Fandom, Fan Clubs and the Super Star; case of Rajinikanth

-Suhas Vedham

Rajinikanth, Rajni, Thalaiva, Super Star, these are a few names which make the hearts of millions pound by just the ring of it! His Super Stardom remains unmatched in Tamil Cinema, giving birth to thousands of fan clubs and millions of fans across globe. Here is an attempt to understand the stardom through fandom. ‘Fandom by its definition is the state or condition of being a fan of someone or something’. The word FAN finds its etymological roots in ‘Fanatic’. The individual fan gives way to the collective fan base, eventually a Rasigar Mandram ( fan
club in Tamil).

The Rasigar Mandram is a subculture through the ivory towers, but it is much more for fans
it’s a collective indescribable craze. The Rasigar Mandram becomes a locus of streamlined and organised support system to the Star. As Sara Dickey mentions in her book ‘Cinema And The Urban Poor In South India’, the fan clubs are tightly organised state-wide or nationwide networks. Sara even found out that certain fan clubs had a certain caste make up and were eager to give their so called ‘party line’ in sensitive matters.

RITUALS AND ACTIONS:
Many Rasigar Mandrams have Rituals and events pre-planned before and during the release of the movie. Huge cut outs of the star are garlanded and anointed with milk. Tapping into the fan’s psychology, the reason for such massive size of the cut outs are to show the star to be larger than life! The fans treat the aura of the star through the cut outs as worth fixating their own aspirations on the star. The tangibility of the cut out gives them a sensorial
satisfaction of having accessed the star himself!

Most cut outs would have the star in a manner that he would gaze right at the audience, furthering a more personal connect with the onlooker. The Fans thronged the theatre for the first day first show at 4:00am. Attending the first ever show is still treated as a benchmark for loyalty by many Rasigar Mandrams. Some of the fan clubs even manged to facilitate tickets for all its members by booking multiple shows in a
single day.

The fans mimic, embody and imbibe the idiosyncrasies of the star, in a bid to consume their
hero as much as possible. These may be the famous sunglasses swirl of Rajni, the walk, mesmerizing smile or the other mannerisms specific to him. The fans even tend to ‘Reorganize their lives and everyday activities to consume more of the star. In the recent years, social media presence has also allowed the worshipers to enter the network of stars which has shifted the balance to some extent. They often become obsessive and start to enjoy stardom themselves. The attention that the fan gets form the star even through intangible mediums is considered worth the effort (by them).

The Fans And A New Narrative:
It has been seen that the fans, both individually and collectively, become a carrier of
plethora of information about the Star. They sometimes act as Historians by providing details about a star’s life that even media might have missed. This way they create a new narrative for the star! Example: Yasuda Hidetoshi, the Japanese Autokaren!

THE COMPONENTS OF A FAN CLUB:
Sara Dickey’s experiences reveals Another interesting point to note ie. The Gender component of these fan clubs. The clubs constitute majority of men, usually late teens. Thee reason that a scholar like Sara deduces is that women, in the same age group are expected by the Indian Society to marry making it difficult for them to remain ‘active
participants’ in public activities of the fan club. She also states that women of the same age group face more restrictions in terms of movement as compared to men.

In terms of Economic standing in the society, she found that the lower middle class and middle class were the majority in a fan club. The level of education also was found to be low in the fan clubs. This may make the majority more gullible and impressionable, and can be used by the star to reinstate his political views and gain instant support.

However, it is also worth noting that Rajnikanth in 2008, was against the idea of politics through the fandom he enjoys. This is because he gave a media statement discouraging the formation of DDMMK (Desiya Dravida Makkal Munnetram Kazhagam) formed by one of his Rasigar Mandrams.

