Iran-Iraq. Israel-Palestine. And if the last few years have been any indication, it appears that, with all due respect to the seriousness of international warfare, we have our very own version of such conflicts. I’m talking about the Ajith-Vijay fan base rivalry, and exaggerating, of course, but sometimes, you have to wonder — am I really?
The stars themselves, despite how provocative some lines in their films may seemingly be, haven’t ever publicly engaged in mud-slinging. A sizeable section of their fans seems to work tirelessly though, on social networking websites, chiefly Twitter, in either championing the cause of their hero, or dissing the other. The latest Twitter dispute seems to be the box-office collection statistics of Ajith’s Vedalam . Now, as anybody who has been reporting about Tamil cinema will tell you, it is easier to find the identity of Jack the Ripper than the truth about Tamil film collections. Reportedly, an international box-office revenue-tracking company is now planning to shut shop in India; the lack of transparency has caused them to throw in the towel.
In fact, every time a big-budget movie fails to do well, it’s quite customary for the said movie’s producer to send members of the media press releases asking us to check with them about the box-office revenue, as “the film is doing well”, after all. If you depended on their word, you would likely conclude that every Tamil film ever made was a blockbuster. In this rather murky weather, Ajith’s fans seem to be working overtime to express their happiness at Vedalam’s day 1 collections reportedly being higher than both Lingaa , and more satisfyingly for them, Kaththi . Disgruntled fans of Vijay, meanwhile, are pointing out that the day 2 collections of Thuppakki continue to be higher than Vedalam .
Meanwhile, some of Vijay’s fans have taken it upon themselves to make it known to the world that it has been three years since Thuppakki released. #3yearsofblockbuster
Thuppaki is now a trending hashtag. The question now is, how will Ajith’s fans respond? Will they create a #3.5yearsofBilla2 hashtag? Grab your popcorn, and browse through your Twitter feed.
Somewhere during the last few years, Vijay even seems to have lost the ‘Ilaya’ prefix from his sobriquet, if only so the rivalry can be referred to by the catchphrase, Thala-Thalapathy. Talking of Thalapathy , some Rajini fans, clearly excited by all the hype that Kabali is generating, have taken to pointing out that while Puli is for Vijay fans, and Vedalam is for Ajith fans, Kabali will be for everybody. Why do films even hire PR people when such well-wishers of actors are doing way more, and for no money?
What got me thinking about this whole farce was an incident that happened at the end of the first-day-first-show screening of Vedalam at Sathyam. It made me dimly realise that the rivalry is a real, tangible thing; not just benign exchanges happening on the internet. As the movie got over and people lined up to leave, one rather burly-looking middle-aged man (not a college-going deluded youngster as you’d probably imagine) looked at the crowd and yelled, “Vijay fans! Did you see how our Thala killed it? I feel sorry for you.” The worst wasn’t over. A youngster by my side — seemingly a Vijay fan — looked enraged in response, and his friends had to calm him down.
You see, this right here is the problem. This is a boiling issue because it has tangible repercussions. As one celebrity on Twitter discovered to her dismay, giving the impression that you’re a fan of one actor is an invitation for hundreds of vitriolic private messages from the fans of the other. This perceived rivalry even affects how movies are made. There’s a scene in Naaigal Jaakirathai , in which Sibiraj changes a TV channel during an Ajith film. Apparently, this caused enough furore for fans to accuse him of taking sides and demand that he take the scene down. No wonder, you now see films trying to please both. If there’s an Ajith reference in a film, you can rest assured that a Vijay reference will shortly follow. Where is the time to focus on telling a good story if you’re worried about these petty details? As a starting point, perhaps, admirers of both these stars could start with understanding this: being an admirer of an artist should be part of one’s identity, not the whole identity itself. Perhaps that’s too much to expect from those who call themselves veriyargal, not rasigargal.