Social media following replaces fan mail

Social media following replaces fan mail

Social media following replaces fan mail

By Vinod Mirani 
IANS | November 17


Draw has been a watchword in the film industry all along. The industry revolved around this word: the opening draw, weekend draw and which star had the draw. The power to pull in the audience to start with, and the rest would be left to the merits of the film. The thing was that, a good draw over the weekend and the opening week assured a certain recovery, a buffer.

Usually the term 'draw' was related to the stars. That is because people loved and trusted their stars not to disappoint them. Films being the main source of entertainment and a distraction from the rut, people followed stars and what was happening around their lives, a reason why film magazines thrived. That was the era of fan mails, and the popular stars got such mails in thousands. All that kept the fans thrilled was a reply with an autographed photograph of their beloved star.

This fan mail business needed the stars to have a part-time help, to reply systematically to all such mails. The good thing about this was that it helped some college students or such to earn some money.

Rajesh Khanna was called the first superstar of Hindi films and his popularity was said to be unparalleled. Women wrote him fan mails with blood instead of ink. But, then, people of the world are romantics and the Indians, rather more so, probably the reason Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, all romantic stars, where the most favourites.

Khanna's wedding with Dimple Kapadia was decided in a jiffy and the invitations to the whole industry were sent through telegrams. There was no net or cellphone in those days, but somehow his fans got the whiff. As a result, there was so much crowd outside the venue that even the legit invitees found it tough to get through.

Now, the fan following system has changed. No more mail and pre-printed replies. It has taken a whole new dimension. Although, most of the fan flowing has shifted to social media, especially Twitter, it is not all that genuine like the fan mail era. Nobody wrote a mail to an artiste to abuse or badmouth. Now, the fan following on the social media has turned into pro and anti.

Say, pro-Shah Rukh and anti-Shah Rukh or Salman Khan fans go to war on net. Or, those who liked a particular film and those who did not, indulge in a barrage of exchanges. That is no gauge of what is really happening. Reactions are grossly manipulated as, instead of employing a part time collegian to reply to fan mail, most stars and banners employ a band to fight the cyber war and manipulate the social media.

While nobody takes these social media reactions seriously, the real picture comes across through what has now been termed as ‘Darshan'. Fans always gathered outside the bungalows of stars as they knew when a star leaves for or arrives from shootings. Similar was the case outside film studios, although on a smaller scale. Most such fans hanging around were outsiders, either new to Mumbai or visitors.

The concept of ‘Darshan' came into being following the near-fatal accident of Amitabh Bachchan on the sets of Coolie while shooting a fight scene in 1982. Bachchan, who kept totally to himself, bereft of any contact with either the public or the media, somehow, created a new bond with the people of India. Bachchan himself realised how much the people had prayed for his recovery, while he was oblivious of the happenings around him and the world as he lay unconscious in the hospital.

When he recovered and was back home again, Bachchan opened his doors to the world. He decided to get in touch with people through the media and opened up to them. For masses who adored him, he created this concept of presenting himself every evening at the gate of his bungalow in Juhu, and acknowledge their presence and reverence.

This act of Bachchan was dubbed as ‘Darshan'. His fan following is unabated to date, though now the ritual is followed once a week - every Sunday - subject to his being in town.

This ritual is now also followed by Shah Rukh Khan who does the honours on his birthday, Eid and such special occasions.

In the case of Salman Khan, it is on very, very special occasions - like if he landed into some kind of trouble or came out of it. Same is the case with Sanjay Dutt. I think Indians are very sentimental about their stars when they land in trouble or face a problem. Amitabh Bachchan's injury proved that. Also, we seem to be more demonstrative of legends who, for a time, are out of favour, as was seen in the case of the death of legendary singer Mohammed Rafi. It was a rainy day but the crowd that gathered to bid him farewell was never seen before for a film celebrity.

What made thousands of people write fan letters to stars? I think two things worked. The magazines were the only access for the fans to follow their fans and the black-and-white era of the print media added a kind of mysticism to the stars. Stars hardly went in public. It was either films or a few magazines that existed.

Gone are the days of old-time fan following. No postman delivers hundreds of fan letters every day. Now, the opening of a film at the box-office and the success ratio determine that and the ones to exploit this popularity are the consumer products through their ad-agencies.

Till not long ago, you saw Ranveer Singh endorse just about every second product on TV. Now, you see Ayushmann Khurana and, to an extent, Rajkummar Rao. Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar are the favourites.

Among the girls, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and Alia Bhatt lead the field. Actors employ a team of experts as social media managers, which include Photoshop artists, writers, and coordinators with huge pay-packets.

The reason why craze and following that the stars enjoyed earlier has waned now is because the mysticism I mentioned earlier is missing. Actors are all over the place, over-exposing themselves in brand endorsement, TV shows, appearing in public more than ever before. They were unapproachable earlier, but now they interact on social media like anybody else.

Hence, the following a star commands on the social media has taken the place of number of fan letters a star received.

@The Box Office

* The week saw the release of four new films: "Marjaavaan", "Motichoor Chaknachoor", "Jhalki" and "Bagpat Ka Dulha". While, "Marjaavaan" can claim to have some face value and better promotion, it has just about managed to make its presence felt at the box office. Rest of the films struggle to survive though the weekend.

* "Bala" has worked well with the audience as the film took big leaps over the weekend on its opening-day figures. The film has collected a handsome Rs 71 crore for its first week.

* "Houseful 4" has held well in its third week and added another Rs 16 crore, taking its three-week tally to Rs 199.5 crore.