Discourses of Hindi film fandom and the confluence of the popular, the public, and the political

Sreya Mitra

American University of Sharjah, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

[0.1] Abstract—Indian fandom reconstituted as a more participatory culture with the emergence of online cyber communities in the late 1990s to early 2000s, a move accompanied by shifts in the Indian mediascape. With increasing synergy among film, television, and digital media, Bollywood stars were consequently remade as transmedia celebrities. Bollywood stars use digital media such as Twitter and Instagram for promotion and publicity, but such use has created a new type of Bollywood fan: the internet troll. As film personalities now actively engage with social media, incessantly tweeting and sharing pictures, the line has blurred between the reel and the real, the public and the private. Fans having perceived access to the private, off-screen personas of their film idols has further complicated both discourses of contemporary Bollywood stardom and fandom. Stars' and fan's engagement and interaction on social media reveals the so-called disrespectful troll to be not merely a more active participant but a fundamental reworking of the relationship between star and fan, which had been founded primarily on admiration and veneration. This reworking has provided a space for political mobilization in the Indian (online) public space offered by digital platforms and social networking sites.

[0.2] Keywords—Bollywood; Indian fandom; Internet trolls; Social media; Stardom

Mitra, Sreya. 2020. "Discourses of Hindi Film Fandom and the Confluence of the Popular, the Public, and the Political." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 34.

1. Introduction

[1.1] On November 1, 2015, TV Today Network, a premier Indian television news network, organized a Twitter town hall meeting to commemorate the fiftieth birthday of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. Twitter users were encouraged to send Khan their questions with the hashtag #AskSRK. Speaking to noted journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, who was moderating the questions, the actor lamented the growing intolerance and current politically hostile environment in the country. He had been asked if he would return state awards as many notable writers, historians, and filmmakers had done to protest the recent killings of rationalists M. M. Kalburgi and Govind Pansare and the rising cow vigilante violence. In response, Khan remarked, "Yes, there is intolerance, there is growing intolerance…And this is my biggest issue. Not being secular in this country is the worst kind of crime you can do as a patriot" (Chatterjee 2015). Though some online users commended him for taking a stand, for many it was tantamount to being anti-national, the comments seen as tarnishing the country's image. As Twitter users demanded a boycott of his upcoming film Dilwale (Elsa 2015), hardliner, right-wing politicians such as Yogi Adityanath denounced Khan as a traitor, even comparing him to Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the 2008 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

[1.2] (@surajjainbunty) This time it is #BoycottDilwale . Let him understand the meaning of intolerant India. So that he will b careful nxt time

[1.3] (@PRATIK007P) #BoycottDilwale…we will boycott dilwale and show you those who made you Shahrukh Khan can make you joker again…

[1.4] (@malathik1129) He has taken a stand let him bear the brunt of our intolerance to his movies #BoycottDilwale

[1.5] As the online backlash soon escalated into violence, with incensed protestors burning the actor's effigies and disrupting the screenings of Dilwale, Khan tried to salvage the situation by issuing a statement that his comments were misconstrued: "I never said India is intolerant. When I was asked about it, I said I wouldn't like talking about it, but when they insisted, I had just said that the youth should concentrate on making this a secular, progressive country" (HT Correspondent 2015). As a Muslim superstar in a predominantly Hindu country, Khan's position is particularly vulnerable, with his minority status simultaneously marking him "both as the ideal citizen, and also as the Muslim 'Other,' bringing into question his allegiance and loyalty to the national imaginary" (Mitra 2020). With a Hindu wife and children inculcated in the tenets of both faiths, the actor's liberal demeanor "epitomizes an acceptable variant of 'Muslimness'…(and) also, facilitates the global imagining of contemporary India as a secular, modern nation-state" (Mitra 2020, 193). However, the hegemonic narrative of the vilified Muslim Other also underlines his vulnerability and tenuous sense of belonging.

