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The otherwise reclusive stars of South Indian cinema are finally comfortable about sharing pictures and opinions,
and promoting themselves on social media.

WITH 3.4 million followers on Twitter, nearly 16 million likes on her Facebook page, and 1.9 million followers on Instagram, actor Shruti Haasan sure knows how to be the darling of social media. So whether she tweets about her London trip or posts pictures of an unusual moth on Facebook, it’s bound to attract attention. One can’t ignore A R Rahman either. The music composer has over 10 million followers on Twitter, and 22 million likes on Facebook. Meanwhile, Tamil film actor Siddharth has over two million followers on Twitter, and is constantly updating fans and followers about what he’s up to – personally and professionally. Enough has been said about how he used social media during the Chennai floods in December, to help with rescue and relief efforts.

 

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Ironically, it was a different story just five years ago. In 2011, when Rama Krishna Veerapaneni, the managing director of the Hyderabad-based company Whacked Out Media, approached stars in South Indian cinema to use social media and engage with the world, he got a big ‘no’ from them.Hollywood had shown the way back in 2009-2010 when A-listers were all over the virtual world, and in India everyone was hooked onto what superstar Amitabh Bachchan was publishing online. Today, Sr Bachchan has about 19.6 million followers on Twitter, and about 24 million on Facebook. Shah Rukh Khan comes close, with 18.2 million followers on Twitter, and nearly 18 million on Facebook. In fact, a recent tweet sharing the official launch date of the trailer of his upcoming film Fan got him about 11,000 likes, and 5,733 retweets, and that is no meager number.

‘‘In the South, we really had to persuade the stars, and 2012-2013 was a roller coaster ride for us to bring them on board. They were reluctant, and privacy was their biggest concern. They were not sure of what to say and when,” explains Veerapaneni, whose company today manages the online presence of over 250 celebrities in the south.
Today, actors are using social media like never before. In fact, from announcing a new project, handling controversy, to even sharing a personal anecdote, social media has become a powerful mouthpiece for them.

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With 1.2 million followers on Twitter, actor R Madhavan, the star of boxing film Irudhi Suttru,  has reaped the benefits of being online. ‘‘Being on a social platform is not just the best way to get to know the changing trends among people of different age groups globally, it’s also the most effective way to follow the film fraternity, and stay updated,” he explains.
Actor Shruti Haasan agrees. ‘‘Apart from the medium playing a big role in helping us connect with our audiences, and to share our personal interests, it also gives us an instant idea of how we and our work is being perceived,” she says. The song Kolaveri Di from her 2012 film 3, went viral in no time, and was shared by millions even before the film was released.
For award-winning actor and early social media user, Priya Mani, the medium allows her to address issues that are close to her heart. ‘‘Be it pet adoption or something that is important to society, when we as celebs try to highlight it, people relate to it and help out. I try to respond to fans’ questions. But I am also of the opinion that one must not overdo it,” says the actor, who will be seen next in Yogaraj Bhat’s romantic comedy in Kannada, Dana Kayonu.

Behind the box office
While studies on Hollywood prove that movie stars who are active and supportive on Twitter significantly improve the exposure of a film, we have our very own case study. Back in 2012, when few South Indian films had made social media part of their marketing plans, the multilingual blockbuster film Bahubali capitalised on it. The movie’s online activity began almost three years prior to its release, and had the cast—Prabhas, Rajamouli, Rana Daggubati and Tamannaah — come on board to tweet about day-to-day activities. “It helped us a great deal to capture the market in the South and even abroad. We built our following right from the time we started the project and it came in handy during the time of the release,” admits producer Shobu Yarlagadda.
The Bahubali team has a dedicated 20-member team, now called Arka Connect, which is responsible for driving content on social media, ahead of the release of Bahubali 2, scheduled for December 2016.
Meanwhile, Lucia director Pawan Kumar chose Facebook to announce a new project, putting another script on the back burner. He stated online: “I wrote U Turn, a mystery thriller, really quick (in about three days I had the first draft ready). Got very excited, got good feedback and had enough budgets to produce this one… so started making this film and kept the script of C10 H14 N2 back in the drawer.” The news was soon picked up by several mainstream media houses.

Damage control
Content in the virtual world can get out of hand as well, as seen last year, when actor Samantha Prabhu had commented on a poster of a film starring Mahesh Babu. His fan base got upset and her team at Whacked Out Media had to swing into action, leveraging her fans’ support and deciding which comments and respondents to engage with. “There are times when stars vent. But we do not allow them to mix their private life with professional work on social media. Washing dirty linen in public is an absolute no-no,” he adds.

