Telugu cinema is witnessing a myriad new ways in which fans are engaging with each other on social media. Trending topics, film anniversaries, birthday celebrations, records…the list goes on.
Almost every other day, Telugu cinema fandom seems to be celebrating something or the other. Whether it’s a hashtag to commemorate the anniversary of a film or to celebrate a star’s birthday, there seems to be no dearth of things to celebrate. Naturally, this sort of ‘activism’, where fans of different stars come together to make their voice heard loud and clear, this phenomenon is now a competition of sorts. The details lie in the metrics – most number of tweets with a hashtag, most tweets in 24 hours about a topic, most RTs, most likes….it’s become something like people’s unique attempt to set a Guinness record, where all you have to do is set a new record or be the first one to do something. This is, however, just one aspect of the many ways in which fandom and conversations around fandom are evolving.
In the last few months, a lot of actors have appealed to their fans to not pay a visit to their homes or offices to wish them in person on their birthday, considering that the pandemic is still raging. In a normal scenario, the birthday celebration of any given actor is an occasion to celebrate in different cities, towns, and villages. And many fan clubs have gone out of their way to celebrate such occasions in a big way. Whether it’s donating blood, or organising annadanam or associating with various other social causes, social activism, in some form or another, has been happening for a while. It’s predominantly a selfless service, and most of the time, the only recognition such fan groups get is acknowledgement from the fan associations in other areas, and sometimes, from the stars themselves. They are all bonded by a network and all they have in common is a single shared interest – their admiration for their favourite star.
Interestingly, the rise of social media, especially Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp, has had a significant impact on how these ‘celebrations’ take place. Since the conversations happen online, especially on Twitter and Facebook, the idea to project unity among fandom has taken centre stage, and thus, a common DP (display picture) and a singular #Topic have emerged as markers to engage in a conversation. We are encouraged to use those specific hashtags while tweeting about a star or a movie, because it makes it easier for the users to search and amplify it. And the numbers are clearly growing…birthday related hashtags of top stars set new records for most number of tweets.
This new wave of social media engagement has, in turn, encouraged the practice of turning almost everything into a potential trending topic. No film’s anniversary is obscure enough to celebrate these days. It’s also become a method to keep a star or a film’s name in the news. But I fear that there’s going to be a #Hashtag fatigue soon because we’ll run out of ways to celebrate anything. There’s only so many ways in which you can express your love for a film which you haven’t revisited in over 15 years, unless you have vivid memories.
A lot has changed this year due to Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown. Theatres have remained shut since mid-March, 2020 and since then, only a handful of new Telugu films have released on streaming sites. One could argue that these trending topics related to Telugu cinema became a necessity because people feel the need to bond for some reason or another. And it would be fairly accurate to say that.
Amidst all this, I can’t help but wonder if we are missing out on plenty of opportunities to mine the data that’s become easier to search due to these scores of hashtags. Unfortunately, the discourse has boiled down to whether fan groups have used bots to amplify the reach of a trending topic. It’s clearly not helping anyone, especially if we want to have a meaningful conversation to come out of this trend.
That brings me to suggest an alternative approach to the many fan groups that are active in the realm of Telugu cinema. What we desperately need is documentation of our past and different ways in which you or someone you know have engaged with Telugu cinema over the decades. Information is wealth, but it needs to be documented and made accessible to everyone. A long time ago, several forums had emerged which had plenty of conversations, where people shared information, including pictures, records, and other memories related to a film/star. Most of those forums are not so active anymore. Since the conversations have moved online, it’s necessary that this data is made available for everyone. Time is a strange concept. There’s a beautiful line in Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox, which goes like, “I think we forget things if we have no one to tell them to.” Please do share your stories before its too late.
In recent times, a select few Twitter/FB/Instagram accounts have emerged which publish old photographs, trivia, and newspaper clippings of past records and interviews. I can only urge people in general to share their experiences and memories too on social media. What I am saying is that we need a #MemoryProject. Ultimately, that’s what people need to remember rather than the records of most RTs/Likes on social media.
This month, there’s a lot of buzz about Megastar Chiranjeevi’s upcoming birthday and nearly 100 top celebrities from all over the country are going to take part in it on social media. The numbers and fan engagement is expected to be massive. And I can’t wait to hear what sort of personal stories people are going to share on his birthday. If you are going to pass on the baton to the next generation, let it be a wealth of stories that you want people to remember, whether it’s about films or your favourite stars.