Fans and frenzy

Renowned author U R Anantamurthy in his autobiography says, 'During the Bhakti movement, the fondness, the devotion, the bhaktas/bhaktes had for god turned into poetry. But today’s fan clubs are a degeneration of the idea of bhakti.'
Last Updated : 29 June 2024, 00:02 IST

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Darshan Thoogudeepa’s alleged murder of a fan has raised questions about the hysteria surrounding fan club culture.  

Often the frenzy reaches fever pitch around the release of a new film. Film promotion, celebrations involving life-size cutouts of actors, and haal abhisheka (tradition of pouring milk over an idol) are commonly carried out by these clubs. These clubs are known to book out entire cinema halls for members to catch the first-day-first-show of their idols. They also add to the hype by assembling fans around the actor when he or she makes a public appearance. 

Sometimes, these fan clubs are pressed into service when a scene demands a big crowd — songs like ‘Janarinda nanu mele bande’ (Shabdavedi) and even ‘Abhimanigale’ (Doddmane Huduga) feature crowds comprising fans.

Commenting about the present-day fan culture, renowned author U R Anantamurthy in his autobiography says, “During the Bhakti movement, the fondness, the devotion, the bhaktas/bhaktes had for god turned into poetry. But today’s fan clubs are a degeneration of the idea of bhakti.” When one holds a great amount of respect and fondness for someone, it should result in some form of art. But the present-day fan culture speaks very less in terms of artistic liberation that the bhakti movement witnessed. 

Fan clubs culture in Karnataka

Film historian K Puttaswamy says, even before fan clubs of actors came into existence, a group called Kannada Chitra Rasikara Sangha was formed. Its aim was to protest dubbing non-Kannada films into Kannada. This was in the 1960s. “The culture of fan clubs was very prominent even during the 1950s in Tamil Nadu. Fan clubs in Karnataka came much later, particularly for Rajkumar after the release of the film ‘Gandada Gudi’ in 1973,” he says. The first fan club to be officially launched was the Akhila Karnataka Dr Rajkumar Abhimanigala Sangha. 

“Soon fan clubs for Vishnuvardhan emerged, followed by Ambareesh fan clubs. Even Shankar Nag had a good number of fan clubs, such as Karate King Abhimanigala Sangha. The only star who discouraged the idea was Anant Nag,” Puttaswamy elaborates. “Today everyone is a star,” he laughs. His point is substantiated by the rising number of fan clubs today. 

In the past, clashes between fan clubs of Rajkumar and Vishnuwardhan were also common. This was similar to the tiff between the fans of Darshan and Sudeep in present times, says Puttaswamy. 

When Rajkumar led the Gokak agitation, a language rights movement in the state, the fan clubs actively participated in the movement. Gradually, Rajkumar fans started getting involved in Kannada agitation movements. 

Fans setting limitations

They did not just remain fan clubs but took the responsibility of protecting the actors’ image. This set limitations for the actors in terms of the roles they played, opines Puttaswamy. He quotes an incident from 1975 when Rajkumar’s ‘Daari Tappida Maga’ was released. A dialogue in the film, “One should never get attached to a woman. They should be dusted off like dirt on a shirt,” proved problematic to the actor who maintained a fine image off-screen. Although the film did well, whispers of “Rajkumar shouldn’t have played such a role,” were heard, says Puttaswamy. 

In Tamil Nadu as well, when Shivaji Ganesan and M G Ramachandran (MGR) shared the screen in the film ‘Koondukkili’, a scene from the film where one of the actors hits the other caused clashes between their fans resulting in the film’s failure. Both the actors enjoyed a great fan following. 

Welfare activities

While fan clubs have been notorious for attacking journalists and film critics, mobbing theatres playing non-regional language films and causing obstruction to another actor’s stardom, they have also come together in times of need. 

Rajkumar’s birth anniversaries have seen fans of the actor pledge their eyes and donate blood. Narayana Nethralaya, which runs the Rajkumar Eye Bank, witnessed more than one lakh eye donations after the death of Puneeth Rajkumar — the actor’s eye donation gave sight to four people. The Dr Rajkumar Eye Bank was set up in 1994. He lent his name to the bank and also pledged his eyes. Similarly, Telugu star Chiranjeevi founded a blood and eye bank. During an event, he stated that his fans were willing to do anything for him and so he decided to use his popularity to benefit people. 

Fans of Telugu star Pawan Kalyan reportedly donated oxygen cylinders during the pandemic. 

Fans of Darshan, Yash, Sudeep and Shivarajkumar organise blood donation camps on their respective birthdays.

Kamal Haasan is reportedly the first actor in the world to have converted his fan clubs into a united welfare organisation. He named it ‘All India Kamal Haasan Narpani Iyakkam’. It was launched in 2004, well before he joined politics. Tamil actor Vijay’s fan associations are also involved in welfare activities that range from opening study centres to offering financial aid.  

Can fan clubs launch political careers?

According to reports, actor-turned politician M G R had about one lakh fan clubs across Tamil Nadu. He was able to convert these clubs into party units when he launched his own party, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), after he was expelled from the Karunanidhi-led Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 1972. These fan clubs were well organised — they had a president and a secretary, and registered members. Unlike the current day scenario, these clubs were not funded by the actor. They emerged out of irrevocable love and devotion for M G R. 

When M G R announced the conversion of fan clubs into party units, in a single stroke, every village was able to have at least one AIADMK cadre. M G R has been the only actor to be able to garner this kind of political support for himself and later for the party after his death. He joined politics in 1952 and eventually served as the chief minister of the state from 1977 until his death in 1987.

Similarly, Telugu film star N T Rama Rao actively used his fan clubs to emerge as undivided Andhra Pradesh’s first non-Congress chief minister in 1983. However, an interesting observation is, back then, the people of the Telugu land were tired of the long Congress rule in the state and wanted a change. That’s when N T R launched his Telugu Desam Party. The actor’s fans actively participated in election campaigns. Pawan Kalyan’s fans too had a major role in his win in the recently concluded Andhra Pradesh assembly elections. 

Rajinikanth attempted something similar when he joined politics in 2017, but failed. When he launched his political party, he aimed to bring registered and unregistered fan associations together. Unfortunately for the actor, his fan clubs did not translate into political support. Interestingly, his fan clubs were formed in the late 1980s and the 90s. In 2017, when the party was launched, members were in their 50s, possibly with well-defined political leanings. Perhaps, they found it challenging to support their favourite actor with contrasting ideologies. 

Most of Captain Vijayakath’s political aides too were from fan clubs and associations. Most actors who entered politics tried to follow the M G R model but were unable to translate them into political gain.

Tamil actor Vijay has now converted his fan club Vijay Makkal Iyakkam, which he launched in 2009 for philanthropic work, into a political party. It is now called Tamilaga Vettri Kazhagam. 

One of the first few actors in Karnataka to get into politics was Mukhyamantri Chandru in 1985. Karnataka hasn’t had a hero-worship culture like the neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Only Rajkumar enjoyed a unique kind of fan following but he did not enter politics. Anant Nag contested two elections and won only one. Ambareesh won three Lok Sabha elections and even served as a union minister.

(With inputs from K V Subramanya and E T B Sivapriyan)

Published 29 June 2024, 00:02 IST

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