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Moving with the stars

THE FANS MAKE IT HAPPEN Every new release is a cause for celebration  

Hearing drumbeats, travellers crane their necks to catch a sight of the source of music. There are hundreds of people dancing to chenda melam. They are fans going to catch the first show of the latest film of their superstar. The premises ring with resounding Mammookka ki jai!

The release of a superstar movie is not too different from a religious festival. The cinema hall is decked up. Posters of the idol are garlanded and sometimes a paal abhishekam is also performed. Inside, fans shower flowers and glittering paper bits on the screen. Fan clubs such as the All Kerala Mohanlal Fans Association (AKMFA) and Mammooty Fans and Welfare Association International (MFWAI) consist of thousands of young boys, for whom their hero is no less than a god. Rohith KP, a Mammootty fan was drawn to the star since his childhood and he joined the fan club when he was 13. His room is filled with posters of the star in different postures and costumes. “My parents, neighbours and friends are aware of my craze. I also like to dress up like Mammookka and sport his hairstyle.” Rohith has taken up law as his future career. Every body knows Mammootty too had practised law before he became a star.

The fans range from entrepreneurs, businessmen and bureaucrats to daily-wage labourers and students. Their love and loyalty to their star is unquestionable. “Being a member offers them neither remuneration nor employment opportunities,” says Sajan Binu VJ, the district secretary of Thiruvananthapuram branch of AKMFA. Sajan is an advocate who joined the association when he was in college. “Mohanlal’s philosophy is that we must fend for ourselves and our families, and then engage in the organisational activities.” Aishik and Fazil, two daily wage earners, make the flex boards and banners of these stars, which are kept in the cinema halls of Kochi. On being asked about the source of funds, Fazil says, “No one gives us money. We take it from our own pockets.”

While some quit these fan clubs once they get married, there are those who continue and even convert their family members into fans! Baiju, is one among them. “As a family, we are Mammookka fans. My little daughter knows all his dialogues by heart. My son also dresses up like the star for all the first-day-first-show celebrations of his films. My wife joins in the fun as well.”

These associations are exclusively male. Deedi Damodaran, a feminist film critic, who has spoken against sexist jokes in Malayalam cinema says, “The superstar films are scripted for the male fans and the women who are cast opposite them are servile and feed their machismo.” She is sceptical about female fan clubs in Kerala. “When women are not even allowed to express their desires freely, I doubt the rise of a female superstar or a fan club.”

These fans associations are like a well-structured political party. Before the release of every film, a state committee meeting is held in which representatives from each district discuss the theme of the film and how it should be promoted. Mammootty fans even follow a dress code –white/black shirt and pants – during the first-day-first-show celebrations. The fans and the stars prefer to think of these organisations more as welfare associations than a mere congregation of admirers. Kuriakose, who manages an eye hospital in Kochi, organises eye care camps in the name of the fans association. According to him, Mammootty was determined not to reduce this association to just a collective of his admirers, but a group that served society. Similarly, Mohanlal fans provide notebooks for children, wheel chairs for patients and help to underprivileged women.

Social media has changed the way fans interact with their stars. The fans post selfies with the star. Sajeev Soman, a young IT professional manages Mohanlal’s website. The star spotted the 28-year-old through an online photo caption contest on his blog. Now, Sajeev is his personal assistant. “I collect old stills of his movies and trivia about them. If he approves, I upload them. Through his website, www.thecompleteactor.com, the fans get a chance to see the writer, the artist and the foodie in him,” says Soman.

But there is also a downside. Kuriakose and Soman believe that lewd comments appear under photos of the stars, and this often creates tensions between the fans of two camps. It has turned ugly and fans often become the butt of ridicule as they are seen as sentimental and irrational. But the fans apparently do not want to be associated with an irrational fan culture. One way of expressing this sentiment is by making it clear that they are drawn to the acting skill more than the charisma of the two stars.

With the growth of fans associations, Mohanlal and Mammootty also began playing to the gallery. They became superheroes. Scripts were written to pamper the image of the stars and to please the fans. The film Harikrishnans (1998), featuring both the superstars and the Bollywood heroine Juhi Chawla, began this trend. The film had two versions of the climax — Mammootty won the heroine in the version released in the Malabar region, considered the stronghold of the star and in the Southern part of Kerala, Mohanlal’s forte, he won the ladylove. A few cinema halls even screened both the versions alternately! The film heralded a new phase in Malayalam film industry that would come to rely on star power for its sustenance.


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Printable version | Jun 11, 2021 6:35:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/moving-with-the-stars/article6995962.ece

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