Devotion and Defiance in Fan Activity
Three thousand fans' associations (FAs) with a membership varying between 10 and 500 members, spread across all the three regions that comprise Andhra Pradesh, are devoted to Chiranjeevi, the most popular Telugu movie star today.1 Every major 'hero' and 'heroine' has FAs, with numbers that roughly correspond to their popularity. In this paper I shall discuss fan club activity, explore its relationship with stardom, and examine some of the implications of such activity to the culture industry. For the purposes of my argument, I shall restrict my use of the term 'fan' to refer to one who is an actual member of an association. Most of my observations are based on my interactions with Chiranjeevi fans in Vijayawada and Hyderabad, although I shall use insights gained from discussion with fans of other stars and from other parts of the state.
I focus on Chiranjeevi (Konidela Sivashankar Varaprasad) fans because, popularity of the star apart, his rise to prominence corresponds roughly with the exit of N.T. Rama Rao from the industry (1982-83: although he continued to make films sporadically over the next decade), and the eclipse of Krishna, who, after NTR, had by far the largest fan following in the state. This also coincides with the introduction of the 'slab system' of tax on film exhibition, introduced in 1983, which in turn enhanced the economic importance of organized fan activity, as we shall see. The year also saw the release of Khaidi (A. Kodandarami Reddy, 1983), a turning point in Chiranjeevi's career as the most popular star which also saw a vast increase in his fan following.
It has been argued that FAs were created by the film industry, following their successful promotion of M.G. Ramachandran in Tamilnadu. Motivated by profit, the industry encouraged and funded FAs of both NTR and A. Nageswara Rao in the hope that fans would provide free publicity to the actors and their projects. The production companies and studios that actively manufactured the star system in the 1950s and 60s, therefore, created fans' associations as a logical extension of that activity.2
However, when the slab system of taxation was introduced, theatres were graded