In late December last year, we went to Big Cinemas in Pondicherry to watch 'Dhoom 3'. I looked hard for the ticket window (the regular glass ticket window one normally sees at cinemas), but none was to be found except for a red iron curtain of a window where people had already queued up. It soon became apparent that these guys were successfully purchasing tickets from behind that iron curtain!
A closer look revealed that this was indeed the functional Ticket Window. There was just a circular opening wired in mesh from which patrons could communicate with the counter guy. Unbelievable! I should have known that security was the most obvious reason but still asked a few people around what this was all about. They seemed mildly amused at my ignorance and explained that the cinemas in Pondy can't afford glass ticket windows because fans smash them in a frenzy if the shows are sold out. In order to protect property as well as the ticket counter guys from the brunt of this cinematic rage, solid iron came to replace clear glass.
My friend Bagalavan Perier who worked on the sets of 'Life of Pi' with Ang Lee gave me useful insights into the collective consciousness of Tamil audiences and their passion for cinema. About the ticket window, he said 'Oh, this exists not just in Pondy but all over Tamil Nadu and most of the South Indian theaters except for those in malls. Just go watch a Tamil film especially one starring Rajni, Kamal, Vijay or Ajit. First day, first show -- you won't be able to hear the dialog as people scream throughout. Some times fans will tear apart the screen if the operator won't play the song they like again.'
He continued, 'Over here fans are crazy that's why chief ministers are always related with cinema. MGR was a Tamil hero, Jayalalitha (current chief minister) was a heroine. Karunanidhi was a script writer who holds the name for changing the trend of Tamil cinema. People have been requesting Rajnikant (actor) to enter politics since 1980. Just because of his support, Karunanidhi became the Chief Minister in 1996. When Kamal Haasan's controversial film 'Vishwaroopam' was banned in Tamil Nadu, we willingly went to the neighboring states of Kerala and Andhra Pradesh to watch the movie!'
What about women in southern cinema?
I asked if Shobana, an acclaimed actress and danseuse who runs a Bharatnatyam school in Chennai would enter politics. Baglu replied, 'No, she won't because she is from Kerala. Kerala people are clever, they treat actors as actors unless he or she is worth their support. In Tamil Nadu it is different. You have male fans performing abhisegam (worship) to posters of film stars by squirting milk on them, or beer. In Pondicherry, they even smash the beer bottles after!'
|Fans Pour Milk on a Kamal Hassan Poster|
Do Tamil actresses enjoy this love too?
Apparently yes! Some fans constructed a temple for Kushboo and Namitha. On reading this article, this is what Namitha had to say about her temple, 'I am both thrilled and scared because I find a temple built in honour of a living person - especially me - a little difficult to come to terms with.'
Just before my jaw couldn't drop further, Bagalavan trailed off, 'In the South of India, not just the actors but even directors, music directors and cinematographers are worshiped. We have fan clubs for technicians too. Antony and Lenin in editing, Ilayaraja in music, Sandosh Sivan in cinematography, Rasul in audio editing ....'
Thanks to Bagalavan.
Shobana's pic courtesy her official site.