Monday, January 09, 2006

do women have to be rowdies to be fans?

I saw a wonderful clip from Sandakkozhi on SUN TV a few days back, a clip that spoke directly to how women’s fan desires and attachments are never taken seriously (or even acknowledged).

The scene unfolds in a cinema hall where a Rajnikanth film is being screened. Initially, we only hear a lot of noise – whistling, comments, yelling, dancing on the seats and in the aisles, and so on. All par for the course, with one exception: the voices sound feminine. Only when the camera moves in a little more do you see the young women behaving like “rowdies.” A group of college-going women have taken over the job that we tend to associate with men in the front rows.

The camera then pulls back and we see some reactions from others in the hall who are completely surprised and to an extent, pissed. A couple of guys in the back row (who happen to be one of the women’s brother and his friend) are horrified and whisper to each other: “look at her, she’s behaving like a rowdy…I don’t want to be seen here, it’ll be such a disgrace (Maaname poghudhu).” The others are simply too stunned to react. One man, sitting right behind these women, tells them to keep quiet and how un-womanly their behavior seemed – he gets shouted down, his wife tells him to shut up, and the fun continues!

Fan activity is a realm of film culture that scholarship on Indian cinema is yet to address in systematic fashion. The two notable exceptions are Srinivas’ pioneering work on the relationships between fan associations and major stars in the Telugu film industry and Sara Dickey’s analysis of fan associations in Tamilnadu (part of a book, Cinema and the Urban Poor in South India).

Building on scholarship on Tamil cinema that has examined the relationship between the construction of stardom and the politics of mobilization, Dickey provides a very useful ethnographic account of this aspect of fan activity in Tamilnadu. She does, however, ignore the possibility of fan activity that might not necessarily be “public” in the sense of there being a neighborhood fan association that meets at street corners, at tea-shops, outside cinema halls or other such spaces. Indeed, her analysis circumscribes fan activity in Tamilnadu as that defined by working-class (often lower caste), male youth in visible, public spaces.

A significant problem with this notion of a fan association as constituting a “public” relates to the question of gender. For instance, Dickey uncritically accepts responses from women who claim that they are not members of fan associations because it would not be looked upon kindly by their family members and would make their reputations questionable in the neighborhood. Just because women aren’t out whistling and hooting in cinema halls or forming neighborhood associations doesn’t mean they aren’t fans, no?

In what terms would Dickey describe the desires and attachments of thousands of “respectable” middle-and upper-middle class women who constitute the primary readership for Tamil magazines like Kumudam and Snehidhi which include a lot of film-related content? How would Dickey read a scene like the one I describe above? Do women have to be "rowdy-like" to have their fan desires acknowledged and understood?
[Image from behindwoods, Meera Jasmine, heroine in Sandakkozhi]


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