[1.6] Though Shah Rukh Khan's religious affiliation makes him more susceptible to online trolling, he is not the only Bollywood star to face the ire of the Indian social media in recent times. Rather, it has become commonplace to castigate and censure celebrities on social networking sites such as Twitter and Instagram, thus reconfiguring them as vulnerable sites for the Bollywood star, particularly when it comes to political views and opinions. In the southern Indian states, particularly Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, regional politics have been traditionally dominated by actors like M. G. Ramachandran, Jayalalitha, N. T. Rama Rao, and Chiranjeevi, with their fan associations playing a crucial role in political mobilization (Srinivas 2000, 2009), Elsewhere Bollywood stars have largely been apolitical and conspicuous in their lack of political ambitions. They may lend their star power to election campaigning or occasionally may contest elections as a token political entity, but thereafter they will be absent from the governance process.

[1.7] Scholarship on Indian fandom has thus primarily focused on fan associations and their role in political mobilization, particularly in south Indian cinema (Dickey 1993; Hardgrave 1975; Prasad 1998; Srinivas 2000, 2009). However, with the emergent dynamics of social media in contemporary Bollywood, it is imperative to revisit discourses on Indian fandom. Film personalities now actively engage with social media, incessantly tweeting and sharing pictures (Kumar 2019), blurring the line between the reel and the real, the public and the private. Fans having access to the private personas and off-screen avatars of their film idols has further complicated discourses of both contemporary Bollywood stardom and fandom. Through contemporary examples of both the stars' and their fans' engagement and interaction on social media, I argue that the disrespectful troll is not merely a more active participant but essentially a resignification of the erstwhile relationship between stars and fans, which had been founded primarily on admiration and veneration.

[1.8] Building on previous scholarship on Indian fandom (Punathambekar 2007, 2008; Srinivas 2000, 2009), I interrogate how the evolution of the rasika/rowdy dichotomy to the present-day troll reveals the changing norms of the Bollywood star–fan dynamics. Shifts in the discourse on stardom have reconfigured the star from a cinematic idol to a transmedia celebrity; consequently, the emergence of cyber culture has engendered a new kind of fan, the troll, who no longer conforms to the earlier norms of the star–fan relationship. I also underline the increasing political mobilization in the Indian (online) public space offered by digital platforms and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Employing specific case studies (the beef ban and Salman Khan controversies), I illustrate how social media engagement has problematized discourses of Bollywood stardom, particularly with regards to the stars' vocalization of their political views, as well as engendered the new trollish fan.

2. Popular Indian cinema and fan culture

[2.1] "Mughal-e-Azam was one of the five main texts of my youth, and its star, Dilip Kumar, was my guide and pathfinder. He was not just my 'hero'…No. He was my guide through the complex world of human emotions; he opened certain paths and invited me to journey through them, to examine and cross-examine what I discovered en route, to dissect and analyze what I encountered" (Sardar 1998). As renowned writer and scholar Ziauddin Sardar's experience illustrates, the consumption of Hindi cinema is intrinsically linked to the popularity of its stars, with the latter functioning as the focal point of the cinematic experience. Neepa Majumdar, in her study of early Indian film stardom, pointed out, "Dominating the cinema at all levels, from the economic structuring of the film industry to the formulaic nuances of textual strategies, [stardom] has come to take over, almost exclusively, the function of product identification that genres have had in Hollywood cinema" (Majumdar 2009, 11). Consequently, the relationship between the star and the fan in popular Indian cinema was one of adulation and devotion.

