The iron-grilled door creaks open as the silhouette of the policeman against the glaring sunlight stands at the doorway of the cell. The tattered back of a man is show as he mildly limps towards the policeman and goes past him. The scene cuts to the entrance of the central jail where the shutter lifts, to show Superstar Rajinikanth’s face, donning his signature sunglasses shielding his face from the sunlight as he steps out. The theatre erupts into roars of ‘Thalaiva’ and shredded pieces of paper are thrown everywhere. Fans jump into the air, screaming their idol’s name, drowning out any dialogues that might have been delivered by the actor.
This commotion is particular to not only a star of Rajinikant’s stature- in Kollywood, every actor has a massive fan following behind him that makes them who they are today. And these fan clubs are not mere clubs; they are the reason behind an actor’s failure and success. They deem it their responsibility to print banners and posters of their star on the release day, conduct prayers in temples and ensure ticket sales for the first few days of the film, prior to the release. Every Friday morning sees multiplex complexes decked up in streamers and banners, announcing the arrival of the ‘star of the era’, courtesy the fan clubs of that actor.
Fan clubs have existed in the Tamil film industry since time immemorial. From yesteryear actors like MGR and Sivaji Ganesan to today’s Ajith and Vijay, they have been a part of the Tamil film industry. In fact, according to Gopalan Ravindran, a professor in the of Department of Mass Media and Communication, University of Madras, the culture of adulation far predates that of fan clubs in Tamil Nadu. In his blog Edit Room, he says that the culture of adulation which rose from cult-oriented public discourses soon streamlined into Tamil Cinema in 1940s, when politics, religion and feudalism all found one single plane in cinema.
Like any other industry, fans in the Tamil industry too play an important role in box office collection of a film. While it has always been difficult for Kollywood films to make it past the 100 crore club, the very few films which have managed to make it past this mark have the fans ardent support to their credit. In 2010, when Superstar Rajinikanth’s ‘Enthiran’ made over 283 crores in the box office, it was widely agreed that the acceptance of Rajini’s experimental ‘Chitti robot’ character by the fans was what made the film the grand success it was.
Interestingly, fan clubs are not only restricted to Tamil Nadu. Not letting geographical boundaries become a hurdle to show their love for their star, many Tamil actors have fan clubs in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh as well. According to a report in The Hindu, Kerala is the Tamil industry’s biggest ROI (rest of India) market territory, from theatre releases alone. The Vijay-starrer ‘Theri’ reportedly garnered a total of Rs. 5.6 crore- worth box office collections from Kerala alone. Further, actors like Suriya and Vijay have fan clubs in the state who celebrate releases through banners and cut-outs, in a manner similar to their contemporaries in Tamil Nadu.
With the advent of social media and websites like Facebook, the mushrooming fan clubs have increased in number. And as these fan clubs increase in number, so does the question of the reigning star in the industry. While the actors do not indulge in any sprirt of rivalry per say, their fan clubs never back down from any opportunity to prove thir star’s worth over the other. Actors have always been pitted against each other by their fans, be it MGR-Sivaji Ganesan, Kamal-Rajini or more recently Ajith-Vijay.
While the reasons behind the so-called rivalry between the yesteryear actors are unknown, the rivalry between the fan clubs of ajith and Vijay started off somewhere around 2001, with the introduction of Orkut. According to a Quora answer by Raj Kumar, the first factor influencing this rivalry was the dialogues and songs where a subtle trend of mockery emerged directed at the other actor. However, nothing serious emerged out of these jibes.
Things reached a colossal proportion when fans of either actor started creating memes and trolls of the other on Orkut. Soon, with the arrival of Facebook, numerous such pages were created and memes were circulated. These memes make fun of everything done by the other actor, right from their performance to their attire or fashion sense.
Sometimes, these memes also target the star’s personal life, which is hugely looked down upon by many fans. “It is looks extremely awkward when Vijay’s fans troll Ajith’s physical appearance or target his family life. We are not against their trolling his films, but making fun of his children is unacceptable. This needs to stop,” fumes Prashant, the admin of an Ajith Fan Club page on Facebook.
Similarly, the Vijay fan club pages also only look at targeting Ajith’s films on Facebook. “We troll Ajith only when his fans begin to make fun of Vijay’s films or performance. It’s a tit-for-tat situation,” says Santosh, the admin of a Vijay fan club page on Facebook.
So, will these two sides ever co-exist? “Till the time there is some sort of peace-offering from the other side, there is no scope for co-existence. Either they concede defeat or we do. And I don’t see that happening ever,” says Prashant.
Meanwhile, the said stars have been seen at various galas, reveling in their bonhomie with each other. As for their fans, they will continue to squabble over who extended the olive branch first, Ajith or Vijay?