There are PR stunts and then there are ‘PR’ stunts, and somewhere in the middle of all that, between absolute rubbish and the bizarre is Poonam Pandey’s latest antics.
On February 1, 2024, the model-actor’s team issued a statement that declared the actor’s death caused by cervical cancer. Needless to say, that it went viral within minutes and pretty much became the centre of discussion among those who know who Poonam Pandey is.
What’s ironic is that on the same day, Union finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, had announced that the government intends to push for HPV vaccination among girls between nine and 14 years of age. The vaccine is for the prevention of cervical cancer.
On February 3, Poonam released a video stating that she was alive and well and had faked her death in order to raise awareness against cervical cancer. And while it’s rather noble that she chose to talk about this deadly disease, her method not only comes across as insensitive but ridiculous as well, and her absolute call for attention set off reactions that did her no favour, not to mention how her actions were considered severely disrespectful to those who battle against the disease or have succumbed to it.
The All Indian Cine Workers Association took to X (erstwhile Twitter) and said there should be an FIR registered against Poonam and her manager. Their statement read: “The Fake PR stunt by Model and Actress Poonam Pandey is highly wrong. Using the guise of Cervical Cancer for self-promotion is not acceptable. After this news, people may hesitate to believe any Death news in the Indian film industry. No one in the film industry Stoops to such levels for PR. Poonam Pandey's manager had confirmed the False News, so there should be an FIR against Poonam Pandey and her Manager to prevent anyone exploiting their own death news for personal gains (PR). The entire Indian film industry, along with the entire nation, paid tribute (sic)." President of AICWA, Shyamlal Gupta, didn’t mince words he expressed his opinion in a video shared by the news agency ANI, and here’s what he said. "s this a joke?... You stooped so low for cheap publicity. No one has stooped this low in the Bollywood industry... You have played with the sentiments of the people... There is a way to raise awareness. You can approach the government, an NGO or do a media conference... I have asked the Mumbai Police Commissioner that an FIR should be registered against Poonam Pandey and her manager..."
That’s not all, an independent member of the Maharashtra Legislative Council, Satyajeet Tambe, has stated that the that Mumbai police should take action against the model-actor.
News of celebrities dying is not shocking. Paul McCartney, Sean Connery, Beyonce, Gene Hackman, Russel Crowe – they’ve all been involved in rumours of their own death at some point. None of them however had to cause it themselves.
In Poonam’s manager’s statement, apparently it was the sister who had confirmed the news of Poonam’s death but the family seemed to have gone missing in action after the news broke.
And as the news of her not being dead was announced, celebrities from across the country took to social media. Be it filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri who called her stunt “sinister”, or actor Kusha Kapila and designer Saisha Shinde, including filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma – everyone had something to say. Actor Riddhi Dogra, of course, decided to blame the media (how could we not have one of those).
Kanchan Gupta, senior advisor, ministry of information and broadcasting, Government of India wrote a long post on X on this as well. His tweet said: "The PR tamasha by a so-called social media 'star' and 'influencer', who was supposed to have succumbed to cancer but returned a couple of days later with a cheery "Hi, I am back, I never died" post, is too callous and uncaring to realise how sick and offensive was her stunt. It was demeaning to those struck by cancer, or, for that matter, any fatal disease or serious illness."
And with that, Poonam Pandey, a name you don’t take every day, and cervical cancer, a disease you don’t think about every day, is going to be discussed for a while. Did Poonam Pandey just win?