Yes, you read that right. The app is even named ‘Rent A Boy Friend’ (RABF).
RABF was launched in August this year and according to its founders, it is a service for those suffering from depression.
The idea roots from his own personal experiences and he believes that one needs someone to vent out to and talk about their issues in life.
Clearly, the existence of psychologists and psychiatrists is being completely ignored here.
He also mentions that the app will have a toll-free number where people could call up ‘professionals’ and discuss their problems because going to a psychiatrist in India is an invitation to ‘Log Kya Kahenge’.
And if this wasn’t weird enough already, the men who are hired to provide ’emotional support’ are required to only have a 10th or 12th Std degree.
We cannot even begin to comprehend how problematic all of this sounds. It is anything but a way to ‘cure’ depression.
“A lot of people suffer from depression induced by loneliness. Sometimes, all a person needs is a friendly ear, a supportive shoulder,” Prakash said. And that’s exactly what RABF promises to offer. The former interior decorator, however, firmly stressed the point that RABF was not a dating site.
“We are not setting up prospective couples together. The relationship is of pure, platonic companionship and support. The men we train as ‘boyfriends’ are properly auditioned, and then groomed by a specialized team of doctors, life coaches and psychiatrists,” explained Prakash.
If a client wants to avail a ‘boyfriend’, they could choose from three categories – ‘Celebrity’, ‘Model’ and ‘Aam-Aadmi’. To book a ‘boyfriend’, a client has to create a login account on the official RABF app and specify a location for the meeting. Prakash clarified that the location had to be public according to the company’s policies to maintain both the clients’ and employees’ safety.
Sources from the company confirmed that both men and women could avail the service. Upon being asked why they do not provide women companions or ‘girlfriends’ too, Prakash said with an awkward laugh that India may not yet be evolved to understand the concept of paid female companionship without confusing it for solicitation.
Who are the ‘boyfriends’?
Model Suraj Dahiya, who was crowned the 2018 Rubaroo Mr India, heard about the app from industry sources. He auditioned for the job, received grooming and is now a certified RABF ‘Boy Friend for Rent’.
“I look at it as any other job. And the fact that it is helping people to feel better is what drove me to it,” Dahiya said. The model said he had always aspired to be a public speaker and loved communicating with people, and that that the job had given him an opportunity to connect with people whom he could help.
The grooming he received taught him about depression, about how to speak to people with mental illness or stress, to identify signs and manifestations of mental illness such as depression, suicidal tendencies and then provide correct advice.
Dahiya belongs to the ‘Model’ category of ‘boyfriends’ and an hour with him would cost a prospective client between Rs 2,000 – Rs 3,000. According to RABF’s policies, seventy percent of these proceeds would go to the model while the company would be entitled to thirty percent of the revenue generated per session. An ‘Aam Admi boyfriend’ would cost under Rs 1,000. Prices for celebrities varied.
The company confirmed that a number of celebrities had also been hired for the job, though they refused to reveal their names due to confidentiality and competitive reasons. The company is still in the process of shortlisting ‘Aam Admi’ boyfriends and said that it was the hardest selection category and required the most stringent screening.
A quick perusal of the RABF app revealed several ‘options’ of prospective ‘boyfriends’ – shirtless men with chiseled torsos and airbrushed faces, eager to be picked. During the grooming session, candidates were taught etiquettes, table manners, metered speaking, speech and body-language coaching.
Physical appearance was an important criteria for choosing ‘boyfriends’. As one of the co-founders, Dr Sonali Prakash said, not being ‘good looking’ could often be a ‘big barrier’ in this line of work.