The lower level of education directly correlates with the occupations that the majority of fans be in (lower on the occupational hierarchical rung) . The star resonates manifolds by playing characters of downtrodden humans fulfilling aspirations. This empowers the fans even more as Rajini himself comes from humble beginnings.
Example: Rajni plays a charioteer cum servant in Muthu , an auto driver in Bashaa who goes on to become the don of Mumbai, a simple milkman in Annamala, becomes a millionaire. His songs carry the message of revolution, hard work, determination, etc. and make a certain profession be larger than life. Example: Vandenda Palukaaran( I, the Milkman) from the film Annamalai, sings the virtues of a milkman. Autokaaran from Bashaa portraying the autorickshaw drivers to be a godly figure and the profession to is glorified. Enthralled the audience as a porter (coolie) in Uzhaipaali (Hard worker). Some other songs conveyed messages of grit and good human values. For example: Oruvan Muthalali (there is only one Boss), Vazhkaiyil Ayiram tadaikkal (Turn even a 1000 boulders into stepping stones) Vetri Nichchayam (our victory,inevitable) , Ammavai Azhaikada Uyir and Uyirum neeye signify the glory of motherhood.

THE COMMERCIAL LOGIC :
There is a commercial logic to stardom: Different INDUSTRIES come up (are created) and thrive around the Star. Over the years, it has got a syndicated organizational character to it. The commercial logic covers a large spectrum. From special edition accessories with printed punch Dialogues such as pens , T-shirts etc. to a full fledged aircraft or a sky scraper carrying the theme. When Rajnikanth’s movie KABALI released, the Malaysian Airlines unveiled a
Special KABALI Aircraft to carry fans from Malaysia to Chennai (India) for the first day first show of the movie. Kabali Taxis Joined the fleet in many countries. Jewellery companies designed pendants and rings in precious metals with Superstar’s dialogues, making this another example of movie-specific merchandising.

The autorickshaws in Chennai either had the poster or at least the famous dialogue from the teaser, inked on the back and front. Some fans prefer to tattoo these punch lines on themselves due to hyper-affection. The fan clubs also perform other functions. These become a tool of promotional activities and branding for not only the movies that the
star is involved in. Even activities such as Charity and merry events such as Birthday celebrations, mass prayers (when Rajini underwent surgery) carried out by the Fan clubs. Example: Malararattum Manidaneyam , an initiative to distribute welfare measures for the poor in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, was conducted by die hard Rajni fans.

Rajinikanth’s fairly recent decision to enter politics has caused the Rasigar Mandrams to be used as a vehicle for conveying, furthering and outrightly propagating political agendas and messages. The recent songs also provide lyrical support to the political ideology of the star. Specific lines of songs like ‘Ethana Sandosham, Veera Thurandara, Katravai Patravai etc. Dialogues have also immensely contributed in this regard.

Small Differences in the mundane and innovation peppered with style; all this with highly relatable
day to day activities and situations . It may be flicking sweat, tossing a coin, lighting a match, wearing
shades or even dusting a speck off oneself, when Rajini does the same on screen, it becomes a
trend! His punch dialogues resonate with the fans due to their relevance beyond the reel world.
Example: Andavan Sollaran , Arunachalam Mudikkaran (Arunachalam) , Magizhchi (Kabali), Idu
eppudi irukku? (16 Vayadiiule) ,Yen vazhi Thani vazhi! (Padayappa), Seeviduven! ( Murattu Kaalai), to
name a few.

Rajini is a human given godly status to be referred or looked upto, in all situations in life. One mood, one dialogue, one song, that’s all it takes for Rajni to connect with millions. He has been an addiction to many for over four decades now. His charisma continues on screen undoubtedly in the contemporary times not only a Super Star, the dear Thalaivar, but someone who has transcended beyond the glorious taglines. Rajini, simply put, is an emotion!

 

References:
Dickey, S. (n.d.). Note on transliteration. Cinema and the Urban Poor in South India,(37-39),(137-
149). doi:10.1017/cbo9780511557972.001
Rajinifans.com/gallery
https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/rajinikanth-birthday-
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https://www.google.com/search?source=hp&ei=bV-
cXKnMBczb9QP6u4zQBg&q=fandom+define&btnK=Google+Search&oq=fandom+define&gs_l=psy-
ab.3..0j0i22i30l9.1495.3600..4100…0.0..0.180.1675.0j13….2..0….1..gws-
wiz…..0..0i131j0i10j0i324.59G0g4Em2n0
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fandom

 

(Suhas Vedham is currently pursuing his MA in Mass Communication from AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi)