Readers Write In #45: Faces of fandom

Posted on August 13, 2018

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“Don’t be a fan,” she orders. I have a very close and a slightly ‘mean’ friend who robs off half my excitement when I decide to review a film. Reviewing films is part of my job and every time I am given the latest release, my friend is quick to say: “Don’t embarrass me with a fanboy style of writing. Don’t be a fan.”

Though I don’t argue about how objective I am with my analysis, I began wondering about the faces of fandom. I am sure none of the popular names in the business of writing on films ever entered the field by wanting to be the ‘well structured and unique’ writers that they are now. We reviewers were first unconditional lovers of cinema. Be it getting high on our favourite directors’ works or staying loyal to our preferred actors, films, unknowingly, tip toed into our lives and became important.

The moment you are identified as a critic, it becomes a different ball game. From a bird soaring high and enjoying its freedom, I am brought down to the earth with a huge thud! As every Friday beckons, I face the challenge of switching myself into a careful observant of art from an absolute sucker for films.

However, I am slowly embracing the challenge and even enjoying it and that’s why my ‘mean’ friend’s argument is vital. As she sits to edit (terrific at that job) my copies, she reminds me: “don’t get influenced or carried away by the reputation of the director or the actors involved. Give the readers more about the film. That should be your priority” she says. Sounds sensible indeed! But is it easy to implement?

Well it’s a battle between two personalities! One is the level-headed writer keen to dissect the film without giving undue value to any department. But the second one is the crazy film lover who either fearlessly praises or loathes the show on screen. The second personality is tricky to handle! Heck, I am so passionate about films that I call my ‘mean’ friend Sreekar Prasad for her razor-sharp editing of my reviews!

The highs and lows of fandom can be a story in itself. My biggest low, as a fan, was when K S Ravikumar’s Dasavatharam released. My father’s unceasing admiration for Kamal Haasan and my growing belief of the veteran being the ‘only’ universal hero of the country had me desperately waiting for Dasavatharam. Kamal Haasan in ten roles! Will it be a great? Of course it will be, I told myself. He is a master of easing into any character and this time he is giving us TEN different ones and you have to be foolish to doubt him.

The film hit the screens and as I walked out of Cauvery theatre in Bengaluru, I wondered! Did I really get what I wanted? Whether it’s the quality of story or the writing of the characters, I wasn’t happy. My big star had failed me and I took some time to digest the fact.

But I stared at a tougher task. My friends waited for my response and as I walked towards the coin telephone (no mobile yet for me back in 2008), I had two options in front of me. One was to blatantly tell what I felt and end the conversation by calling the film a dud. The other option was to be blinded by my fandom. I loved Kamal Haasan, my friends loved him. I mean, he is THE Kamal Haasan. How could we go against him? And then I did something I find ridiculous today. I called my friends and praised the film and the acting to the hilt. Like a true fanboy, I spoke as though the film was flawless. Today, it is possible to evaluate the film by not being partial. But back then, as a class 11 student, it was unthinkable for me.

There is also a helpless fan in me. Ganesh (known popularly as Golden star Ganesh) became my favourite actor after I watched the Kannada blockbuster Mungaru Male by Yogaraj Bhat in 2006. During his prime (hits like Gaalipata, Aramane and Krishna), I walked around like a boss, showering praise on Ganesh. Especially to those who found him less appealing.

However, every actor has to fall and so did Ganesh. A string of flops almost led to people even forgetting his presence in the industry. Classmates, family members, friends and even cab drivers began mocking his lack of range in acting. I shot back with supportive arguments and would always assert that he will be back (though I feared if he really would make a comeback). Vikram’s case is similar. It hurts when people dismiss him off saying his glory days were over after Anniyan. I feel like catching their collars and reminding them about his acting in Deiva Thirumagal and Raavanan.

Then there are fanatics who are nice to admire from a distance. Many of them cannot miss the First Day First Show (FDFS) of the stars who they worship and reviews hardly matter to them. When Pa Ranjith’s Kabali released, a senior critic in my office had given the movie four stars. My office boss turned sceptical looking at the rating, as he had only read negative reviews all day. He called me and my friend into the cabin. Both of us are Superstar fans and we had caught the morning show. My friend is a fanatic.

“Are you Rajini bhakts?” my editor quizzed. “Yes,” we replied. “Then how many stars would you give Kabali?” he asked. “Well, hmm, around 2.5 to 3 sir,” I said. My friend, eyes wide open and furious at my response, said: “Four stars sir. Nothing but four.” As we walked out of the cabin, my friend was livid with me, questioning my love for Rajinikanth. I laugh at the incident even today, remembering how scary my angry friend looked.

The affection has no boundaries. Another friend of mine, a Suriya fan, amazes me. She has the knack of balancing maturity with extreme fondness for the actor. After Massu Engira Masilamani bombed, she sent me a WhatsApp text. It read: VivekL. “I think and express my views like as though I am his wife,” she had once confessed. This kind of liking has nothing to do with Suriya being handsome. It is more about his career choices, about his growth as an actor. Can we call her a rational fan?

The world of fandom will continue to offer such interesting stories. As we age, we understand that nobody is invincible in the industry. I have decided to explore new artists and see if I can find my favourites. As for the old ones, I will always remain loyal to their skills but my judgement to their latest works will never be biased. For I have decided to be an eternal fan of something bigger and important. It is: cinema. Hope my ‘mean’ friend has a reason to smile after this.

This post was written by Vivek MV