The Cult of Celebrity: When Fans Go Too Far
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The Cult of Celebrity: When Fans Go Too Far

June 15, 2024

Kannada actor Darshan’s alleged involvement in a murder and the slow reaction from otherwise hyper ‘reactionary’ fellow actors, politicians and actors’ Fan Clubs makes us wonder: Are we unable to differentiate between what is real and a reel anymore? Are we unable to figure out what should be defended and what must be derided?

The problem is the growth of Fan Clubs for actors. So much so that the fans love it when their hero talks and behaves like the flawed characters, they portray in movies, in real life! 

These fans believe their hero can do no wrong. So, they blindly support them even when there is proof that their hero is actually a villain in real life!

Forget the fans, they could be regular Joes but when powerful people come to their rescue like a frenzied fan, there is a problem.

It reminds one of what happened when Sanjay Dutt was sentenced for his involvement in the Mumbai blasts. Back then, Jaya Bachchan, who was a Member of Parliament, was outraged and asked “Where was the Government all these years? Suddenly you have realised he has to go to jail? This is rubbish…”

Jaya Bachchan forgot that if Sanjay Dutt had informed the Mumbai Police about his ‘friends’ smuggling arms and grenades into Mumbai, 257 of her countrymen, would be still alive today.

Shockingly, even former Justice Markandey Katju, who said 90 percent of Indians are idiots, asked pardon for Dutt!

Well, we Indians may be idiots but we are surely not sentimental fools like Justice Katju and some members of actors’ Fan Clubs.

A Fan Club will attract fans who will almost do anything to impress their hero, like in Darshan’s case where his Fan Club President reportedly kidnapped a person and brought him to a shed who then was tortured and killed.

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Over the years, Fan Clubs have become an ‘army’ for an actor to deal with competition, prosecution and even aid in his future as a politician.

This craze of Fan Clubs for actors is very much a South Indian phenomenon. In Karnataka, it is called ‘Abhimanigala Sangha’ (an association of admirers). In the Telugu film industry, it is called ‘Abhimana Sangham’ and in the Tamil industry it is ‘Rasigar Mandram.’

The first Movie Star Fan Club is said to have been formed in Tamil Nadu in 1953. It was for Tamil actor M.G. Ramachandran (MGR). Soon MGR joined politics. And then his Fan Clubs became a quasi-political outfit.

It is said that when MGR was suspended from DMK in 1972, he went on to form his own party, Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam now called AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) on the strength of his Mandrams or Fan Clubs.

In Andhra Pradesh, N.T. Rama Rao (NTR) used his Fan Club for politics. His fans campaigned actively and aggressively in the 1983 Assembly elections, making him the first non-Congress Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh.

In Karnataka, the legendary Dr. Rajkumar, despite having a massive fan following, chose not to exploit his admirers for political gains.

Fans can be creatures who possess obsessive behaviour while also being servile to their hero. But interestingly, they will not follow the good and hard-to-follow standards set by the superstars. 

Dr. Rajkumar was so conscious of what image and message he exuded that he never smoked in his films. In over 220 films he acted in, he smoked only in one film ‘Prathidhwani.’  He was all about eating healthy, doing yoga and generally lived a simple and peaceful lifestyle.

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So, it was ironic that when Dr. Rajkumar died in 2006, from natural causes, his fans not only brought Bangalore to a complete standstill but several people died in the rioting that followed the undeclared bandh. Dr. Rajkumar would have been heartbroken by this manifestation of grief over his death. 

Similarly, when another Kannada superstar Dr. Vishnuvardhan died too there was an impromptu Bangalore bandh, albeit a less violent one.

The most extreme case perhaps was the aftermath of M.G. Ramachandran’s death in 1987, which reportedly led to 31 suicides among his fans.

Such instances of extreme behaviour highlight the unhealthy and dangerous levels of devotion some fans have towards their idols.

Now, as Fan Clubs become more effective in getting things done, maybe one should start their own Fan Club for protection and validation.

Observing these events, one might whimsically think of starting a personal Fan Club, complete with fiercely loyal members ready to defend their leader at any cost.

This tongue-in-cheek proposition highlights the absurdity of such extreme fandom, emphasising the need for rationality and the importance of distinguishing between admiration and blind fanaticism.

The cult of celebrity and the power of Fan Clubs reflect a deep-seated cultural issue. While admiration for talent is natural, fans must maintain a sense of perspective.

Blind loyalty can lead to dangerous consequences, and it’s vital to remember that even our idols are fallible humans. As fans, supporting our heroes should never come at the cost of justice, rationality and ethical behaviour.

Darshan’s case should make fans of movie actors to be aware — it’s okay to be a fan, but don’t be a fanatic.

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