Between Rowdies and Rasikas
Rethinking Fan Activity in Indian Film Culture
Let us begin by examining two recent moments of fan activity surrounding Indian cinema. On October 8, 2005, A. R. Rahman, the renowned film music director, performed in Bangalore as part of a worldwide tour. The entire concert was managed by fans who volunteered their services for everything from ticket sales to stage construction to crowd management. As part of their effort to gain recognition as the “official” Rahman fan club, they also decided to present Rahman with a gift—a montage, composed of thumbnail images of all his album covers, which formed the contours of his face. Faced with the prospect of buying expensive software, these fans (who run a design company called 3xus.com) went on to develop their own software. After many sleepless nights of painstaking coding, they finally got to meet Rahman and present the gift. A few days later, they learned that Rahman liked the gift and had displayed it in his studio in Chennai. This story of fan activity went largely unreported in mainstream media.
Little more than a month later, Amitabh Bachchan, the enduring superstar of Hindi cinema, was hospitalized and had to undergo surgery. Not only did media outlets cover every detail of Bachchan's hospital stay and subsequent recovery, but many instances of “fan devotion” were also recorded. Citing several examples of fans organizing prayer sessions in cities worldwide, Chopra writes, “fans routinely gather outside Mr. Bachchan's home in suburban Mumbai for a darshan, or sighting, but that is the least of it: some have sent him paintings of him done in blood, presumably their own” (Chopra 2006: 1).
It is perhaps not surprising that mainstream media coverage of Bollywood ignores fan activity except when it seems obsessive or pathologi