In the name of the star: fan clubs and their social actions
TNM spoke to a few fan club members from all walks of life about the wellness activities they do on behalf of their favorite star.
Nowhere else in the world would you see a group of people building a temple to worship an actor. Nowhere else in the world could you see young people donating thousands of dollars of cash to erect a gigantic cutout of their favorite star just to celebrate the release of their new film. And nowhere else will you hear the news of fans donating several hundred thousand dollars of vital medical equipment on behalf of their star. Nowhere other than India.
The image of the star and the existence of these fan clubs are reciprocal. If the power of the star rests with these clubs, the fan clubs in turn depend on the image of their star to deliver these extravagant displays. When it comes to the southern states, fan clubs are ultimately channeled to propel the star into politics. MGR has done it, Vijayakanth, Rajinikanth, Chiranjeevi, Pawan Kalyan and Kamal Haasan are doing it and more to come will follow suit.
And what are these fan clubs doing? In addition to erecting banners and being discredited for engaging in toxic and abusive online wars, fan clubs also run wellness programs – from blood drives to lake cleanups. TNM spoke with a few fan club members from all walks of life to understand some of the wellness activities they do on behalf of their star.
Goodwill gestures from fan clubs
On September 2 of this year, to mark the 49th birthday of actor and politician “Power star” Pawan Kalyan, his fans donated over 600 oxygen cylinders, estimated to be worth Rs 70 lakh, to government hospitals in Andhra Pradesh and the city of Hyderabad. Party chairman Jana Sena responded by saying he was upset by the gesture of “Jana Sainiks” around the world.
Likewise, on Chiranjeevi’s 65th birthday last August, fans took to planting trees and donating blood. It was not until May of this year that the Thiruvananthapuram District Mohanlal Fan Association made a commitment to donate their organs to the state-run ‘Mrithasanjivini’ program, a gesture that received the approval of the State Minister of Health KK Shailaja.
In March 2019, Vijay fans in Kerala called Kollam Nanbans were of great help during the devastating floods that year. A large network of fans across the state rallied to help in relief camps as it was reported that the actor himself had funneled donations through fan accounts.
In the same year, in all districts of Tamil Nadu, Thalapathy Vijay Vilaiyilla Virundhagams (Thalapathy Vijay free banquet) was launched. Here, around 100 residents receive free breakfast every day, even during a pandemic. This is among the other activities that members of the “Thalapathy” fan club do. “We also distribute sewing machines to women, organize health camps, organize free banquets, renovate schools and other social protection programs,” a member of Vijay Makkal Iyakkam told TNM.
Fan clubs that have become well-being associations
Fan clubs have been around since the early days of idol worship in Indian cinema. But fan clubs have turned into welfare associations when the star expresses political ambitions.
Around 2009, actor Vijay’s fan clubs were amalgamated into a “narpani iyakkam” (welfare association) to later become Vijay Makkal Iyakkam, a registered welfare association with branches throughout the state. . Speaking to TNM, a member of Vijay Makkal Iyakkam shares: “It’s like a mini party. We have a youth wing, a student wing, etc. We have district leaders and a senior leader. The head office in Panayur where we have annual meetings. Although word is that his fan clubs have worked in silence, in recent years these activities have attracted some attention, especially since Vijay himself has made politically charged statements, both in his films. and during his annual public appearances.
More often than not, especially when it comes to the Tamil Nadu and Telugu speaking states, these fan clubs have proven to be a launching pad for the star’s eventual plunge into politics. This is the case of Rajini Makkal Mandram (RMM) of Rajinikanth. When the actor announced he would be entering politics in 2017, his fan clubs morphed into party outfits. The large number of members attached to the RMM and their current structure as a political group have helped distribute relief supplies and engage in other charities.
Another interesting observation concerns actor Kamal Haasan’s fan clubs who converted to Narpani Iyakkam long before he expressed his intention to be in politics. Members of his welfare association are said to have highlighted their role in the 2004 tsunami and the 2015 floods. Kamal’s Narpani Iyakkam was helpful to the star when he launched his Makkal Needhi Maiam party in 2018.
Actor Suriya, meanwhile, looms larger as an individual when it comes to charity, with his fan clubs taking a back seat. The star, along with members of his family, Father Sivakumar and Brother Karthi, run the Agaram Foundation solely to help children from working-class families and difficult backgrounds to access quality education. The star herself donates and her fan club activities are mainly channeled through her foundation.
However, stars like Ajith, who keep a very low profile and resolutely refrain from making political statements, have dissolved their fan clubs. According to those on the pitch, his fans as individuals could be engaging in charity. In Malayalam, Mammootty Fans and Welfare Association International (MFWAI) was founded in 1989, shortly after the film’s release Vadakkan Veeragatha. Arun, State President of MFWAI, said: “I heard that when the idea of a fan association was suggested to Mammukka, he said he didn’t want a fan association. fans for fun, but an association that would help people. . This is why you find “well-being” in the name. “
Who decides on the campaigns?
The type of charitable work that fans engage in on a regular basis is mostly decided by their leaders.
Vignesh, who is the head of Kancheepuram of the Vijay Sethupathi Fan Club in Tamil Nadu, talks about cleaning up a lake in their district. “We have around 1000 members who are an active part of the fan club, so when we engage in a wellness activity we ask them to give all they can, Rs 50, Rs 100. Last time we were able to clean a lake in Kancheepuram. and the people of the village were very happy, ”says the 24-year-old.
Blood drives are common in all fan clubs. For Mammootty’s birthday this year – September 7th – blood donation camps were held in more than one location across Kerala’s 14 districts. “All he needs is your time. Many of our members are registered with most of the major blood banks. For other charities we use funds that we collect from each other – there are active members and students. There are district and state level committees. When it comes to an emergency and something big, we coordinate the districts together, ”says Arun.
Some have gone above and beyond. A member of the Mahesh Babu fan club recalls: “We were able to collect Rs 5 lakh for the spinal cord surgery of a 15 year old teenager in August of last year. Mahesh Babu also donated for this and NTR fans collaborated for the donation as well. The girl underwent several surgeries, and this was the last, where she received help from fans, after hearing about her on social networks, ”he explains.
In the name of the star
The money for these events is usually pooled by the fans. “Vijay sir always tells us not to go beyond what we can afford. He is opposed to our taking loans to organize such programs. He says, “Make your family come first and only if you can give yourself up to charity,” says Vijay Makkal Iyakkam member.
In Tamil Nadu, the fan clubs of Dhanush, Vijay Sethupathi are also growing. “Fans engage in charitable work based on their star’s face value and how they interact with fans. Not all stars are close to their fan club, ”explains Vijay Makkal Iyakkam member.
Vijay Sethupathi fan Vignesh puts it best. “He might not be interested in joining politics now, but we still do. Any fan would like to see their star lead one day. Whether it is Rajini or Vijay. When fan clubs are seriously involved in social protection measures, it means that they would like to see their star become a leader someday. “
But on a basic level, we ask, why are fans doing what they do on behalf of their star? “I like him (Vijay Sethupathi). I saw what the previous generation was doing. I remember what my dad did as a Rajini fan. I saw my neighbor Annas (older brothers) do it for Vijay. Now I’m doing it for my star. It’s more of a habit. But there are people who are not part of any fan club but continue to do social assistance on behalf of the star. We love him and would like to do good on his behalf, ”he suggests.
(With contributions from Cris and Rajeswari Parasa)