The trend of hiring a personal bodyguard is catching on, says A. CHITRAA DEEPA
A MENTION of personal bodyguards usually conjures up an image of gun-toting types hanging out of the windows of a white Ambassador with a flashing siren, waving aside all traffic as they accompany top government officials, military officials or VVIPs from Point A to Point B. But the black suits and fancy guns are the playthings of politicians. Celebrities, industrialists, actors and high-profile individuals, who require round-the-clock protection, have to hire private bodyguards and according to industry professionals, there is an increasing need for such bodyguards. And over the past five years, many agencies that recruit and train professional bodyguards have come up.
"Any individual who has a threat perception or fears potential abduction or harassment can hire a private security bodyguard," says Captain Shibu Issac of Force One Guarding Services Private Limited. Film stars make extensive use of professional bodyguards, both armed and unarmed. Dhanush's armed bodyguard follows him all the time, while Rajnikanth, Kamal Hassan and other stars have guards with them at their shooting spots and whenever they are exposed to the general public. "Our bodyguards even taste Rajnikanth's food before he eats," says Capt. Shibu. "Bodyguards sometimes double as personal secretaries or chauffeurs for round-the-clock protection," he adds.
The new age bodyguard is rather unobtrusive and low profile. Celebrities prefer unarmed bodyguards, as they do not attract public attention. Celebrities are also reluctant to talk about their bodyguards as they believe it would pose a risk to their security. "When the fact that a person is guarded becomes public knowledge, the threat perception doubles. That's why people hiring bodyguards generally do not reveal it," says Shihan Hussaini of High Profile, a city-based security company. Clients choose armed or unarmed guards depending on the threat situation and the analysis done by the security agency.
The trend of hiring a personal bodyguard is on the rise, feels Hussaini. A karate expert, he started his agency in 1997, after undergoing intense training in body guarding in the U.S. "It was MGR who started the trend of using cinema stuntmen as bodyguards," he explains. "With the elections round the corner, the demand from politicians has doubled," says Hussaini who recruits people and trains them in the martial arts. Some of his bodyguards have licences to carry arms. Hussaini says he makes use of a number of unconventional gadgets such as stun guns (zappers) that emit electricity charges (1,500 to 2 lakh watts) when used. Stun guns, as the name suggests, merely stun the person, and are not lethal. High Profile's guards are also trained to use pepper spray, tear gas and chilli powder as defence tactics. Training includes protection planning, etiquette and protocol, protective escorting, protective driving, surveillance, defence tactics, handling emergency situations, martial arts, weapon handling, fire fighting and self-defence. Capt. Shibu of Force One agrees that a martial arts background is preferred for unarmed bodyguards. "But for armed body guarding, I only select ex-servicemen and former policemen, who have the valid licences." Agencies train both men and women for protection services. Shibu specialised in personal body guarding while he was in the Army and has guarded the top military brass. He says that those hiring personal bodyguards are top businessmen, politicians, celebrities and actors and foreign dignitaries. Capt. Shibu's battalion includes well-trained sniffer dogs, Tuffy and Jiffy, who are taken to the field if the need arises.
The security agencies do a thorough threat analysis when a client approaches them. "We analyse whether the person actually needs protection," says Shibu. "Some people confuse bodyguards with hit men or henchmen. So we have to figure out whether they really need security or are seeking protection from the law or police itself," says Hussaini.
Clients are given tips on comprehensive solutions to any threat, and if necessary, the house is protected till the client feels safe. Apart from local clients, these agencies also provide services to visiting foreign dignitaries. "Foreign dignitaries prefer private bodyguards because they want to mingle with the crowd and go sight-seeing and shopping. An unarmed bodyguard will not attract attention, whereas a policeman or uniformed guard will make such a person stand out," says Hussaini.
Guards are hired either on a daily or an hourly basis. If the client feels safe at home, guards accompany him only when he leaves the house. Celebrities use cluster or proximity bodyguards who mingle with the crowds. Some guards travel in pilot cars or tail clients while travelling.
It's not just industrialists, politicians and celebrities who engage bodyguards but also women who feel threatened by their estranged husbands, and lawyers handling sensitive cases.
But hiring a bodyguard is expensive business. "The minimum amount to be spent would be about Rs. 36,000 per month for two bodyguards, on duty 24 hours a day," says Hussaini. An unarmed bodyguard is paid between Rs. 7,500 and Rs. 15,000 a month while an armed bodyguard gets Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 30,000," says Shibu.
Though it's an expensive proposition, private bodyguards are not the sole preserve of a touring cricket team or a politician on an election campaign. "Even a person travelling with important family documents can hire a bodyguard for the journey. It may be costly, but a situation that demands protection is definitely worth the expense," says Shibu.
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