Kaushall Prakash's Rent-A-Boyfriend (RABF) app isn't exactly the matchmaking sort. The 29 year-old interior designer from Mumbai wants to connect users with an hourly paid "friend." Prakash's ultimate goal is bettering the user's mental health.
Think less escort services, and more a platonic, friendship hotline. The users connect with a boyfriend who is "trained" to look for indications of depression in their conversations.
"There won't be any sexual relations or private meetings," Prakash told the India Times. "Boyfriends" can apparently meet clients for lunch or dinner in public places, though, according to the International Business Times.
Prakash said he created the app after his own struggles with depression. The service's title might be a little misleading though.
The service, available in Mumbai and Pune, divides 65 men between 20 and 25 years-old into three categories--celebrities, models, or Aam-Aadmi (average joe). Depending on the guy chosen, users pay an hourly rate. Celebrities cost 3,000 rupees ($42.22), models are 2,000 rupees ($28.15), and regular guys are around 300-400 rupees ($4.22-$5.63).
The men on the site are auditioned, trained, and groomed by a "special team of doctors." Though Prakash said RABF isn't a dating site, some of the men's profile pictures suggest otherwise, displaying them shirtless and generously airbrushed.
The boyfriends earn 70 percent of the fee paid to the app.
2018's Rubaroo Mr. India, Suraj Dahiya, is in the RABF catalog, in the models category.
"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. "We are not being hired to give a woman or man a romantic date. Our job is only to talk to the client, understand their problems and to steer them toward getting medical help or therapy if they so need."
While the boyfriends can refer users to mental health professionals, the app also has a toll-free number available to connect clients to psychiatrists. For 500 rupees, users get a 15-20 minute counseling session.
Despite Prakash's seemingly good intentions, the RABF feels like a trivialization of mental issues. Instead of purely funding or promoting mental health services, RABF acts as an middle-man and is profiting from it. Only a qualified health professional should make the decision that someone is depressed.
It's also difficult to overlook the sexist overtones of the app. RABF comes across as demeaning to women since it's implying that the lack of male companionship is the main reason for depression.
What about Prakash's own depression as a man? RABF is geared towards women. Why didn't he make a Rent-a-Friend app to help other men that are in the same situation he was in, rather than focusing only on women?
The app also calls into question how men and women are viewed. Renting a man doesn't hit the ear as wrong as "Rent a woman." The company also isn't planning on including female companions, even platonically.
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