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Meet the extreme SRK, Salman, Vijay, Ajith fans behind rabid tweets and hashtags

Why do they turn so viciously on ’haters’, launch personal attacks on critics? One troll puts it like this: ‘Twitter is a jungle, animals everywhere. To survive, you have to hunt them.’

india Updated: Aug 21, 2017 18:16 IST
Roshni Nair
Roshni Nair
Hindustan Times
Thala,Thalapathy,Vijay
Special hashtags and coordinated online campaigns are favoured weapons when picking on film writers, critics and fans of rival stars.

Kochi-based Gokul B is a logistics and supply chain management student, but he could well be a professional, if somewhat unpredictable, social media manager.

In his five years on Twitter, Gokul has run, apart from his personal account, the fan handles @KeralaVijayFC and @VijayTrendsKL.

At 18,400 and 24,400 followers respectively, these are the biggest Kerala-based fan accounts for Thalapathy, the fan-given name for Tamil actor Vijay. (Thalapathy, incidentally, is Tamil for ‘commander-in-chief’.)

His hashtags for Vijay have all featured in Twitter India’s top trends at some point in the past three years.

“The hashtag we Thalapathy fans are most proud of is #HappyWeddingAnniversaryVijayandSangeetha. We started it in 2013 and promote it every year,” says the 20-year-old. “It was a top trend worldwide in its very first outing. A hashtag from south India featuring in worldwide trends – you realise what that means?”

That was just the beginning. When Kaththi was released in 2014, the Vijay Twitter brigade celebrated the film’s Rs 100-crore box office run by trending #KaththiCreatesHistory with over 100,000 tweets – in 18 minutes.

But the real record, Gokul reminds you, was getting Theri (2016) into the top India trends within three minutes.

The #HappyWeddingAnniversaryVijayandSangeetha hashtag, a joint effort by the Vijay brigade, topped worldwide trends on Twitter and was cause for jubilation among fans.

There’s more. He claims that Thalapathy fans create and promote an average of 100 to 200 hashtags in the months before and after every Vijay film release.

“So the combined hashtags for Thalaivaa [2013], Jilla [2014], Kaththi, Puli [2015], Theri, Bairvaa [January 2017] and the upcoming Mersal [October] could well number in the thousands,” he smiles.

POKING THE BEAR

The frenzy and fervour that make Thalapathy fans such steadfast, self-made publicists on social media also make them a nest of hornets. So when journalist Dhanya Rajendran tweeted on August 4 that Jab Harry Met Sejal was a worse experience even than Vijay’s film Sura, Thalapathy fans hurled everything from rape to death threats at her.

In true legion style, they created the hashtag #PublicityBeepDhanya to create and collate the choicest slurs aimed at Rajendran. The hashtag trended nationally as insults and threats were directed at her for four days.

Rajendran isn’t even the most recent. On Saturday, film critic Anna MM Vetticad shared a 16-tweet thread on the sheer vitriol she has faced from extreme fans of Akshay Kumar after she critiqued his latest film, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha.

Gokul B is not your garden-variety troll. He did not tweet directly at Rajendran, and his posts seem to have stuck to promotional tweets for Mersal during this time. But head to his replies, and apart from sporadic potshots at other Tamil actors Ajith and Suriya, there are a few nuggets worth sharing:

Have you shame to Quote this with Question mark? Paid Pimp [sic]” he tweeted to Forum Keralama on Friday, in response to the portal asking if Mersal’s Kerala release was in any trouble.

Journalist Dhanya Rajendran was the subject of a coordinated harassment campaign, via a hashtag that was eventually blocked by Twitter India.

“See, 90% of Vijay fans are devotees. A fan once committed suicide because a Vijay film released later than expected in 2013,” Gokul says defensively. “A fan in Palakkad fell down from a 50ft Vijay cutout while bathing it in milk. You think they’d keep silent when Dhanya trolled Vijay?”

The fact that the reviewer referred to the Vijay film by way of criticising a Shah Rukh Khan movie does not in any way modulate the anger.

“Besides,” he adds, “Ajith fans are also abusive.”

ENTER THALA

Gokul isn’t lying about that last bit. In 2014, playback singer Chinmayi Sripaada was trolled by Ajith admirers after she tweeted about enjoying Vijay’s film, Kaththi. A year later, she was targeted again after she shared her bemusement at an Ajith fan having a go at actor R Madhavan.

Ajith Kumar, called ‘Thala (Leader)’ by fans, has a legion rivalling that of Thalapathy’s. The two camps, perpetually at war on Twitter, create competing hashtags when one camp’s promotions are trending.

Everything is fair game in the battle for visibility on Twitter India.

“Thala is vera level [extraordinary] and cannot be compared to anyone. He’s so upright, he dismantled his fan clubs in 2011 after getting to know they were canvassing politically in his name,” says Dinesh from Jaffna, Sri Lanka.

If Thalapathy fans got a worldwide trend, so did the Thala brigade. In 2015, they created #VijayTheCurseOfCinema on the day a teaser of Vijay’s film, Puli, was released.

Dinesh, who goes by @Dinu_Akshii, has been on Twitter for four years and has 8,704 followers. His earlier account @Dinu_Ajith57 had 21,000 followers before it got suspended. Why, he won’t say.

He’s now busy with the #VivegamTrailer hashtag, which promotes Ajith’s upcoming Vivegam, due out next week.