[2.2] It is useful in this context to employ the Hindu devotional practice and tradition of darsana/darshan to understand star–fan dynamics. Rachel Dwyer described darsana as the process of "seeing"/"being seen": "when the devotee looks at the god's image through which, in turn, the god is understood to look back" (2008, 31). As Madhava Prasad has also discussed, "darsana refers to a relation of perception within the public traditions of Hindu worship, especially in the temples, but also in public appearances of monarchs and other elevated figures" (1998, 75). The tradition of fans thronging the stars residences and film studios for an elusive glimpse of their (cinematic) idols is evocative of darsana. With the Hindi film star functioning as the focal point of the cinematic experience and revered as a divine entity, the fans' response is thus inevitably that of devotion and adulation. Joli Jenson remarked, "The fan is understood to be, at least implicitly, a result of celebrity…[and] is defined as a response to the star system" (1992, 9). In the context of popular Indian cinema, the star–fan relationship thus has been defined in terms of veneration and, consequently, hyperbolic excess—"excess, hyperbole and even obsession…Commitment and 'excessive' admiration are integral to [Indian] fandom" (Srinivas 2000, 305).

[2.3] Foundational scholarship on fandom in general has tended to perceive it in terms of excess; the fan is "consistently characterized…as a potential fanatic," and fandom is "seen as excessive, bordering on deranged, behavior," thereby distinguishing fans "from [the more reputable] patrons or aficionados or collectors" (Jenson 1992, 9). A similar distinction is also evident in discourses of Indian fandom, with a distinction between the cultured, civilized connoisseur, the rasika, and the uncouth, vulgar rowdy (Punathambekar 2007). Because popular Indian cinema is perceived as inherently lower class—pandering to the masses and consequently devoid of any positive attributes—its consumers and fans, by association, are also derided. The archetypal fans, with their rowdy behavior, are regarded as the antithesis of respectable, middle-class decorum and civility. As film critic Anupama Chopra described them, the Hindi film fan is "not content to sit passively in the dark…[but is] aggressive and voluble…a pleasing line of dialogue or a favorite or a favorite song elicits applause, whistles and sometimes even a shower of coins" (Chopra 2006).

[2.4] The hyperbolic nature of the rowdy Indian film fan is thus consequently circumscribed by diktats of class. S. V. Srinivas, employing the work of Vivek Dhareshwar and R. Srivatsan (1996), noted, "The rowdy or 'lumpen' is the subhuman 'other' of the globalizing, upper-caste middle-class 'citizen' and is invoked to explain 'all that the [middle-class] find disturbing in the social and political life of the nation.' [Thus,] the fan is a rowdy not only because he breaks the law in the course of his assertion or his association with 'criminalized' politics—the fan becomes a rowdy by overstepping the line which demarcates the legitimate, 'constructive,' permissible excess, and the illegitimate" (2000, 314).

[2.5] In his discussion of online fan communities of the Indian film music composer A. R. Rahman, Aswin Punathambekar argued for a more nuanced understanding of Indian fandom. The dominant discourses about fandom tended to perceive fans of popular Indian cinema as either rasikas (connoisseurs) or rowdies, subsequently categorizing fan activity as "devotional excess" or "political mobilization" (2008, 283). However, with the emergence of online cyber communities in the late 1990s to early 2000s, Indian fandom reconstituted as a more participatory culture. Situating fan practices within the context of the emergent cyber culture, Punathambekar argued that Indian fandom needed to be perceived "along a more expansive continuum of participatory culture by dismantling the binary of fan-as-rowdy versus fan-as-rasika" (2008, 284). Proposing the term "cinematic cyberpublics," he argued that "thinking through cinema's public-ness in terms of its convergence with new media and opening up the category of the 'fan' will be a first step towards radically revising our understanding of fan culture surrounding Indian cinema" (2008, 296).

[2.6] However, the resignification of the Indian film fan is intrinsically tied to shifts in the discourse about Indian film stardom. The remaking of the Bollywood star as a transmedia celebrity—from cinematic idol to consummate brand—has been accompanied by the reshaping of the Bollywood fan—from adulation and veneration to censure and disapproval.

