“If I were to tell the truth, the main reason behind depression today is rejection faced by people, mostly in the pursuit of love. And as is often the case with people who are rejected, or sad, they do not have anyone to talk to. We are not offering boyfriends, but friends who are boys and will hear your problems out. The name, even if it is controversial, I assure you – the action is not“, says Kaushal Prakash, one of the founders of Rent A Boy|Friend , an online app which allows you to rent out a boyfriend while also promising that this will help cure depression.
Rentabf is a new offering with a twist; the men on its books undergo training (for three days) which includes sessions on grooming, styling and an ability to spot people with depression. The website has a panel of “depression experts” who can counsel users and will charge a “minimal fee” for doing so.
Operating in two cities – Mumbai and Pune, the startup which was launched on August 26 seems to be gaining popularity – going by the message on their website:
While the “boyfriends” might be working “overtime” to get back to us with a BANG, the app has understandably resulted in much controversy thanks to its claims of helping people deal with depression, simply by hiring out a boyfriend. Indianexpress.com spoke to Kaushal Prakash and his sister, Dr. Sonali Prakash, a co-founder of the app, who shed light on why they chose this as the name of the app, the relationship between depression and a boyfriend, and most importantly, what they were thinking through this entire process.
How and when did you come up with the idea? What’s the inspiration behind rentabf?
Even if I am an interior decorator by profession and have no expertise in counseling therapy, I wanted to do something for people who suffered from depression. Three years back, I was diagnosed with depression. At that time, I just needed someone to share my feelings with. Later, when I came out of depression, I learned that a lot of people suffer from depression in India. The WHO figures on depression were shocking news to me. With 5,66,75,969 people with depressive disorders in India alone, I wanted to help out.
I strongly believe depression can be avoided and cured if people have someone to talk to and share their feelings with. So I came up with this idea. In a way, my own experience was what inspired me.
What is the connection between renting a boyfriend and depression?
Let me be clear – we are renting out friends who are boys, not boyfriends. Many people who face rejection or who are not in a relationship, are automatically depressed. They need someone to talk to. So we provide a well-trained gentleman you can share your feelings with.
If at any point, these gentlemen feel that you are depressed, they will direct you to our panel of in-house depression experts who will take a look at it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be our depression experts, it can be anyone. But we provide counseling for a minimal fee here, unlike others.
Do you feel depression only takes place when people are in need of company from the opposite gender?
It may not be the only cause, but one of the main reasons behind it. Let me tell you – all girls share the same problem, the fear of being judged. So yes, if you do not have a companion, one reason might be because you are scared of being judged. This is where we come in – and help. We train our boys to talk to you without any judgment and negativity.
How do you think this will cure depression and to what extent?
It will really help people. We are the only platform which provides celebrities also. People can just go for a cup of coffee and talk to people who are styled, groomed and trained for the purpose. They will feel like someone truly cares.
But for that, they have to pay. So, we kept our fees very low – Rs. 300 to Rs 1000 for an aam aadmi per hour, Rs 1000 to Rs 3000 per hour for a model and Rs 3000 and above per hour for a celebrity. Our in-house panel of depression experts is also very well trained. Because we are totally confidential, people won’t hesitate to talk to us. It will cure a lot of people from depression is what I feel.
What is the criteria for selecting the boyfriends on offer?
Dr Sonali Prakash: I ask the boys if they have a girlfriend. If they have a girlfriend who has a problem if their boyfriend works for us, we don’t hire them. If they say things like they have many girlfriends and they don’t care about commitments, that’s also a problem.
Are they trained to deal with a complex subject like depression, given you’ve advertised it as a cure for depression?
We train our boys extensively for three days – it consists of sessions on styling and etiquette mostly. We have to style them because people want to meet people who are presentable and look good. While this training is not really needed when it comes to models and celebs, it is very important for the aam aadmi category.
Most girls who are fat and ugly face the wrath of guys and society at large. They might already be feeling bad. So, we train our boys to be polite to such people. But our boy-friends on rent do not cure depression. Their only job is to talk to people and direct them to our in-house panel if needed.
For how long can you rent a boyfriend? Are there any packages? What do you think people would expect from their boyfriend?
(Laughs) No packages at all! It is purely platonic.
Why not rent out girlfriends too? Isn’t it unfair on the other gender?
If rentabf is under so much controversy, imagine what would happen if we started renting out girls.
Dr. Sonali Prakash: We cannot take the responsibility of girls. It is too much of a risk. I do not feel safe when I step out of my house in the night. How can those girls feel safe? Also, we don’t know the kind of clients they will get. We can’t keep that under check. It is just too dangerous right now. Let me add, we want to steer clear of controversies.
Can boys or people from other genders rent out a boyfriend too?
Yes, of course. Why not!
What has the response been so far?
It has just been a few days to our launching the app and we have more than 200 registrations already! You won’t believe it – today I got a call from a girl who was from some rural area I didn’t even know existed on the map. She wanted to commit suicide but instead, she called me. I am so glad she called.
As a depression expert, if you think people are going through depression, would you advise them to go to a psychiatrist or do you think renting out a bf should fix the problem by cheering them up?
Dr. Sonali Kaushal: I am a doctor by profession and hold an MBBS degree. I manage the panel of counselors. I would suggest they go to a counselor or psychiatrist and get treated if the depression is severe. Once, they’re in maintenance therapy, they can go ahead and rent a boyfriend. It will definitely cheer them up!