Hindi Film 101: Fan Studies, “Female” versus “Male” Fans, and Fan Power

Meenakshy asked me a question on Monday about fans, and then I gave a way way too long answer in response, because that was what my Masters Thesis was on!  Fandom and how Hindi film inspires a different kind of fan.  Anyway, I thought I might as well take my answer and turn it into a post. (my thesis is here if you want more details and and original research related to this)

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of fans, “male” fans and “female” fans.  Male fans focus on plot, on mystery, on memorizing trivia.  They claim an intellectual connection to the material rather than emotional.  Female fans own their emotional connection.  They talk about how something makes them “feel” rather than how it makes them “think”.  And when they discuss a work, they are more likely to talk about characters and relationships than central mysteries.

If you look at the works that tend to inspire the most devoted fans in the West, they tend to be ones that are 70% male and more like 30% female.  Think of things like Star Trek, or Star Wars, or Dr. Who, or Game of Thrones.  The fan discussion revolves around central mysteries, around memorizing bits of trivia (like learning the Klingon language), or around competitions, which episode is “best” who is the “best” doctor.

But within those discussions, the “female” element is still present.  Star Trek is a story of a three way relationship, Dr. Spock and Captain Kirk and Bones McCoy.  Star Wars is about Luke and Leia and Han Solo.  Dr. Who is about The Doctor and his Companion.  Game of Thrones is about the characters you care about (the many many characters) and therefore keep you interested in the complicated story, make you care about what happens.

(Can you imagine having a conversation about whether Shahrukh is better as “Raj” or “Rahul” that did not immediately descend into more interesting discussion of themes, relationships, costumes, and everything else?  It’s not about simple ratings of better and worse, it’s about a lot more complexity than that for female fans)

For a work to find dedicated passionate fans, in the Western version of fandom, it needs both.  The original Star Wars sequels failed because they did not create characters and relationships that the audience cared about.  Dr. Who reached it’s current massive international success when it started focusing even more than before on the “companion” relationship.  The many many Game of Thrones imitations have failed because they focused on the sex and violence and missed the characters at the heart of it.

In the West, “fandom” means something very specific.  It means going to fan conventions, dressing in perfectly representative costumes, collecting memorabilia, and of course having lengthy discussions, online or off, about all the various data surrounding your fandom.  And if you do not fit in that definition, you are not a “true” fan.

Image result for sanjay dutt tattoo fan

(This guy, with the Sanju tattoo, would not be considered a “true” fan if he didn’t also attend conventions and dress up like Munna Bhai and generally fit a very specific definition)

Which is what has happened to many people who wish to participate in “female” style fandom in the West.  If they try to start a conversation revolving around the 30% of a product that is relationship and character based, they will be shut down, told they are watching it “wrong”.  And as fandom for media products has become more and more mainstream in the West, “female” voices are progressively being shut out.

Two things I should clarify.  First, “female” is not the same as “woman”.  “Female” means the general kind of behavior that is associated with that gender.  “Woman” means biologically female.  Fan communities and other groups are quicker to identify and dismiss “female” behavior if it comes from an actual woman, but they will behave the same way if that behavior comes from a man.  The boy who suddenly breaks into the middle of a Star Wars discussion to say “why do you think Leia and Han broke up?” or the man at the fan convention who brings up the question of whether or not Spock was in love with Kirk.  They will be told they aren’t “true” fans, they are focusing on the wrong things in the work, they are stupid and shallow and, well, “girly”.

Second thing to clarify is that much of this is new behavior.  Fandom of media products has always been present, but it became taken over by “male” behavior an communities as recently as the 1920s and 30s with the rise of science fiction magazines and their thriving editorial and letter writing community.  Which just grew bigger and bigger with the introduction of television, and then the internet.

Before that, fandom was a loose mixture of male and female behavior.  You had young women dreaming over handsome stage actors, and young man discussing their favorite books, and mostly you had everyone just sort of mixed in together, male and female together, and every fandom together as well.  It was as communication and connection became more possible that these vast nets of fan communities developed and hardened into divisions.

(Farah and Shahrukh here, no division)

But by the 1970s, it was set.  A “fan” was a nerdy boy with glasses who talked about Star Trek.  And on the other hand a “fangirl” was a ditzy idiot who screamed at The Beatles.  Male and female, separate and definitely NOT equal.

There’s an odd sort of jujitsu move in how male and female fandom works.  According to the male fans, they are smart and sensitive and unique and special, and the world unfairly hates them because of this.  And on the other hand, female fans are pretty and mainstream and popular and have everything they want.  But the reality is, the male fan is more accepted than the female, they have just spread this version of it.  Female fandom is most often treated as a psychological affliction rather than a “reasoned” preference for a certain object. A weakness, rather than a strength.  The same is true of male fans, but to a much much much much less degree.

While male fans were being teased through jokes in pop culture for liking Star Trek, female finds were being sent to the psychiatrist for liking The Beatles.  Male fans were told that they found a place they could belong through their fandom and fan communities, female fans were told that their fandom was feeding some sort of psychosis within them.  Men were fans of Star Trek because they were smarter than their classmates and therefore unable to make friends.  Women were fans of The Beatles because of their overwhelming unhealthy sexual desires.

And too often the defense of female fandom is not accepting what they are, but rather arguing that they are in fact “male” fans, “real” fans, not “fangirls”.  We see this constantly today, women demanding to be allowed at fan conventions, to be treated with respect on message boards, etc. etc. etc.  I’ve even read academic articles talking about how the women were “mistakenly” thought to be not real fans just because they were women rather than appreciated for their true devotion.

(All these screaming women, not “real” fans)

But what is hidden in all of this is the parallel fandom community that has happily created it’s own life under the surface and unnoticed.  The first fanfic was written by women, the first fan videos were made by women (as early as the 1960s, a female Star Trek fan put together a slideshow with music), the first fan conventions were female too, only they were for male movie stars so they didn’t “count”.  And today there are websites focused on the “female” aspects of media products, safe places to let your “female” interests free.  And they don’t need to be labeled “Girls” versus “Boys” like a bathroom, you can find them easily just by reading closely.  For example, right now if I want to read about the emotional components of a TV show I will check out Previously.TV and their forums.  If I want to read about the cultural place and plot discussion and political message of a TV show, I will check out TheAVclub.com and their comments section.

This is the fan studies as I was taught it in the west.  And I realized pretty quickly that it didn’t fit with the fandom I knew from Indian film (not just Hindi, but all languages).  There, the division was not “male” versus “female” but rather class based, “educated” let us say versus “uneducated”.  With the “educated” rejecting entirely the identity of “fan” or even of people who watched Hindi films.  While the vast vast vast majority of the world, the people who watched these films, fell into the “uneducated” category and also came closer to what in the west would be “female” rather than male.  In fact, the presence of “male” style fandom was almost unknown in Indian film!

When I did my literature review for my Masters thesis, I read literally every single article that had been written about fans of Indian film at that time.  And there was a clear majority and minority view.  The “majority” view is that the films were worthless and were serving to “trick” the audience into enjoying them.  They were spectacle and emotion and silly stars and were keeping the public from seeing the real problems of the world.  They were a weakness.

This is the same argument that, for many years, scholars used for “female” style fandom.  Romance novels, for instance, were dismissed as supporting the patriarchy, teaching women to be subservient and support the current system.  But the problem with all those scholars is that they never ACTUALLY TALKED TO WOMEN!!!!!  They just read the texts, without taking a moment to speak to the audience and find out what they are getting from it.  There were similar studies of male fans, but they were much less common and were turned over a lot sooner.  Because, well, men were the ones doing the studying and the writing.  Which means you were much more likely to have someone writing this article who is also a fan of Star Trek than who also is a fan of Nora Roberts.

It’s the same problem with Indian film studies.  If you are in the highest level of abstract humanities academia in India, you are unlikely to actually know someone, or be someone, who is a First Day First Show kind of fan of Indian film.  Writing an article on the pathology of classical music fans and how it plays into a need to feel connected to a past that is no longer present and so on and so on would get you a lot of feedback immediately, but you can say anything you want about fans of popular Indian film and few people in your isolated academic world will question you.

(The village woman Lara Dutta, feeling pretty and happy and strong from seeing a Shahrukh Khan movie, is not going to have a conversation with a Delhi intellectual any time soon)

It’s also self-perpetuating.  Even if you are that one person who might question it, you will likely stay silent because you think you are the only one.  I experienced this myself while I was in grad school, the first time in my very first class when the teacher had us read an article on romance novel fandom.  During the discussion, she casually said “of course, I wouldn’t know since I’ve never read these” and she put up some slides that were gently poking fun at the covers.  It wasn’t anything mean or obvious, but it made me feel uncomfortable enough that I didn’t join in the discussion, or mention that I read romance novels myself, or share any information that I had about them (for instance, that most romance novel authors are highly educated with advanced degrees, which went against he assumption of the discussion).  And so that teacher, and the other students, were able to continue with their assumptions.

In my seminar on fan studies, it was a lot more obvious.  First, the teacher’s lectures on the history of fandom acknowledged the male/female split, but when discussing examples only used male ones!  After a casual mention of the first fan gathering being for Rudolph Valentino, he went on to talk for 5 minutes about the science fiction magazines and their community from the same era.  No discussion of movie fan magazines or the growth of movie star fan clubs, that was erased from the history of fandom.  Not surprisingly, when I suggested that my final project be on fans of Indian film, his response was “but is there really a fan community for that?”

To him, a “fan community” meant conventions and costumes and rules and websites and on and on.  He had no concept of the kind of fandom where a “fan gathering” wasn’t an annual convention, but rather a weekly visitation to Amitabh Bachchan’s gate.  Where fan memorabilia wasn’t spending hundreds of dollars on some toy on ebay, but rather a framed photo in your dining room.  And most of all where “fandom” wasn’t some intellectual exercise, but an emotional connection that went both ways.

Image result for amitabh bachchan gate

(Not a fan event)

This is what “fan” meant to the Indian scholars, but they saw no value in it.  Fans were dismissed as lower classes who went to the theater to escape into dreamland instead of confronting their problems.  Movie stars were dismissed as foolish peddlers of dreams with nothing of value to offer to society.  The entire massive exchange and relationship between audience and filmmakers was seen as a sickness.

There are a few brave wonderful scholars who have confronted this assumption.  It’s a similar pattern to how “female” fandom and media products have been re-assessed in the west.  The key is to ACTUALLY TALK TO FANS!!!  Instead of theorizing about how they are experiencing media products, just ask them.

In the west, this has lead to the discovery that women are perfectly capable of reading against the grain and taking from products elements that give them strength in their daily life.  Romance novels aren’t about upholding the patriarchy through selling romance, they can also be about destroying the patriarchy by showing male heroes who are powerless before their love for the female heroines.  Soap operas aren’t about distracting you from the problems of the day, they are about showing you those problems  (racism, women’s rights, etc.) in a different way.  To use a specific example, Dirty Dancing isn’t an escapist teenage love story, it’s about class and religion and abortion and finding your own inner strength.

In Indian scholarship, talking to fans has lead to the discovery that they gain strength, not weakness, from their fandom.  Rajnikanth isn’t just about young boys climbing billboards and dancing in the street, it is about the underclass gaining a sense of dignity and power.  Helen isn’t just about sexy songs, she is about bringing sexuality into the public life in a non-judgemental way.  And Amitabh is about “Agneepath”, about finding an inspiration and a strength to keep going somehow someway even when you have nothing left.  Fans are finding something they need in these products.

You may have noticed that I don’t hide my own particular “fan” feelings in my writing.  That is on purpose.  The idea that “fandom” is something to be ashamed of, is a weakness, is part of a greater power structure.  In the West, male versus female.  In India, upper versus lower class.  To claim your fandom is, in a small way, upsetting those power structures.  Rejecting the lesson that there is something “wrong” something “weak” about you.  And claiming something that gives you strength, something that the forces of those in power are trying to cut you off from in order to weaken you because they wish you to be more like them.

If you are reading and commenting on this blog, you are participating in a fan community and you are a “fan” whether or not you want to acknowledge it.  Think about how your fandom gives you strength on a day to day basis, how it helps you to see the world differently, and why you may have been made to feel guilty or ashamed of it, and who has made you feel guilty and ashamed.  And why they might have done so.

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38 thoughts on “Hindi Film 101: Fan Studies, “Female” versus “Male” Fans, and Fan Power

  1. This reminds me so much of the discussions around the Twilight fandom and the assumptions about the women who enjoyed the books & movies. It was especially disappointing coming from self-described feminists who were contemptuous of the fandom, with no recognition that Twilight was about the expression of heterosexual female desire in the context of a murderous patriarchy. Putting aside any discussion of the quality of the books (speaking as a writer, hoo boy, they were not well written), they spoke directly to the lived experiences of many women. Straight women are most likely to be murdered by their partner or spouse so how do you reconcile yourself to that when you still desire men? So yes, the series was fucked up in many ways but then the patriarchy and violence against women are also fucked up and we live it every day.

    Anywho, thanks for writing this! Why am I a fan of Bollywood? I’m sick of cynicism, I’m sick of irony, I’m sick of anti-heroes, especially male anti-heroes (Don Draper, Tony Soprano and Walter White can DIAF). Hindi movies are emotionally sincere (and can also be morally complex and challenging). And often they are just really entertaining which is awesome.

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    • That is a wonderful interpretation of Twilight! Thank you so much for sharing it. I read all the books, and own them, well aware that they weren’t well written but I didn’t really feel “guilty” for enjoying them. They fall into that category of “poor quality, but not necessarily poor morally”. And so many people make fun of the books without having read them, just based on some catchphrases online and a few excerpts, which leads quickly into making fun of the fans, which leads into making fun of women in general. And often this is done by women! Who like to think of themselves as “better” “smarter” “less emotional” and following that path, eventually, women who like to think of themselves as “less like women and more like men”.

      There was another interpretation I read of Twilight which fits with yours in terms of what we consider a “strong” female character. Is it female strength to be like Buffy, to be physically strong and brave but constantly caught in difficult relationship drama, or to be like Bella Swan, not physically strong at all but able to make her own decision about what she wants from her life and stick with it when every man around her is confronting her about it. Specifically in terms of reproductive rights. The other part of the argument I read (I really need to track down this article) is pointing out that “becoming a vampire” and the whole birth scene isn’t that far off from an allegory for childbirth and the changes that happen to your body afterwards. The conclusion of the usual Vampire metaphor for seduction, rape, and virginity: Vampire as childbirth.

      In that same fan class, there was a lot of discussion of Fifty Shades of Grey, which is of course a fascinating case study for how it started as fanfiction within the fan community before becoming something that has it’s own fans. But what made me really uncomfortable was that two students wrote their final papers on it. The female student’s paper that she presented to the class was a carefully thought out discussion of the Christian metaphors in the book, which are absolutely a legitimate reading (the hero’s name is “Christian” after all), and how that related to the way it reached the audience. While the male student’s paper was all about the psychosis of the fans and how stupid the book was. And that was okay, in this majority female class filled with people seriously studying pop culture. You can’t make fun of Star Trek or Peewee’s Playhouse or anything else without people raising their eyebrows, but it is completely all right to make fun of a romance novel with a majority female readership.

      And also, while there is an assumption that fans of Breaking Bad can separate their fandom for the product and love of the character from elements they disagree with, “female” fans (or in Indian fan studies, underclass fans) are assumed to be blindly inhaling what is given to them with no judgement or discernment.

      And finally, thank you for the phrase “emotionally sincere”! That is what they are exactly, sincere, not ashamed to wear their heart on their sleeve and be who they are. And they encourage that same feeling in their fans, I think. You don’t have to be ashamed of your emotions, you don’t have to justify them, you can just “be”.

      On Sat, Feb 3, 2018 at 4:51 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • “or in Indian fan studies, underclass fans) are assumed to be blindly inhaling what is given to them with no judgement or discernment.”

        If this were true, we wouldn’t need to talk about problematic depictions of violence against women in popular media and films wouldn’t need ratings to tell us what audience they’re suitable for and there would be no disclaimers at the beginning of films telling us the product is a work of fiction.

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        • There is a discussion that we DON’T need those ratings or disclaimers. Generally speaking, there is a difference between incendiary hate speech and other forms of media content. While incendiary speech needs to be controlled or removed, there is much else that is in the grey area. In Indian film, for instance, there are the cigarette warnings. Is the audience supposed to be really so sheeplike and unintelligent that if they see someone smoking onscreen, they will have an overwhelming urge to smoke as well unless they see a disclaimer right then telling them not too? I think not, I think there is enough intelligence in the average film audience that they can understand smoking is bad even if the hero does it. But that disclaimer tells me that the government does not believe the audience has even that much intelligence.

          On Sun, Feb 4, 2018 at 3:53 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • The government does that because Indian theatres allow people of all ages into any film unless they’re unaccompanied minors and it’s an explicitly adult film. Are you suggesting 5-year olds are mature enough to know smoking isn’t cool?

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    • Amitabh Bachchan owes his entire legend to the anti-hero characters he played. Maybe it’s just the times that have made the anti-hero role unsexy. Please don’t make Don Draper DIAF. He’s sexy AF. Like peak Amitabh! I don’t care about the rest.

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      • I see a big difference between Amitabh in something like Deewaar and Don Draper.

        Okay, so with Deewaar the entire context of the film is a critique of society, the corruption, the hypocrisy. Amitabh is a gangster but only in the sense that Jean Valjean is a criminal in Les Miserable, he’s a man of integrity and dignity who is forced to do despicable things by a society that gives him no reasonable options. Even at the end when he tries to do the right thing and marry his lover, become a father, give himself up to the authorities, society destroys him using his own brother as the weapon. We as the viewers identify with him and sympathize with him but also understand clearly that his choices weren’t correct, that ultimately the road he was forced to take leads to annihilation.

        Don Draper is an anti-hero in a different way. His bad behavior isn’t inevitable. He isn’t being set up by society to behave poorly, he isn’t without options. And unlike Amitabh, he treats his wife and family like shit. More importantly, we as the viewer are encouraged to identify with him and to vicariously participate in what he gets away with. I see this with all the current anti-heroes, including the ones on Game of Thrones, we are supposed to get a charge, a thrill out of seeing them misbehave and to experience what it would be be like to behave that way and get away with it. It’s amoral in many ways and nihilistic, the idea that there’s no right way to behave so it’s all about getting away with as much as you can. I honestly believe this culture was the prelude to our current political situation, that our moral values in our culture were degrading due to the behavior of the elites and it was reflected in our films and TV shows.

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        • Agreed that viewers are encouraged to identify with what they see on screen and that what we see on screen degrades our culture.

          Although, maybe what you love about indian cinema, from a distance, is what we love about American TV, from a distance. Maybe it’s the distance that’s making things looks better. Because no-one living in India would say Indian cinema is emotionally sincere. You’d be sick of this too if this were the only option.

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  2. I love it when you get into discussions of fan theory! I really do think we miss out on so much nuanced insight when fans and fandom get dismissed out of hand as ‘uneducated’. And that’s not even going into the inherent condescension or elitism in statements like that. I’m glad you’re writing about this because it deserves a platform and you state things very eloquently.

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    • Thank you! I am glad you like it.

      Particularly in the Indian context, I am amazed by how fandom is dismissed based on what an enormous real world effects it has already had. The fan clubs that run political campaigns, charitable drives, all sorts of things. And yet the overall assumption by the elites is that they can be dismissed as lowerclass fringe groups. Are they blind? Or deaf? do they not see what is happening in their own country?

      On Sat, Feb 3, 2018 at 6:37 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. Love this.. love this.. love this…

    BUT, must say the OSO video and the SRK picture after that completely threw me off and I was reading the superintelligent bits of the article totally immersed in it and then the brightly colored flashy video and picture appeared and I had to read the paragraph above and below it TWICE with my palm blocking the flashy media because I couldn’t focus on it. May we not have those flashy bits in superintelligent posts unless they’re crucial to the plot of the article, please??

    Moving on, as I read about the western fandom thing, especially the “think” vs “feel” thing, I kept thinking if it was an etymology thing? Like, the difference is more about the language men and women use (or are taught to use) and the natural segregation of sexes being expressed through this difference than an actual fundamental difference?

    Another thought that struck me was how these new fandoms developed (and continue to develop) mostly in America. Could it be that once stable (free of war and major political upheavals) and once mature enough (older by a few centuries), American society began yearning for “roots” and these roots were provided by complex fictional worlds? Most of the older cultures have already had this phase eons ago and they continue to have their millennia-old cultures and mythologies of their own nations, and in America, the fan culture merely provided a mythology completely unique and original to the US? So that the early days of the complex US-based fandoms were more of a classical period for the new world?

    If my theory is headed in the right direction, the inherently male dominated space and the male voices dismissing the female voice are just mimicking the hierarchy we see in organized religions. The dominant male voices are then just assuming the priestdom position in which the etymologically disadvantaged female voices are either dismissed for belonging to that sex or underrepresented at best.

    I’m just at the beginning of the Indian fandom section (I like to read your superintelligent articles in parts because they’re so delicious!) and the first thing in the comparison that leapt at me was how Indian film content is different than western film and TV content (which you have elaborated in previous articles). Even a dense, completely fictional NEW mythological world like Bahubali, did not inspire a western style fandom. Despite the material being there. I think you’re the ONLY Indian film reviewer who covered the film in such great detail and devoted the kind of space and time required for an intelligent “thinking and feeling” discussion of such a complex story. Without the detailed analytical pieces from reviewers and fans, the western style fandom would not have existed. The effect cannot precede the cause.

    I think it speaks volumes about the way new culture (films and music) is consumed in India (too many films releasing too often leaving little space for thought). If we look at the other national discussion providing content, cricket, we can see a very western style of fandom existing there on a larger scale- facts, figures, stats and details are remembered and brought up during discussions across forums- in fan groups, amongst friends, family and strangers (it’s the second most frequently used topic in small talks in public spaces after the weather, and yes, the gender thing is widespread because a cricketer’s handsomeness is mostly irrelevant to how well he scores and if you can’t talk about the game, you can’t talk about the game!) and more importantly in the news media AND commentaries- pre-post and in-game!!

    I think the latter two are really important. Every news outlet in every language has a half hour show EVERY DAY dedicated to cricket. They have proper sports journalists talking to a panel of experts- former and current cricketers as well as sports presenters.

    (Sidenote: Mandira Bedi, even though she doesn’t have a cricket career behind her, is considered an expert and her opinion is highly sought after – even if she’s talking about her feelings and not exact nuances of cricketing technique- simply because she has long cricket presenter career behind her. Of late, these shows have started inviting women cricketers as well and their opinions are also hugely respected and I mean, RESPECTED and that in turn has gotten women’s cricket more fans and a larger audience!)

    Back to the point I was trying to make- well, I suppose the reason why this very country can have a cricket fandom that is also greatly visible in the media is because the cricket media industry (I just coined that word!) is driven by cricketers and cricket journalists leading the discussions themselves. Even I learnt about the game and its history just listening to these experts.
    I don’t know if you’ve watched cricket but I know you know about it. I think it’s a great study in Indian style of fandom.

    So, the shortest game in the international format, 20-20 – that’s become popular ONLY in the last decade and a half – has a play time of 120 minutes and the coverage in the news is an all day event. The international format also has a One Day (ODI) format- which used to be massively popular and has the World Cup tournament- has a playtime of around 7 hours and coverage can last 1-3 days around the game and a general coverage during the series of 3-7 matches spread over a month. The most prestigious format is Test Cricket which lasts 7 hours a day for five days straight and coverage lasts a week and this format is my favorite. A tour must include a series of 3-5 test matches plus a series of 3-7 One Day matches one-on-one (India Vs. Australia, for example) or a multi nation series (India Vs. Pakistan Vs. Bangladesh, for example) and more recently also a 3-5 match 20-20 series. This makes a tour last over 1-2 months. The format is set- your country visits the other country and then the other country visits you a year or two later. There are also international, multi-nation tournaments- 20-20 and One Day World Cups, Champion’s Trophy, etc. Every major cricketing nation also has domestic tournaments which get major coverage in the news.

    Now, in terms of fandom style, the coverage has had a huge impact. Experts talking about each game, each player, each series consistently and often objectively, players themselves talking about each match in the post-match and pre-match coverage made it easier for the fans to be a part of the analysis. Test matches, where playing for a draw is a legitimate tactic and can be heroic and a “win” are alive today only because of the coverage.

    If you look at film coverage, and compare it to cricket coverage, you can see just how half-assed that effort around films is. 3-4 films out of the total releases for the Friday get a combined 5-10 minute segment on select news channels, and that too mostly talks about the box office opening. In print and online, reviews are scanty or extremely selective. After the opening weekend, the story becomes “how much did the film earn”. The next weekend, you have another set of films releasing and the coverage of this weekend’s remarkable film is basically over.

    Your film will only be talked about extensively if there is a controversy and that too is pre-release. The post-release coverage of films is non-existent or very scarce (nothing beyond the initial review). There’s no space for a thinking fandom or work-based fandom to develop. Hence, it resorts to the actor-centric coverage. Actors, with their multiple ongoing projects, aren’t interested in talking about their film once it has brought in the money. You see Amir talking about his films post-release because he has plans to release them in another country and because he only releases one film every year. And we talk about that one film BECAUSE we know it’s the only Amir film of the year and because Amir, his cast and reviewers/journalists know this is the only film for the year and they are forced to talk intelligently about that one film and even then there isn’t as much analysis of the work to call it a fandom.

    This is one reason why I wanted the sparknotes style analysis of SRK’s films for his birthday month. Because THAT doesn’t exist anywhere else in the whole world and I have no expectations that those will ever exist.

    India is ripe for a western style fandom culture. We’re ready for conventions. We’re ready for merchandise marketed towards our fandoms. We’re ready for YouTube blogs talking about tour fandoms. Except we don’t have many outlets providing us with the content. The explosion of Indian film trailer review channels on YouTube isn’t just “white people talking about Indian films”, it is also about us wanting analysis by “experts”. That’s part of the reason why I love Melanie’s longer reviews and why I’m addicted to your blog.

    If it were up to me, there would exist a media startup (like EIC or AIB) which would be a team of people who are in other western style fandoms already, who would provide coverage and analysis of films and interact with other reviewers and fans over multiple platforms and eventually, they’d be relevant enough for stars and directors and technicians to begin making appearances and thus the culture of discussing the intelligent aspect of films can grow. Even if we don’t start making western style films, at least the culture of sycophancy and sucking up to stars amongst film reviewers needs to be killed and our stars need to step out of that condescending mindset where they KNOW their films will make money even if they’re just three hours of them being shown sleeping. In slo-mo.

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    • You hit the nail on the head with American fandom being a way of creating a shared mythology. Sports and Superheroes (not the new superhero movies, but Batman and Superman across all media since the 1930s) are the really big ones. But there’s a difference between the general “I know Superman” kind of mythology building and the “experts”, who have this sort of “no one is allowed to share unless you are a true fan” kind of attitude. And that second attitude seems to be a fairly knew thing, at least to be accepted in the mainstream. Sports, on the other hand, is completely out of this whole fandom debate since it has its own unique place in culture, like you say Cricket has in India.

      Part of what defines a fandom in the Western fan studies sense of things is it being somehow separate from regular culture, that their is a fan community which is not a regular community. That’s hard to do with sports in America because everyone is a fan. There are huge gradiation levels, but it’s just accepted if you meet someone for the first time you can ask them “what team do you root for?” and it’s part of your identity, like having a favorite color. It would be unusual not to have an answer to that question. There are sports fans who quit their jobs to follow teams during the season (we have a couple of family friends who do that), that’s a different level, but everyone is a fan of something.

      Of course, this is talking about Western/male style fandom where it is about having the identity and the knowledge, not the inherent passion., which is a different thing.

      In terms of Indian film coverage, I see what you are saying about how coverage needs to change. But then, there isn’t really that kind of coverage for Western films either. There are more reviewers, but the sort of close coverage of box office and what it means and so on doesn’t fit within the western style of film fandom either, it is restricted to industry press. The fan culture grew up totally separate from that through fans connecting with fans. And as the star system faded, the movie fandom in that style faded as well. It is only a few distinctive films that have created a fan culture, the majority of fan culture is around stuff like TV shows and comic books which allow for a continuing story and therefore a continuing discussion.

      And I don’t know if I necessarily think it would be a good thing for that sort of fan culture to grow in India. Because it would lead to natural exclusion. Fandom, of this type, is expensive. There is an automatic monetary barrier to entry. And a time barrier to entry, a mother of 3 kids for instance wouldn’t be considered a “true fan” if all she did was see a movie and enjoy it and think about it in her daily life, she would need to also go to meetings and conventions and on and on or else it “doesn’t count”.

      However, what would be good would be for the educated elites who can provide the more analytical content to take the films seriously and respect that they have a huge audience rather than sleeping on the job. Part of what your criticizing could also be class based, if Rajeev Masand, say, only hangs out with educated English speaking elites, he has no idea what the vast majority of the film audience is looking for and cares about. Consistently in fan studies, it is shown that the fans (because they care SO MUCH) are more critical than the critics. If the regular movie going audience truly had no discernment or care for what they see onscreen, than the terrible Khan films of the recent past wouldn’t have flopped so bad. The critics may feel the need to always be gentle and respectful, but the audience and the wider film fan community does not.

      On Sun, Feb 4, 2018 at 2:04 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • There’s a contradiction in what you’re saying- if the audience were truly discerning, terrible Salman films would flop as bad as terrible SRK films. That the terrible Salman films continue to do better than the terrible SRK films tells us this theory is flawed.

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        • I don’t think it’s about discernment but expectations. Terrible Salman films are still congruent with his image for the most part. Like they may suck but they don’t make you reconsider him as a star. While Tubelight, the one film that was both terrible and stepped outside of Salman’s defined persona, was a huge flop.

          I get the feeling that SRK films are flopping for different reasons, the public isn’t into the classic SRK persona the way they used to be but they also don’t want to see him step out of that persona, so he’s essentially trapped. Different problem.

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          • So people don’t know what to expect of SRK anymore?

            I think it’s how own expectations of fan behaviour that the problem. Dilwale is proof is that he thinks his audience is stuck in the 90s like he is. I honestly never thought I’d hate sitting through an SRK film but after Raees, which I watched on tv, I have actually begun to doubt the basis of his stardom.

            And that’s not because I’ve changed in how I watch films. I’d just finished a Prabhas marathon and was tuning in to south massy films every evening when I watched Raees. The film ruined Mahira for me. Yikes!!

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  4. “The idea that “fandom” is something to be ashamed of, is a weakness, is part of a greater power structure. In the West, male versus female. In India, upper versus lower class. To claim your fandom is, in a small way, upsetting those power structures. Rejecting the lesson that there is something “wrong” something “weak” about you.”

    I hear what you’re saying here. But I disagree with this. In India, the assumption that films were a distraction were 100% true. Corruption could gain a stronghold in Indian public life because the masses had a distraction which specifically did not cover that issue.

    In India, where education is deliberately kept away from the underprivileged and the economically and socially backwards classes are actively prevented from advancing in life, the “mass” genre ends up being a co-conspirator that keeps its audience from learning to analyze culture and grasp at nuanced messages rather than a weapon of subversion. By deliberately making dumb films for the cheap ticket single screen crowd, Indian cinema has prevented our ‘lower” classes from learning about law, culture, books, science, rights, etc. You see a film like Philadelphia reaching people of all classes and provoking thought and at least giving them some information about the law and moral questions surrounding its topic. Indian cinema has deliberately kept such films away from our masses that need this information the most in a very systematic way. That is just what I feel is one of the ills the Indian style of fandoms has propagated in society and to the very segment of society that it is composed of.

    The second kind of ill that this style of fandom is that it made a distinction between the star and their on-screen personas and absolved the star of the responsibility for what values they propagated in society. Thus, the hardcore Salman fan isn’t just a guy who goes to the gym too often and copies his weird style, he’s also the guy who thinks it’s OK to threaten a lower class girl just because he fancies her and expects her to tell him she’s afraid of love and not physical abuse.

    The problem with the mass genre fandom in India isn’t that it likes superficial film plots and loud music and dances; it’s that it reinforces all the most toxic elements of the already super toxic Indian masculinity and patriarchy to people, to both men and women of the class that has never known what rights they have. It also normalizes criminal behavior. Actual criminal behavior. And that’s why the educated people look down on the mass genre. Because mass fans do things like threaten and abuse people speaking up against the psychotic Mammootty dialogue. Believe me when I say if it weren’t for the fear of being considered “low class”, a lot of people from “good backgrounds” would walk around saying exactly what mass genre films tell them is ok to say.

    Maybe you don’t feel threatened by it as much because you can walk out of the theatre and there would be no real life consequences for you from the fans of the Indian mass genre or THOSE fandoms or the culture that the mass films propagate. You get the bad comments and you can just block those people and only talk to the nice people. For people living in India, the threat is real and that’s why we look down on films targeted at the uneducated or the lower class and THOSE fandoms in general.

    I don’t think we need THOSE people to feel any more empowered about breaking laws. If that were true, you wouldn’t have to ban, block and remove people from this blog.

    I realize I might have taken the discussion in a different direction than the concluding paragraphs of your post intended. Maybe what I’m trying to get at is a topic for a separate post on the impact of fandoms on our social life.

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    • I don’t know if I agree with your basic premise. I can immediately think of dozens upon dozens of films that address corruption, legal issues, all sorts of things. They coat it in massy covering, but the issues are there. Philadelphia, your example, was remade as Phir Milenge. Running Shaadi last year gave a long and specific run down of the laws around cross-caste and cross-religion marriages. The argument I, and others, have made is that there is an assumption that the audience is not capable of finding these messages within the film, not capable of ignoring the surface gloss and obvious messages.

      This does not mean that the hidden messages are always good. Something like Padmavat, or Gadar, or hundreds of other films has something sick at the core of it. If fans were not capable of discernment, if they were blindly accepting what they were given, then they would only see them as pretty historical romances. Accepting that the audience is capable of “reading” a film means they are capable of finding the over all themes and hidden messages within the film, not just what is on the surface.

      There is also the question of how much films influence social elements versus what is around you. In America, there is a focus on violence in film as causing violence. But wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that our gun laws are what causes violence? Do films cause stalking and abuse of women, or does that come from the religious and government authorities in India who condone marital rape?

      But the most important part of this post and the general lesson of fandom is not to make assumptions about what “they” are seeing or thinking or feeling until you have actually done the work of talking to people. Do we know that a Salman fan is learning violence against women, or is he learning something else? We have Salman fans on this forum, they are clearly getting something from him that is not violence and hatred (since that is not what this blog is about). The most vocal fans are not necessarily speaking for the vast majority of what people find in the films.

      On Sun, Feb 4, 2018 at 3:31 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I live in a tier 2 city in the Hindi belt, have an active base in a village deep in the Hindi belt too, lived across it, lived in Chandigarh which used to be nice and cosmopolitan all around and lived in Himachal which is generally wayy more progressive than the core hindi belt. The massy, Salman style fandom isn’t a remote idea for me. I see it the moment I step out of my house. I encounter it at the paan and cigarette stall located every 100 yards all around the city, I encounter it with every auto and rickshaw wala on the street and I encounter it in and around every public office I need to visit. The catcalls and random dudes following me just because I’m in a public space and the behavior has been normalised through films and the auto dude deciding to play Munni badnaam and singing along in an extra sleazy voice while looking back through the mirror isn’t something I can escape UNLESS I decide to use my elitism and take an Uber or call my driver if I must go out or have my male office staff or my beau run my chores for me.

        I highly doubt the salman fans on this forum would feel comfortable sitting in a convention of Salman fans from the hindi belt.

        If we assume that the audience is mature enough to take away messages away from films that mask it under massy elements, then we would never have to worry about movies promoting violence against women or even depicting it. Both in India and elsewhere. And if that depiction doesn’t have an impact on culture, there’d need to be no pointing out of such problematic elements.

        But we do need to call out when films are portraying something bad. When they’re promoting a bad idea. The entire feminist revision of literature and popular media centers around the idea that such media impacts culture and influences people’s way of thinking and shapes society.

        Also, if that assumption was true then we won’t be able to call SRK a hero for always showing a respectful attitude towards women on screen. Thay wouldn’t be a plus point. It wouldn’t make him a feminist. Because that would just be fiction. Then MNIK isn’t an extraordinary film because the audience should know that’s just fiction and the real world would learn nothing from the film. If films didn’t shape culture and society, they wouldn’t be a part of countries’ propaganda plans.

        Another aspect of this is the fact that fandoms in India are people centric. But people aren’t fans of stars’ real selves. They love the film characters and cannot imagine the star being anything other than the hero. That’s why Salman makes the same film twice a year, that’s why SRK can’t break out of the Raj/Rahul image and that’s why we adore Amitabh despite him being named in the corruption scandals. Also, the star to politician transition exists in India BECAUSE the audience can’t tell the difference between reel and real.

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  5. When you talk about women wanting to be a part of the ‘male fandom’ and rejecting the ‘female fandom’ it immediately brings to mind the reboot of all-male franchises like Ghostbusters and Ocean’s Eleven with an all-female cast.The day is not far when you might see an all-female cast of say Golmaal or dare I say Don? Being a part of male fandom (ie admiring the minutiae) shouldn’t exclude you from being a part of the female fandom (ie the emotional component).Shouldn’t a perfect movie have space for both? There is also another aspect of the female fandom which is inherited.I started reading Romance novels because my mother and grandmother did it.Did I start reading them from childhood? No.But when I started reading them in my teens it made me feel part of a chain reaching back into the past.Ditto with my first Rajesh Khanna film which I watched in my teens.I had grown up on tales of my aunt’s Rajesh Khanna fandom – sleeping with Rajesh Khanna’s picture beneath her pillow, etc.My point is by the time I was old enough to become interested my predecessors -as it were largely uninterested.But I could legitimately say that if it weren’t for them I’d never have enjoyed these things.

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    • Absolutely fandom should have space for both. What I find interesting is that the most popular “male” style fandoms do in fact have “female” elements in the products, it is just not accepted to talk about them. It feels like the female characters onscreen moving more and more into this realm are forcing those elements to the surface which is what the “male” fandoms members find so uncomfortable, acknowledging that they are there and were there all along.

      Absolutely fandoms are inherited! they are part of your identity. And that’s another way in which they can serve as a disruption to power structures. They provide continuity across time in an unacknowledged way, giving a parallel sense of history, of what is important.

      On Sun, Feb 4, 2018 at 4:57 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • It would be interesting to see Golmaal (the original) or Laawaris from the perspective of a woman.Illegitimacy has not lost its scandal factor throughout the decades.And I agree with you.Enough with the needless remakes and sequels.We don’t need yet another Krishh sequel particularly since I hear Priyanka is going to be replaced.As for remakes, nothing after 1990 should be touched.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Just jumping in to say that a female remake has already been done! Akira, which didn’t get nearly as much attention as I thought it deserved. The silent troubled hero was female, the college bully was female, and the noble cop was female. And it was wonderful!

        On Sun, Feb 4, 2018 at 10:27 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I really liked it, and thought Sonakshi’s character was done perfectly. They went with a “strong silent type” kind of thing, so she has almost no dialogue and is mostly physical. And then of course Konkona is there for the brilliant acting component, and Amit Sadh is there for eye candy.

            On Sun, Feb 4, 2018 at 8:27 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. Late to the party & yet to catch up on all the comments. But very informative post. Just recently I had given grief to hubby for casually mentioning at a friends’ gathering that his wife is a ‘fan’ now. Being a fan is not classy you see..;))

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    • Exactly! And in Western culture, being a “fan” is fine but being a “fangirl” is not.

      On Sun, Feb 4, 2018 at 11:48 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  7. Pingback: Hindi Film 101 Index | dontcallitbollywood

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