated so many content creators from the margins of society back to the digital wasteland, as the comic, podcaster and writer Anurag Minus Verma has so eloquently .
It is no coincidence, then, that urban, Savarna India also cringes at rural Indian content that makes it to its algorithm through curated filters and accounts such as , , among others. Is it Savarna superiority that makes us enjoy ‘’ or Somvati Mahawar who got famous for ‘Hello, friends chai pee lo’ ? Take for instance, one of 2023’s most shared and laughed-at videos by an IAS faculty member of Drishti IAS coaching academy who was mocked for the way he pronounces the word ‘casual’ in the viral . What urban India ‘cringes at’ reflects its own inherent casteism.
Much has been said about how public life and fame come with a pre-emptive forgetting and sacrificing of one’s privacy. As Lady Gaga famously ‘Fame is prison.’ And for most in the business of fame, this is but a tiny price to pay to earn a seat at the table. For generation Z that’s born at the cusp of the new millennium and after, social-media-enabled curating of the self in capsule-sized captions, the regular broadcasting of the daily motions of life and the digital adrenaline economy is the new normal.
Whether you like it or not, the age of the image is the one we’re in and Silicon Valley’s manual of how to live on the internet is a life driven by numbers. It would help to remember that Orry’s audience isn’t so much the late millennial or the newsprint-reading, paperback-buying boomer. It’s Generation Alpha (teens who’re born after 2009) and Gen-Z adults who have been born into the telecom and spectrum revolution. It’s people who’ve no idea what a Public Call Office (PCO) booth looked like or what Orkut, LimeWire or MySpace meant to the 90s kids. To a young adult who is growing up in a relatively less queerphobic India today, Orry might represent a sense of hope and aspiration. His arrival might also mean the retirement of another popular queer icon – a film director whose family sagas defined the 90s and 2000s for many.
If indeed Orry ‘is a liver because he loves living,’ we are all watchers as we love and/or hate watching the carefully curated life he seems to be projecting on our phone screens. That also possibly makes us fawners as we continue to remain obsessed with celebrity culture fawning over anyone who gets to have skin-to-skin contact with the stars. Our intrigue surrounding public personalities’ private lives and those who occupy their constellations says more about us than it does about Orry and what he represents.
Like him, remaining indifferent, loving him are likely immaterial permutations to him. The fact that he’s made you notice, pause, and even read this piece until all the way here is his marketing genius. He’s a stone’s throw away from launching an IP, if not several, leverage his moment in the sun and run with it. And why shouldn’t he? After all, the sky belongs to all.
(Chirag Thakkar is a publishing professional, writer and editor based in Delhi. He tweets @chiraghthakkar. The views expressed here are entirely his own and do not represent that of an organisation nor those of The Quint.)