It’s been over 100 years for the Indian cinema. Movies have always inspired and entertained the people of India, and they have become one with our daily lives. The main focus and objective of movies are for entertainment and also hopefully for conveying some good morals. The audience admires the film stars for their performance, music, dance and develops love and respect towards them.
However, the real and reel life divide begins to look blur when fans turn into fanatics and what we call ‘die-hard’ fans. South India has led this trend and people are ready to die for their cine idols. From Jayalalitha to Rajnikanth, the list is growing longer by the day and things don’t seem to be subsiding. On the contrary, only growing — more with the advent of better connectivity and distribution of films through the internet. It is interesting to inspect what caused this emergence of the die-hard fans, especially in this region of the country.
The south Indian film industry started at Madras in the 1920s. At that time Madras presidency, being the capital of entire southern India. It was the only source for film studios for all the Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, and Kannada movies. There used to be only two famous studios for all the filmmakers — the Vijaya Vauhini studios and the Gemini studios. With this gradually, Chennai became the hub of south Indian language films. It used to be a great achievement if a movie is completed and released. In 1931 the first Tamil movie ‘Kalidas’ was produced and introduced over the silver screen to the public. Gradually, the investments and interest in the south Indian film industry have rapidly increased. Lakhs of people stood outside the studios to get a chance in acting in the film. There have been reports of people also starving to death in the struggle of getting in amidst the cut throat competition.
1950s to 1970s is the stage where movies of different language started overflowing into the society, and we can say that it was an era of film industry diverging into regional subsets and making its place and presence in the whole of south India. In a way, the rarity value came a little down and it was to some degree a little more open now than before.
With time, people started differentiating and categorizing films into their respective languages. That was the time for the Telugu film industry to make its stand. After Tamil movies, Telugu movies were the most watched movies. The whole south Indian film industry is divided into several small industries according to their languages. Tollywood (Telugu), Kollywood (Tamil), Mollywood (Malayalam) and Sandalwood (Kannada).
Movies were also the major reason for the formation of new states from the Madras presidency. The Telugu film industry completely shifted its base from Chennai to Hyderabad in the early 1990s. Annapurna studios, Ramoji Film city, and Ramanaidu studios involved a prolific film production and employment in Hyderabad.
The rapid growth of the film industry is also because of the acting of the film stars. People used to be mad and deeply connected to the film stars and their lives. Shivaji Ganeshan, Gemini Ganeshan, Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, Akkineni Nageswar Rao, Savithri, and many more legendary actors have set the bars high and their acting used to penetrate deeper into the audience’s hearts.
It was all quite well until the film stars started entering into politics. This made the already in love fans, go in a frenzy mode. Politics only fueled this growing craze to reach hysteria. NTR is the person who has set the trend of film stars entering politics, and Telugu Desam Party is a paragon for massive success. By this, People started taking sides and like their heroes and dislike their opponents more vehemently.
This again created a categorization according to their favorite hero and through a series of events, entered ‘caste’. It became a competition between film stars to not give a flop movie. Fans got split into several groups as per the following. This in turn, created a lot of disputes, almost communal in nature, and finally ended up with the strong formation of Casteism based on the film industry! So from the 2000s to till date, 80% of Telugu film industry runs on caste basis. Let’s see how it all unfolded.
Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, Akkineni Nageshwar Rao, Krishna and Shoban Babu were the four filmstars who set all the screens on fire. Their strenuous work created a great image in audiences’ minds. These actors took over the whole Tollywood in their hands. But suddenly in 1978, a new face entered the industry, and within a few movies, he reached a stage which made him competition to the other big actors.
He is K Siva Sankara Vara Prasad, best known with his screen name as Chiranjeevi. His dance, style, and acting mesmerized everyone all over the state. Many national and international awards adorned him. Similarly, Rajinikanth and Kamala Hasan have also raised with hastened appreciation all over south India. Gradually, Chiranjeevi’s family entered into the film industry and they also got good admiration from the public. Now there are two big families and two major castes which are running the Telugu film industry.
Both are of two different castes — Choudhary and Naidu. Politics also added to the spice. People started watching films according to their caste affiliation. Whenever a new film is released, their fans now celebrate it like a festival. Pretty much an India versus Pakistan cricket match scene! Its a prestige issue for the fans if a film is a flop.
Fans started forming associations of their respective heroes. There are Megastar (Chiranjeevi) Fans Association, NTR Fans Association, Mahesh Babu (Krishna’s son) Fans Association, etc. Each association has a president, secretary, joint secretary, and team members. These fans associations are also nationally and internationally spread. They also get funds from their respective film stars because fans watch their movies repeatedly, promote them through different activities in their locality, and create popularity for the heroes. 1/3rd of the youth in southern India waste their money and time for movies.
Now take this scenario to Tamil Nadu and make it 10x …
Fans hang banners and flex all around the theatre, and also decorate the whole street of the theatre area with lighting, posters and celebrate like a gala when a big hero’s new movie is released. They erect big cutouts, offer Aarthi, pour milk from the top of the cutouts as gratitude (Doodh Abhishek). Distributors sell the tickets at very high cost, if the normal ticket is of 150rs, it gets sold at 500 to 700 rs. Still public purchases and watches the movie. One day I was given 200rs for petrol to participate in a bike rally for Bahubali 2 release when I was in my college.
Students and youth find fun and enjoyment in these activities. Going on bikes for promotion rallies, printing their pictures on the big banners along with their heroes, grabbing the attention of people by shouting slogans and cheers. So all these are some kind of recreation for them to socially become noted. In olden days everyone used to socialize and invest in God, but as believing in God is becoming disgraceful these days in the cities, people have replaced the traditional Gods with film stars.
The youth has massive energy and capacity to do a lot of things, and it could be clearly seen in the growth of the film industries. But if this energy’s direction could be molded towards solving such things, through the kind of movies we make and hence consume — and which can make the poor to reach the multiplex, afford it and watch a movie. That would be a huge growth for the whole country. Instead of just limited people having the privilege of going to the cinema.
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About The Author: Sriram Valluri is a 2018 cohort India Fellow, working with Aavishkaar in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh. He is involved in building curiosity amidst school students on Science and Math by using practical tools.