Kollywood’s fan clubs: From temples to warfields

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?

Water wars and their many scars

The Supreme Court, on September 5, ordered the Karnataka government to increase the amount of water it releases to its neighbor Tamil Nadu from the river Cauvery for 10 consecutive days. The SC’s recent order has sparked off a series of protests in Karnataka, with IT offices and schools shutting down in protest.

The Cauvery dispute, as it has been popularly termed, has been a long-standing issue of contention between the two states. However, this isn’t the only dispute in the country relating to water woes. Raging arguments and debates are common across the span of the country when it comes to ownership over rivers. Here’s a look at the other river disputes in the country:

Satluj-Yamuna Link

Punjab, Rajasthan, and Haryana entered an agreement in 1981 to share the waters of Ravi, Beas and Satluj. Prior to the agreement, on Harayana’s suggestion, a Satluj-Yamuna link canal was decided to be built on Satluj, with Haryana completing its part of the canal by 1980. Punjab agreed to complete their part of the canal within a span of two years.

However in 1990, Punjab stopped the construction of the link canal, which by then was 90% finished. Ever since, the State has received constant directions from various authorities to complete work on the canal, but to no avail.

On March 14, 2016, the Punjab Assembly unanimously passed a resolution- the Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal Land (Transfer of Property Rights) Bill, 2016 to return 3,928 acres of acquired land for the proposed project.

Krishna River

The waters of the river Krishna are shared between Maharashtra, Telengana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. While Karnataka initially received a lion’s share of the water arising from the river, the current dispute lies in the division between Telengana and Andhra Pradehs’s share, with the former being recently carved out of the state in 2014. Both the states share Andhra Pradesh’s waters at present.

In 2015, the Telengana government sought fresh allocation of the disputed waters before the Supreme Court. This move was however, protested by Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Mullaiperiyar Dam

Courting yet another controversy with regards to water is the Tamil Nadu government’s long-term tryst with the Kerala government over the Mullaiperiyar dam built over the Periyar River. Though the dam belongs to Kerala, a 999-year lease agreement was signed by the British, King of Travancore and Madras Presidency, allowing Tamil Nadu to operate the dam and complete ownership of water from the river.

The two states were at loggerheads regarding the structure of the dam. While multiple studies conducted by the Kerala government indicated that the dam should not be raised above 136 ft owing to its weak structure, the Tamil Nadu government was adamant on raising the height of the dam to 142 ft.

In May 2014, a 5-member committee appointed by the Supreme Court deemed the dam to be fit enough for a raise in height level to the proposed 142 ft. However, Kerala government opposed the move, demanding the dam either be rebuilt or maintain the same height. The Kerala government has currently sought the Centre’s intervention over building a new dam on the Periyar River.

Apart from disputes within the country over water, India has waged arguments over rivers flowing across borders as well. The Teesta River flowing across the India-Bangladesh border is one such case. The dispute surrounding this river is over water-sharing during the lean season that stretches between October 1 and April 30. At present, the countries have reached a 40-40 agreement, where the remaining 20 per cent is reserved to preserve environmental flow of the river.

Yet another long-drawn river dispute is over the Brahmaputra River flowing through China and India. While China has around five dams across the river at various points, the current issue revolves around India’s demand to build a dam in Siang, Arunachal Pradesh to generate 54 GW of power. The Indian government also has plans to generate over 57,000 MW of hydroelectric power via various projects across the river.

 

Brazil’s president changeover: The Butler rises to the throne

The last day of August 2016 saw the Brazilian parliament vote their most unpopular leader, Dilma Roussef, out of power and handing the baton de facto to an equally unpopular vice-president Michel Temer. Although Temer has been interim President of the country since Roussef’s suspension in May over charges that she had allegedly manipulated government finances to camouflage the deficit in the budget, this second start as the rulemaker will give him a chance to rejig his government anew.

Working in the sidelines for over five decades, he has worked within the ranks of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party to emerge as one of the biggest lawmakers in Brazil. He has been elected to Congress four times, and has also been the Speakre of the Lower House.

Temer has been termed by BBC as a man who has always ‘been the kingmaker, but never the king’.This arises from the fact that he is solely responsible for ensuring that his party is in coalition with the President for the last twelve years. Further, his soft-spoken demeanour and impeccable dressing sense has also earned him the nickname of ‘The Butler’ among aides and foes alike.

Much like his predecessor, Temer is also tainted with corruption. His name has been embroiled in the country’s biggest scandal- the Petrobras oil company. He is currently being questioned for receiving a $400,000 donation illegally from the state oil company in the form of a donation. This led to his involvement in the country’s biggest corruption scandal ever, which has resulted in the jailing of over a dozen of executives and politicians for bringing about Brazil’s worst ever recession.

