In 2020, a year of panic and pandemic, the most retweeted was actor Vijay’s selfie with a crowd of fans in Neyveli in February, taken a month before the virus hit the world. That’s perhaps testimony of the value fans attribute to larger-than-life film stars. Star adulation may be seen as a negative trend, but these are people who have dedicated years of their lives to exhibiting love for an actor. One such fan is Mohammed Ashik, an employee at a Chennai-based film production company, who started the ‘Actor Vijay Fans’ profile on Twitter in 2010. Twelve years ago, it started as a passion project, but now, the fan club is a million followers strong. “Everything we do is for Thalapathy Vijay,” says Ashik, who has created three more fan club accounts since then, because, well, he can.
The account posts regular film updates of the actor, shares common display pictures for their birthdays, and interacts with fans regularly. Sravanti Vedula, an innovation management officer based out of Hyderabad, who heads the ‘Samantha Fans’ fan club on Twitter, believes that all this drive to keep an account buzzing with activity comes from the “healthy, active community”. “Twitter has become a hotbed for such fan clubs. I don’t feel like the only mad fan! Fan clubs open the doors to interacting with like-minded people and the aura they create gives us a high. It’s a feeling we love. That euphoric conversation is what drives us to maintain fan clubs,” says Sravanti, adding that through these initiatives, otherwise anonymous fans get visibility and recognition among each other. “There is unity among us. It helps when you want to create a trend,” says Abhinay Nooli, a technology lead, who also heads Samantha Fans. This sense of community apparently extends beyond fans of their favourite stars. Abhinay says that sometimes, fan clubs interact with each other when situations of mutual benefit arise.
Each of these fan clubs has admins who do the bulk of the work. Samantha Fans, for instance, has two additional admins in Sai Sravan and Srinikethan Kailasnath, who share the workload with Sravanti and Abhinay. “The four of us manage the account and we have our own professional needs to attend to, of course. We discuss beforehand who will be sharing posts and one of us takes the responsibility to contribute,” says Sravanti, who makes it all seem like quite the corporate exercise.
Interestingly, stars like Samantha and Vijay are not only aware of the activities of such fan clubs, but they actually authenticate the updates posted by them. The very origins of how Samantha Fans came to be started was when the actor herself followed the fan club on Twitter. This is where a social media platform plays a major role, says Sravanti. “When we retweet the special tweets and comments, Sam also gets to read them. It makes her feel good and it’s one of the reasons why we actively share them,” she says. The equation is mutually beneficial, she says. “I remember a sapling-planting campaign that was going on and Samantha had nominated two other female actors and our fan club. She gives us as much importance as her contemporaries. She treats us like her friends. Even in times of Covid, she messaged us to know if anyone from our fan club needs any sort of support,” adds Sravanti.
Naturally, with the support of such a star comes responsibility. “We share only authentic information from official accounts. We also ensure that we only retweet positive feedback that Sam receives,” adds Sravanti, who believes that the Twitter account helps Samantha understand what people think of her. “After the release of Kaathuvaakala Rendu Kaathal, we had shared the video clips of fan reactions in theatres. She was delighted and mentioned that to us when we spoke.”
Stars understand the importance of Twitter on account of these activities, with those like Vijay being most active on this platform. “We get film updates first on Twitter. Moreover, we get better reach here,” adds Ashik. Sravanti sees great value in the access to celebrities that the platform has provided. “There are times when we, fans, would be talking among ourselves on Twitter, and Sam would step in with a funny reply from out of nowhere! On another occasion, she messaged Abhinay that she would be visiting a shopping mall and asked him to meet her there,” she adds.
Telugu superstar Mahesh Babu too is aware of the tremendous potential of tapping into these online social media accounts. “Over the years, Twitter has successfully broken down the walls between artists and audiences,” says Mahesh. “In fact, it is one of my main sources of feedback from fans, and also where I go to directly connect with them in real-time. My latest movie Sarkaru Vaari Paata is releasing this week, and I am looking forward to sharing many fun surprises with them on the platform,” adds the actor.
How do you discuss online fan clubs without touching upon the possibility of toxic fights? Fan club admins have apparently found their own coping mechanisms over time. “We have stopped trying to prove others wrong. With time, we understood that people have their own opinions, and we can’t change them,” says an understanding Sravanti. “However, if a negative trend emerges, we kickstart a positive trend to ensure that the negativity dies down.”
This topic of online toxicity is something even the stars have been vocal about. During the audio launch of his 2017 film Mersal, Vijay asked his fans to “ignore negativity”. This has become the mantra for fans like Ashik. “He was talking directly to us. Sir asked us to use technology for the better and that is what we have been trying to do ever since,” says Ashik.
Interestingly, Twitter, aware of the power of these accounts, has taken steps to ensure that its guidelines and rules are well-followed. Cheryl Ann Couto, Head of Partners, Twitter India, says, “South movie fandoms on Twitter are one of the most vibrant fandoms globally and are an integral part of the entertainment ecosystem on Twitter in India. However, everyone on the platform is subject to our rules, in order to address abuse, harassment, and hateful conduct. We have guidelines to take action.”
The platform is also aware of this overwhelming passion for cinema, especially in South India. “Movie fans on the service, particularly South Indian audiences, are amongst the most passionate and active audiences globally. From early buzz, announcements, trailer drops, engaging with movie stars on the promotional tour to post-release discussions, fans play a huge part in shaping and driving the social media conversation,” adds Cheryl.
For fan club admins like Sravanti, their fan club accounts are an integral part of their life. “This is a tool we have to unite people and create a positive impact,” she says, while Abhinay adds, “Like how one opens their computer to start their work, we log in to our individual and fan club accounts. It has become a part of our daily lives.”