“Vijay fans are abusive. They harass girls and families on Twitter. We don’t,” says Dinesh, adding that he was unaware of the Chinmayi and R Madhavan incidents.

“Trend wars between fans were at a head in 2014, when Thala fans created #YennaiArindhaalTeaserStormOnDec4 to promote the film Yennai Arindhaal. Thalapathy fans became jealous, so they came up with #VIJAY_22YearsOfGloriousJourney,” he scoffs.

At the time of filing this story, #Mersal has its own emoji. Skim through Dinesh’s timeline (preferably with popcorn in hand), and you’ll be privy to dedicated blowbacks against what he considers paid promotions: ‘Exclusive! @actorvijay Bought Mersal Emoji for 1M Dollars. Paid RTs. Paid Likes. Paid Accounts. Now Paid Emoji too. to Come closer #Thala’.

Then there are retweets of barbs against Vijay, most of which refer to him as a mokka (useless) hero.

“My friends in real life are Vijay fans and we get along just fine,” concludes the Sri Lankan. “But if anyone on Twitter is remotely negative against Thala, I won’t tolerate it.”

KHAN’T GET ENOUGH

Meet Aryan, Akshay Kumar’s loyal crusader
  • Civil engineering student Aryan Gurung has idolised Akshay Kumar since he was 12.
  • Now 19, the Hyderabad boy spends his time searching the web for rumours about the star that he can loyally refute.
  • “I’ve watched each and every interview of his and have done so much background research that I know he is genuinely a nice guy,” says Gurung.
  • “But there are so many haters on Facebook and Twitter who are jealous of his success that I have to shut them up.”
  • In 2016, he started the Facebook page ‘Troll Akshay Kumar Haters’. It has over 36,000 followers. The page is run by him and eight friends.
  • The objective is to respond to negative posts with ‘facts and statistics’.
  • “Fans of other actors purposely spread fake news about Akshay, just ahead of his releases,” he says. “That’s how I got entangled in the world of troll wars. We don’t want to abuse other actors. But if these fans troll Akshay, we have to retaliate, give a fitting reply.”

Inability to stomach criticism or jibes against their idols narrows the 2,400-km gulf between Dinesh and Kolhapur-based Raviraj. An engineer, Raviraj’s Twitter bio reads ‘Full Blooded Fan of @BeingSalmanKhan’. His handle is @Salman_Rules.

He’s been on the platform since 2009, has 14,800 followers, and his timeline is a cornucopia of jokes and insults aimed at Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar and their fans.

Raviraj’s previous handle @hbk_ravi was suspended, and in its aftermath, he created several Salman fan accounts. “Luckily, this one hasn’t vanished,” he guffaws.

Unlike Gokul and Dinesh, the 26-year-old doesn’t claim to hold back with the slurs. ‘Chakkians’ and ‘SRGays’ are terms they use to describe fans of the Khiladi and SRK respectively.

“When their idols can’t compete with Bhai at the box office, they cook up false stories about him. It’s a known fact that Salman is the biggest crowd-puller, with the most blockbusters, top-grossing films, and number of footfalls. I don’t troll to get personal,” he says. “I troll to present facts.”

‘Presenting facts’ to film critics and writers takes up much of Raviraj’s time in the hours and days after a Salman Khan film hits theatres. Film critics, he says, are his greatest annoyance.

In August 2014, critic Anupama Chopra tweeted about remaining unfazed by brickbats she received for panning Salman Khan film Kick. Raviraj responded: ‘Ghar jaake khana banana sikh lo thoda [Go home and learn to cook a bit] otherwise your husband will KICK you out of the house @anupamachopra’.

Raviraj’s jibe at Anupama Chopra. Chopra is one of several critics viciously trolled for doing their job.

Raviraj adds, proudly, that this tweet appeared on national television.

“Of course I’ll troll film reviewers,” he says, “because they try to gain mileage by using Salman’s name.”

“Twitter is like a jungle and animals are everywhere,” he opines. “So to survive here, you have to hunt them.”

Raviraj is the template Salman Khan fan that Varun Sabharwal* abhors. So much so that the 21-year-old from Delhi, who is @TrollSRKHaters on Twitter, takes it upon himself to create “positive” SRK memes daily. But that’s not to say he shies away from meme digs at Salman Khan.

When film writer Joginder Tuteja jumped in on the #10YearsofMarigold hashtag to say it was one of Salman’s biggest disasters, a gleeful Sabharwal – and hundreds of other SRK fans – had a field day.

“Salman’s fan base is the worst. I think it’s because most of them are illiterates,” he chuckles.

One of @TrollSRKHaters’ many memes. Sabharwal* makes an average of two to three memes daily and says he tries to be positive.

SRK-Salman fan wars may be the most prominent ones in Hindi cinema, at least when it comes to Twitter. But for all that baying for the blood, the two factions have a common (and growing) dislike of Akshay Kumar. That, Sabharwal explains, has a lot to do with clashing films.

For instance, when Raees and Kaabil went head-to-head at the box office, Hrithik and SRK fans went at it on social media, Sabharwal explains.

So, as an SRK loyalist, what did Sabharwal make of Dhanya Rajendran’s tweet and the reaction to it?

“What Vijay fans did was wrong. It should’ve been the Shah Rukh fans who got angry, but we took it lightly,” he says. “You can’t troll someone just because they don’t like your favourite star’s film,” he adds, with no sense of irony.

(* Name changed on request)

First Published: Aug 20, 2017 00:22 IST