Cinema

Star Wars

Star rivalries are as old as cinema. We have even heard of incidents of MGR fans smearing tar over Sivaji’s posters (and vice versa) at theatres. These rivalries, which often seem to be between fans rather than stars, have now taken an ugly turn. Social media has become the new battleground, with trolls and memes as the weapons of choice. But with changing times, have these rivalries become an exercise in brand building, assuring a legion of loyal fans who promise an opening? Are these rivalries a necessary evil in the age of social media?

“They certainly are,” says trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai, who has over 2,00,000 followers on Twitter. “A star without any presence on social media is finished. Rivalries ensure a star and his films retain a certain buzz at all times, free of cost. Earlier, newspaper and television commercials attracted audiences to theatres. But today, a majority of the audience is drawn to the theatre based on a film’s reception on social media.”

People less than 30 years of age form over 90 per cent of the audience during the first three days of a release. And this is the age group that is heavily influenced by Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. “Memes and trolls should be overlooked as occupational hazards,” says Pillai.

But Mohan Raman, actor and film historian, feels these numbers just don’t add up. He believes social media users represent only a tiny portion of theatre-goers. “These fans who troll and make memes are not more than 10 lakh in number. Let’s say a big film releases in 1,500 screens in an average of 400 seats per screen. That’s six lakh people watching a single show! So, these guys can fill only two shows. Their influence doesn’t go beyond spewing hatred.”

This negativity, however, does tend to affect the fate of a film. “I believe Puli was a film that was destroyed by social media,” says G. Dhananjayan, producer and Chairman of BOFTA Film Institute. “It was a fantasy film that experimented within the mass film genre. But it wasn’t even given a chance because of the constant trolling. It was the same with Lingaa. These fans don’t really understand how a major failure affects everyone in the industry… even their own star.”

"Puli was a film that was destroyed by social media..."

Which is why Mohan Raman started a hashtag called #starofonerespectforall. “Fans can promote their star all they want, but it shouldn’t come from insulting another star. We don’t see a Cognizant employee troll the MD of a Wipro or a TCS. These fans forget that cinema too is a profession.”

But Vijay-fan Arvind, a Switzerland-based IT services employee, admits to creating several memes and trolls. He doesn’t agree that memes played a role in Puli’s failure. “ Puli was an experiment that failed to live up to expectations. If trolls and memes are the reason why it was pulled down then why didn’t the same trolls sink Theri, which is still going strong even after 50 days? The main issue with rivalries are not the trolling. It begins when rival fans start sharing the pirated prints of a star’s films online, only to pull him down.”

"When Simbu and Dhanush buried the hatchet to become friends, a lot of their loyal fans felt a bit cheated."

These rivalries, however, do help build loyalty towards an actor, feels Nelson Ji, an Ajith fan with over 9,000 followers on Twitter. “When Simbu and Dhanush buried the hatchet to become friends, a lot of their loyal fans felt a bit cheated. When we saw Ajith sir wearing the watch Vijay gifted him in Mankatha, a lot of issues between fans got subdued. Many rivalries are created by fans themselves, to keep things more exciting. But it has certainly become a lot uglier now.”

Arvind adds, “Rivalries also mean that we watch films from the opposite camp. So, it’s not just one fan base but two that go to watch a film in the opening weekend. We take it up as a our duty as fans to promote the films online (for free) that it plays a huge impact on the opening.”

Rivalries also go a long way in brand building, says Dheena Gopi, a Chengalpet-based distributor. “At times, even we fans wonder where these memes and trolls come from. But there’s certainly an effect on a star’s image when he’s pitted against another actor. Sivakarthikeyan is now being pitted against Vijay Sethupathi, and as a result, both their films have started selling at higher prices. When you combine these factors with films that fans want to watch, you become a superstar.”

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2020 4:05:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/Star-Wars/article14386286.ece

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