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The Politics and Sociology of Fan Clubs

Any one interested in the politics of Tamil film fans are quickly attracted to the burgeoning number of fan clubs the leading stars of the present and past have spawned. Thanks to the spirit of rivalry the fans cultivate assidously against each other in the names of their stars, fan clubs have emerged as the alternative spheres for the stars to thrash out their opponents in the words and deeds of their fans. In some cases, these fan clubs have also emerged as the requisite interfaces between the potential vote banks, political parties and the stars-turned-politicians.

The politics of fan clubs in Tamil Nadu hides more than it reveals if one does not take a sociological approach. Fan clubs in Tamil Nadu are the typical microcosms of the social divisions and tensions of the Tamil society. They are as riddled by the factors of caste, religion and gender bias as any other institution. Despite their seemingly mainstreaming function, I think, these factors are at work in the formation and sustenance of fan clubs. What is striking is the unidimensional character of all fan clubs as public sites where males articulate their social and political affiliations in the guise of film fans. Females, barring those belonging to the lower rungs of the society, rarely seek to express themselves outside their private spheres of families, neighbourhood friends etc.,

The imprint of the political game fan clubs are expected to play is writ large in their activities. They are the sites where the message of social welfare for political gains takes roots. They are the sites where the message of populism takes flight. They are also the sites where the cult of personality politics is invented in as many ways as there are stars. The deification of the stars is a necessary precondition for their integration into the larger political process where minor and major stars emerge as leaders or Gods of the masses.

7 comments

1 Kishore Budha { 08.25.07 at 3:48 pm }

Why does Southern cinema have a bigger influence of fan clubs than in the north? Could you elaborate on that please?

2 Ravi { 08.25.07 at 8:38 pm }

Hi Kishore! Thanks for pushing my thoughts on this to the next level. I am not sure about the culture of fan clubs in other south Indian states. In the case of Tamil Nadu, I think the reasons are far too many. In my opinion, the culture of adulation predates the culture of fan clubs by several centuries in Tamil Nadu. The culture of adulation has historically derived sustenance from the site of personality cult-oriented public discourses. There are strong epigraphical and literay evidences attesting to the same begining with the rise of Chola dynasty under Raja Raja Chola. This may seem interesting, but I strongly believe the roots of the film fan clubs predate the birth of Tamil cinema by at least thousand years. The culture of adulation was reworked and finetuned by the rise of feudal lords in their narrow geographical territories after the end of the big dynasties. The wheels of the adulatory cultural wagon spun at greater speed with the advent of the dravidian movement. Ironically, the very movement which sought to uphold self-respect in public life succumbed to the charms of the adulatory culture, begining with 1920s. And with the eventual integration of the strands of personality cults unique to the spheres of religion, politics and feudalism on one single plane,that is Tamil cinema,the long journey of the culture of adulation entered its most engimatic phase with the help of the burgeoning fan clubs.Begining with the rise of the super stardom in 1940s (first with MKT Bhagavathar,later MGR and now Rajini), the culture of adulation and personality cult driven public discourses have found an invaluable site of sustenance in the film fan clubs. They are, in the language of Deleuze & Guattari, truly rhizomatic.

3 Kishore Budha { 08.25.07 at 10:31 pm }

You may be right here. For probably NTR borrowed (and encouraged) the fan culture from MGR. In particular, he encouraged fan activity post “Sri Venkateswara Mahatyam”. It is interesting how these film stars stage and present themselves — and are also responded to by the audience — akin to gods in temples. Here the concept of “darsana” is particularly valuable.

4 srinivasan { 03.27.08 at 7:09 pm }

Hi Ravi: A senior journalist with The Hindu, I am now on a Sabbatical in Amsterdam doing an EU-run Masters in journalism. There is one module, Entertaining the Citizen, which is basically abt how film and TV have transformed politicians into actors. For a paper for this module I was considering the topic “Cinema fans as a public sphere”, in the Tamil cinema/politics context. I was wondering if you could direct me to some academic work, or indeed anything that would help me with the paper. I have enjoyed your very interesting blog.
Sincerely/Srinivasan

5 Kishore Budha { 03.27.08 at 7:44 pm }

Dear Srinivasan: You may check out the following page for some material on celebrity culture: http://subalternstudies.com/wiki/Asian_Celebrity_Culture_Page

Regarding Indian cinema. Sara Dickey has done work on fans and audience. As has S.V.Srinivasan (look for it in “Making Meaning in Indian Cinema” ed Ravi Vasudevan).

6 Gopalan Ravindran { 03.29.08 at 3:23 am }

Hi Srinivasan, Besides the resources suggested by Kishore, you may find Karthigesu Sivathamby’s writings on Tamil cinema useful. Though his book Tamil films as a medium of political communication (1981) is dated and with its own biases, it is an important resource. I am not sure whether you can access his and other’s writings in Tamil on Tamil cinema. Lalitha Gopalan’s book Cinema of Interruptions, though does not address Tamil cinema, has some suppositions to make on Indian film spectators. Here is a link to framework article by Srinivasan on the Telugu scenehttp://www.frameworkonline.com/42svs.htm

7 Global Voices Online » India: Fan Clubs and Tamil Cinema { 08.28.07 at 11:06 pm }

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