The Big Story: Unruly fans

The ugly side of South India’s movie fan mania came into the spotlight last week when a woman journalist was harassed online for criticising a film in a wry tweet. The News Minute editor-in-chief Dhanya Rajendran said on Twitter that she had not been able to bring herself to sit through Shah Rukh Khan’s latest movie Harry Met Sejal, adding that it was worse than actor Vijay’s 2010 Tamil film Sura. To most people, this was an innocuous observation. But not for some of Vijay’s fans.

For days, Rajendran was harassed on Twitter, mocked, insulted and even threatened with sexual violence. A hashtag, #PublicityBeepDhanya, was devised to target her. After more than 65,000 tweets had been posted about her, Rajendran decided to file a police complaint on Wednesday. A First Information Report has been registered in Chennai against some of her trolls.

Despite widespread condemnation, Vijay chose to remain silent for days. It took him until Wednesday night to make a statement. And when it came, it seemed inadequate. Though the actor asked people in general to respect women and not make insulting comments online that could hurt sentiments, he did not mention the behaviour of his fans – let alone condemn it.

The ugly episode has rekindled the debate about the patriarchal underpinnings of many movie-star fans clubs in South India. Male movie stars are treated like gods, as they project conservative values by playing roles that reinforce traditional notions about a woman’s place in the family and society. In many of Vijay’s movies, for instance, women are merely decorative elements in the plot. But sermons about how a woman should behave are a consistent part of his movies. It isn’t surprising, then, that so many of his fans took offence at the temerity of a woman journalist at criticising their hero.

In South India, though, the line between the screen and the street are often blurred. Since the legendary MG Ramachandran in the 1970s, fan clubs have been the foundation on which cinema stars have built political careers. Stars know that their actions have the ability to influence the decisions of hundreds of thousands of fans. That’s why it’s essential for Vijay and other big stars to act quickly to rein in people claiming to be protecting the honour of their heros. Failing to do so only seems to endorse such crude behaviour.

The Big Scroll

Facebook policies allow trolls to target women online, reports Aarefa Johari.


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