(Part II of a two-part series)
A film by a ‘big’ hero (read: one with mass following and minimum guaranteed success) is more than just an event for his fans. Till about 10 years back, huge cutouts and banners for the hero was an accepted norm. Can you believe that people would go to the extent of conducting ‘Palabhisekam’ (‘pal’ means milk and ‘abhishekam’ means pouring of a liquid on the head)? This is performed for deities in temples!
Till date, fans sport t-shirts with the movie’s name along with photo of the hero, and ‘first day first show’ is marked as a memorable occasion, a must attend for all the die-hard fans. Heroes with greater mass appeal and following enjoy a demi-god status in Tamil Nadu. Even now, the intro song of such heroes is played again in theatres in lieu of the demand from the fans. Accessories worn by the heroines become the trend of the time.
I remember saris, hairclips and even earrings named after popular films. I have seen people throw money and torn ticket pieces when their favourite hero is introduced on-screen – in every movie! Some womenfolk used to perform aarti for their hero onscreen. These activities have now moved on to the web world after the advent of the Internet.
Professor Eugene opines that people go overboard when it comes to defending their stars online. “The online ‘comments’ wars are not only brutal, but sometimes, they also get very personal. Since stars have a direct contact with their fans today, the way of communication has now changed drastically. It’s more than their films today. They are a brand by default and every aspect of their lifestyle makes a statement, and I believe this is one of the main reasons for fans reacting this way.”
SP Abhishek also thinks people need to exhibit restrain when defending their stars.
“People are sensible enough to look at a movie as an individual’s narration of a story, but their favourite stars have become larger-than-life figures for them. One may or may not follow the good points made in a movie but the craze they have for their star has gone too far. Irrespective of whether a movie does well at the box office or not, the fans celebrate the star. Fandom has been in existence ever since the origin of cinema but showcasing it has become easier with social media. Unfortunately, it looks magnified because of the reach social media enjoys,” he says.
Kalaimagan also says that fans should defend their stars in a healthy way. “When the stars whom they support themselves maintain a cordial relationship, what’s the point in these people engaging in a war of words online?” he asks.
The reality is that hero worship has moved from offline to online in the current times, but is it restricted only to Tamil movies?
Eugene believes that the scenario is the same for all the Indian films. “In heroic films from other countries, the narrative demands a heroic persona and the actor fits into the shoes of the character. But most of our hero-centric films are written for the actor and his image which stands out as the larger definition of the character he plays. Thus, every character he plays has a same template persona. This in turn lets the audience, especially the fans, see the actor as a larger-than-life character. I believe times are changing though. The hero worship is still there; the only difference is that it is shifting its roots from Palabhisekam of a 40 feet cut-out (of the hero), to hundreds of memes and other online content.”
Kalaimagan believes that many South Indian films basically fall under two categories – one, of films with positive content produced in smaller budgets, and two, of unbelievable amounts of money used to produce magnum opus, starring big heroes.
“There is a balance, and this is keeping the respective industries in a positive streak. Big hero films still have slow-mo intros and audiences prefer to watch their heroes introduced in such a way only. Hero worship has been there in all the film industries for many years. Instead of blind hero worship, imbibing the hero’s good qualities and understanding their route to success is a far better option,” he says.
In this regard, Abhishek gives an insight into the Telugu film industry.
“The Telugu film industry is meant for commercial movie making and they have taken hero worship to a different level. They have slow-mo intro scenes for heroes and unimaginable stunts sequences for which the audiences go crazy. Hero worship here is much more than in any other state in India. There is a certain template the audience expects you to follow if you are a Telugu film maker. But there is also a fresh set of film makers who want to experiment and entertain all kinds of audiences. I can safely say it is an 80:20 scenario there,” he adds.
And why do we have so many film stars turning politicians in Tamil Nadu?
M Bharat Kumar, senior film critic and industry observer says it is because the Dravidian ideology was promoted in the state through arts.
“People look at only the success stories. Big stars like Shivaji Ganesan have not fared well when they tried their luck in politics. People here celebrate films. They know that reel life is different from the real one. Last year, there were 220 movie releases but only 10 made profit. The success rate is just 5 percent. If we were to be influenced by films, then all the films should have had a box office run,” he says.
After we have successfully curtailed the spread of the novel coronavirus and theatres/multiplexes open up, it remains to be seen if people will gather the guts to get back to watching movies in theatres.
Read Part I of the two-part series here.
The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.