Editor's note: Writer Arpita Chatterjee is in Canada with her husband Sagar Desai, who wrote the music score for A Death in the Gunj, Konkana Sen Sharma's entry to the Toronto International Film Festival.
The line up at the Toronto Film Festival is super impressive – Danielle Chazelle’s La La Land, Oliver Stone’s Snowden and Garth Davis’ Lion — some of the best films from around the world. And the actors that come to the festival are the biggest stars in the galaxy.
But the fans here at TIFF take it to a whole new level, as I discovered on Friday afternoon.
As I was walking back from the screening of the Indian film at the festival, A Death in the Gunj, which was fantastic, I saw a crowd of people standing on the opposite side of the road. It was a crowd of around 25 people.
I was intrigued and spoke to a lady standing on the side I was walking down. “What’s going on?” I asked. She said she had no idea. But she was sure something was amiss. I told her I was going to find out and she followed me.
I crossed over and asked a few people from the crowd what was up, and one guy said a star is going to come out soon. There were a couple of black limos standing there. I was skeptical. “Are you sure?” He didn’t bother to answer and went to talk to another guy with him. I decided to wait and see if this were true. As I sat on the pavement, of course I started chatting with the guy sitting next to me.
For once, my chattiness paid off. This man was a wealth of information. He told me Leonardo Di Caprio was going to come out of the back gate of the building where Fisher Stevens’ film Before the Flood, was being screened.
I still didn’t believe him. But I stayed on and questioned him on how he knew and he gave me a detailed explanation of how he had figured it out. A screening takes an hour and a half and had begun at 3 pm. It would end by around 4.30 pm and he would mingle for around half an hour and then come out.
This man, let’s call him Mark, because he made me promise I wouldn’t reveal his name, has been doing this for over 15 years. “What about the rest? How do they know?”
Mark told me they are “autograph hunters.” Yes, that is a thing. And it’s full time hunting. There are entire underground fan clubs that move around in vans with posters of the stars they are staking out. They travel in packs of six to ten people. They wait for hours at back doors and venues they have information on. They research on movement of stars and have sources that give them a head’s up.
As soon as the star comes out, they leap frog over other innocent fans to get the autograph. One of the many waiting to get the star to sign on the posters they carry. They sell these posters on ebay for up to $1,500 and split the money. Even fans need to survive and pay bills.
As I waited, the crowd started swelling. From 25 people, it grew to 300 people. It was like being in a rock concert.
By now people were chanting Leonardo’s name. The fans that collected were just regular people, who followed the first 25. So, basically the autograph hunters had led the general public to a star spotting.
These autograph hunters are like predators - they are organised and ferocious as I learnt the hard way. When Leonardo came out of the back exit – and very sportingly crossed the road and signed autographs and spoke to the people in front, one autograph hunter leapt over me to get his poster signed. Leonardo was just three feet away and I was trying to take a photo but this man had to get an autograph. His determination was incredible.
The chanting and atmosphere was electric. When Leo left the building and the crowd dispersed in seconds, I stayed back and questioned Mark on why he does it, as he’s not one looking for autographs.
He said he gets a huge thrill out of seeing the stars. His explanation was this: “I’ve lived in Downtown and used to go for the movies earlier, but I can’t afford that any more.
"I realized at some point that I got a huge thrill seeing the stars and take a week off during TIFF to star gaze. And now I just do that and watch the movies later when they release.”
Mark refused to tell me what his other secret spots were.I have to say star fans in Toronto are something else.
I’m going to use the method of the autograph hunters to see if it really works and of course am totally expecting Mark and the autograph hunters to be there.