Yet another criticism against Temer is his decision to have an all-male cabinet solely made of white men. This comes in the light of the fact that more than 53% of the Brazilian population is of mixed-race and 52% are female. Incidentally, this also the first time the country has an all-male cabinet since it retruned to democracy over three decades ago.

Brazil is currently facing its worst recession since the 1930s. The deficit is one-tenth of the GDP while both the unemployment and inflation rates stand at around 10%. According to the Economist, Temer’s party published a document last October titled ‘Bridge to the Future’, which detailed a series of ‘sensible measures from privatization and freer trade to reform of over-generous public pensions, sclerotic labour laws and the Byzantine tax code.’

After ascending to power on August 31st, Temer spoke about these very same measures in his widely publicized first television address. With promises of privatization, deregulation and freer fiscal policies, investors seem to have some hope to look forward to. ““Our motto is to spend only what we collect,” he said.

Temer is said to be pinning his hopes for a revival on two measures- a 20-year freeze on public spending and pension reforms. However, polls suggest that the citizens are expecting more support from the government in these hard times, ultimately increasing the onus upon public spending. Things will turn in Temer’s favour only if he can get his reforms to work and let the citizens soak in the benefits.

With Rouseff’s impeachment having brought the leftist Worker’s Party 13-year rule to an end, it is in Temer’s hands to rebuild the recession-hit Brazilian economy back on its feet in his 28-month term before the country goes in for a fresh bout of elections in 2018.

 

The curse of the male child

The word foeticide has largely been associated with female fetuses over the years, owing to the widespread practice of illegal sex-determination to abort them. However, female fetuses aren’t the only victims in the cruel practice. While there has been considerable reportage of female foeticide, the darker side that is unknown to most is the practice of male foeticide.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau data, more cases of male foeticide were reported over female foeticide in 2014, the latest year for which data is available. As per the data, 53 cases over male foeticde were reported as against the 50 cases of female foeticide. This clearly indicates a gross miscalculation in the reportage of foeticide as a larger issue.

An All India Institute for Medical Sciences (AIIMS) study revealed that around 238 foetuses and newbrons had been disposed off in the posh South Delhi area between 1996 and 2012, of which 115 were males and 110 were females.

However, female fetuses outnumbered male fetuses in the five month gestational period. “Owing to the societal bias in favour of a male, this could mean that selective female foeticide happened during this period. In India, medical abortion is allowed only up to 20 weeks of gestational age and criminal abortions and selective female foeticide subsequent to antenatal sex determination are more likely before 20 weeks of pregnancy,” said Dr C Behera, one of the co-authors to PTI.

Sporadical cases of male foeticide have been reported by the Indian media in spurts every now and then. In 2006, the police busted an illegal foeticide racket in Punjab, where doctors were fooling couples into aborting their male fetuses, in the ruse of them being females in order to make quick money. During investiagation into the case, the police found close to 50 foetuses discarded in Patiala of which at least 20 were male.

Similarly, in 2010, a doctor in Ahmedabad was arrested for indulging in sex-determination and illegal foeticide. Of the 13 abandoned fetuses found near his clinic, six were male; three were female while the sex of the rest could not be determined.

A recent report in Indiaspend reported that Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are the worst states to be a woman.  In Rajasthan, the Barmer district in particular indulges in male foeticide, while celebrating the birth of the girl child, but for the wrong reasons. In many villages of this area, the women are involved in sex-traffcking and trade.

This is the alleged reason behind the rampant practice of male foeticide in the area, so as to bring in more girls into the trade. Some villages in this district have only 30% male population, while the women work as sex workers and earn money.

While these are just some instances from over the years, there are still numerous cases that go unreported with respect to male foeticide. And till such time that male foeticde gets the space it needs in the media , it will remain something that ‘does not exist’, in the eyes of many in our masochist society.

 

The leaking submarine: Scorpene leak explained.

On August 24, an Australian newspaper ‘The Australian’ published documents containing details of six Scorpene submarines which are being built in India by French firm DCNS. These six submarines are part of Indian Navy’s Project-75 programme, of which one submarine INS Kalvari was put to test earlier this year in the Mazagaon docks in Mumbai, where they are being built.

The 22,400-paged document revealed restricted information on the Scorpene submarines, which are diesel-electric attack submarines. The documents specified the secret combat abilities of the vehicles, including range, frequency at which they gather intelligence, noise they radiate, endurance, diving depths and other such technical details. It also illustrated the details of the sonar system that is employed by the submarine to gather ntelligence underwater.

While DCNS claims that the leak originated from India, the newspaper said that the documents had been transferred from DCNS in 2011 by a former sub-contractor to a Southeast Asian company, from where it was moved to another branch of a second Southeast Asian company.