Veterans catch up
While it’s the youngsters who garner massive fan base on social networking sites (Kajal Aggarwal has over 19 millions followers on Facebook), veterans like Kamal Haasan are leaving no stone unturned in terms of making their presence felt either. The actor made his dmadhavan 1ebut on Twitter in January this year. “While Dhanush, Alu Arjun, Rana, Siddharth, Samantha, Tamannaah use Twitter extensively, we have seen veteran stars make their debut on Twitter, interact with fans, and use the medium to express their opinion on social and political issues. We know Pavan Kalyan likes to talk about political issues,” says Pratiksha Rao, entertainment head of Twitter India. Actor and historian Mohan Raman says, “The actors in the South can be divided into two groups. The first are those with strong, publicly-expressed political views. They are either openly endorsing a party or are in the party like Sharath Kumar. His wife Radhika also shares views on political affairs apart from promoting or retweeting appreciation for her shows. The same applies to Khushboo. The other half steers clear; they want to appear neutral. Hence the second half only talk about their films and shows. I belong to the second category. If I am critical, then it’s only about the central government and not local politicians. Why should I take a stand and alienate a sizable chunk of my followers?”

The Lal effect
Mohanlal has a unique way of handling social media. His blogs range from sensitive political issues such as the ongoing sedition debate in JNU—‘How can we live after the death of India’, which received over 500 retweets, 4,400 shares and 17,000 likes—to the funny workout stints with his son (left)—an instant hit with 1,90,000 likes and 400 retweets. Lal maintains constant contact with his fans through his blog (thecompleteactor.com)—by posting scanned copies of letters handwritten by himself.

One with Leone
With his timely updates and witty remarks, actor Jayasurya’s Facebook profile is always buzzing. Little did he know that his recent post in Malayalam, from the Vanitha film Awards 2016, would garner the attention of Sunny Leone herself. Hitting over 88,000 likes and 3,890 shares in just a matter of hours, he talked about how thrilled he was to finally meet Leone, who recently held her own during a rattling hot seat interview a with journalist on CNN-IBN.

 

Dulquer-SalmaanStyle reinvented
One of the first on Twitter among Malayalam actors to get 100k followers, Dulquer Salmaan chose Instagram to show-off the modified version of his new Triumph Bourneville, inspired by Steve McQueen’s bike. The post hit 17.3k likes as motor enthusiasts from Kerala went gaga over it in less than 10 hours.

 

 

Harish Bijoor,
image and brand consultant3 harish-bijoor
“I feel that the stars in the South don’t engage and leverage their fan following to the potential like how Bollywood does. South stars just report on their daily activities, post about their shoots etc. But just reporting won’t do. They need to post comments. They need to have an opinion. From what I have seen, stars in the South are always politically correct whereas Bollywood stars are not, and sometimes even have a foot in the mouth kind of situation. But that’s worth it. These things directly impact on traction and creating that buzz. Even in terms of addressing key issues, it does not happen much, barring the stand-alone Chennai floods when they mobilised their fans on social media into doing something for the cause.”

 

Kamal Haasan, actor
Cinema is only a part of my life.
A major part, some may argue. There is more to ask and talk of this world. Maybe you will see me trying to be rational at trying times, make sense of unjust deeds that befall us or sometimes attempt to understand myself

 

Kajal Aggarwal, actor
Being active on social media is the best way to connect with your fans and I believe it’s a great platform for interaction minus the Chinese whispers. I’ve been very vocal about trending issues and issues that I genuinely care about on my Facebook page. I’m not on Twitter so maybe the debates are limited in my situation

 

Anirudh1Anirudh Ravichander, music director
I use Twitter cause I strongly believe it has been a major player in my success. I can connect easily with fans and their emotions.
I’m sure I wouldn’t be ‘Anirudh’ without it. Period

 

 

 

 

Nagarjuna Akkineni, actor
I use Twitter to update fans about my work. I rarely post or discuss things that are mired in controversy. When my film teaser or trailer is ready, I let my 1.35 million fans know about it. I am here to spread positivity, not controversies. I have a life beyond the hashtags

 

Mohan Ram, actor and film historian
Amitabh Bachchan retweets, and it happened with me. I tweeted to him saying in one of his films he looked a lot like the superstar Rajnikanth in Basha. He replied saying, ‘do you really think so?’ So I posted a photo of him from that particular movie and Rajni and said ‘you judge for yourself’. It was at 1.30 am and couldn’t have been an employee; no paid employee replies at that hour

 

Nandini Kumar
(with inputs from Anoop Menon)

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