Speaking immediately after the leak was made public on Wednesday, Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar said that the documents were posted with vital parameters being blackened out, thereby ensuring no compromise on the security. However, he has asserted that the Navy, in particular, will be prepared for a ‘worse-case scenario’, whatever that may be.

Meanwhile, retired Navy officials and experts do not seem too concerned about the leak either.  Speaking to Sushant Singh of The Indian Express, retired Captain J.S. Malik, who served for 32 years with including the office of Director of Submarine Operations said, “Most of this data is generic and belongs to Naval Staff Qualitative Requirements (NSQR) provided by the Navy to the French company, and ‘binding data’ for the product. It does not pertain to any specific submarine, and has limited usage for the adversary.”

While all seems rosy at the Indian Navy end, things do not appear as easy for DCNS. The French company has been brought on board to design a variant of the same Scorpene for Australia, Malaysia, Chile and Brazil by their respective navies. This leak is now expected to trigger concern and doubts regarding the security of the proposed projects to be handled by the company, especially in Australia and U.S.

It must be noted that the leaked documents contained data that is several years outdated, owing to the fact that it was compiled in 2011. However, while making these observations, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull raised the matter that ‘any leak of classified information is a concern.’

The $3-billion-worth-Scorpene submarines are expected to form the submarine-arm for the Indian Navy over the next two decades, with INS Kalvari almost ready for induction into the fleet.

No funds, no medals: The Indian Olympic Saga

As the curtains fall on the Olympic stage, the spotlight shifts to three important personalities who made headlines at Rio- for reasons right and wrong. These were- Sakshi Mittal, PV Sindhu and the officials from the Indian Olympic Association. While the two sportspersons brought the country laurels and accolades from the world over, the latter is being blamed for whatever went wrong with the country’s dismal performance at the Olympics; and rightly so.

A big chunk of the many reasons that are being pinned on the country’s poor display at Rio can be attributed to the substantial gap of funds experienced by the sports contingent. According to a report on IndiaSpend, India spends roughly $500 million on youth affairs and sports, which is one-third of what the U.K. spends on its Olympians.

The funds from the Union Budget are channelled via three establishments- the National sports Federations (NSFs), National Sports Development Funds (NSDFs), and Target Olympic Podium (TOP) programme. In the run-up to the Olympics, the country spent Rs 750 crore on sport-centric associations, coaching centres, training camps etc. Also, a cumulative amount of Rs.60 crore was spent on the 109 potential Olympian athletes, over four years, by the NSDF and TOP programme.

With a tragically narrow-minded approach with the Olympics as the sole target, the number of nationally recognised sports federations has come down from 57 to 49 in 2016, and their funding has also plummeted tremendously. Of the total funding received by a federation, only 8 percent is spent on the athlete’s training. Meanwhile, athletes in the U.S. raise their own money, depending largely on private funding.

It cannot be said that private funding has not played its part in the Indian Olympic saga. The Olympic Association has received donations from various conglomerates, including Reliance Jio, Tata Salt, Amul and Edelweiss Financial Services. But it remains unclear as to where these funds may have been utilised. In the meantime, our officials will continue taking grinning selfies with our evidently low-spirited heroes after a particularly unlucky match; or even worse, hang around in the hotels lapping up the luxury offered on a palette.

Curd, cash and clout- All by a bare thread

After Pongal’s Jallikattu, it is Janmashtami’s Dahi Handi that is under the Supreme Court’s scanner, for safety regulations. The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a Bombay High Court to limit the height of the human pyramid to 20 ft, and also barred minors from participating in the celebrations. And while the move is a welcome one, many politicians have expressed their displeasure over the apex court’s ruling, slamming the court for ‘interfering with festive celebrations’.

Criticisms aside, the SC’s ruling is a chance at life with normalcy at fore for many minors. Giving into the greed of making a few thousand rupees, many of them end up at hospital beds with life-changing impairments, restraining from carrying out even basic daily activities without support. While on one hand the Fadnavis government may have granted the celebration the label of an ‘adventure sport’, the cushioning that comes along with the tag, like safety nets and landing pads have missing for long, now.

Further, it is common knowledge that Dahi Handi celebrations ride high on political current, with various heavyweights backing mandals and providing manpower to emerge as the biggest contender of the year. There are approximately 800-1,000 mandals across Mumbai and Thane alone, most of which are under the purview of influential people. As years passed by, what started of as a manifestation of Lord Krishna’s adorable antics transformed into a game of brawn power, adept balancing skills, tall human structures and skyrocketing cash prizes.

In this seemingly dangerous celebration, the SC’s decision to bar minors from participation can only be touted as a favourable move.  However, no one can really monitor how far these regulations will be implemented in the fervor of winning the glittering grand cash prize in the mud pot hanging by a bare thread. What remains to be seen is if these regulations will indeed scale the risk lower, or will political clout overpower it all?