3. The star as brand and the fan as troll

[3.1] With the increasing synergy between film, television, and digital media, the Bollywood star is no longer perceived as merely a cinematic idol but rather as a transmedia celebrity, effortlessly straddling multiple media platforms and domains. For contemporary Bollywood stars, performing the varied roles of a film actor, television personality, and brand endorser, their social media presence is crucial to enhancing their visibility and consequently brand value. As Ashish Patil, the head of Y-Films, a subsidiary of Yash Raj Films, remarked, "We treat our actors/actresses as brands and social media like PR [public relations] and events is a very important medium for us…The success of a star as a brand on the online space rubs on the product" (Mehra and Banerjee 2015). Stars are increasingly managed by professional entertainment agencies, and social media networking sites have emerged as potent sites of image branding, promotion, and publicity.

[3.2] Whether it is teasers and promotional posters of upcoming films, behind-the-scenes images from magazine photo shoots and gym workouts, or photographs from intimate family dinners, social media visibility is now an integral aspect of Bollywood stardom. Atul Kasbekar, the owner of Bling Entertainment Solutions, a premier celebrity management company, emphasized the need for social media presence: "Stars need to constantly re-invent themselves in the modern era…Social media is an instant way of doing so, and it builds a totally different connect with the fans. We definitely factor in a star's popularity on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter while sealing an endorsement deal for him or her" (Mehra and Banerjee 2015). Kasbekar's comment about the star's popularity on social networking sites and its role in defining his/her net worth as a brand endorser speaks to Ruth Page's discussion of the construction of the star's identity and brand image as "a product to be consumed by others," and consequently "the audience as an aggregated fan base to be developed and maintained in order to achieve social or economic benefit" (2012, 182).

[3.3] The resignification of the Bollywood star as a brand has received further impetus with the increased penetration and expansion of digital media and technology in India. With "a growing mobile-equipped population" coupled with "increasing affordability of mobile data" (Kumar 2019, 237), the country has witnessed a staggering increase in online engagement, particularly with regards to social networking. As Neeraj Roy, the CEO of Hungama Digital Media Entertainment, pointed out, "In India, 25 percent of all internet usage is for social networking. With over 78 million Indians on Facebook, digital really opens an array of opportunities that will impact the way entertainment is marketed and consumed today" (quoted in Kanal 2013).

[3.4] Consequently, the presence of Bollywood celebrities on Twitter and Instagram has facilitated the popularity and mainstream consumption of such social networking sites. As Steven Baker said, Twitter was launched in 2006, but the microblogging site "witnessed a huge traffic growth registering a 74 percent increase in India during one month in March 2009" (2013, 1052), a period that coincided with many Bollywood celebrities joining Twitter. In the data analytics compiled by Twitter in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi emerged as the only non-Bollywood celebrity in the top ten most-followed Indians on the site (IANS 2015).

[3.5] Twitter's role in the celebrification of Indian public personalities was particularly evident in the case of Narendra Modi. As Joyojeet Pal has discussed, the microblogging site was crucial to Modi's "rebranding" (2015, 380). He transitioned himself from a sectarian politician vilified for his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots to "a technology-savvy leader, aligned with the aspirations of a new Indian modernity" (Pal 2015, 378). Moreover, Modi's prioritizing of social media over traditional news outlets reaffirmed not only his image as a "global leader who speaks directly to his electorate" (Pal, Chandra, and Vydiswaran 2016) without any mediation, but also the role of social media as means of direct (and authentic) communication.

[3.6] Interestingly, as Neha Kumar has demonstrated, Indian social media users tend to perceive Twitter as a platform for celebrities and their fans "while Facebook and WhatsApp [are] regarded as more personal, allowing to 'connect' to friends, acquaintances, etc" (2019, 240). As Kumar further reiterated, "to be a contributor [on Twitter], one needed to have a fan base and a hefty social status," and consequently "to be a listener…[one] had to be a dedicated fan of one or more contributors" (2019, 244). For Bollywood stars, the brevity of social networking sites like Twitter and Instagram has offered a more convenient means of connecting with their fans while enhancing their visibility compared with Facebook. However, the popularity of Twitter and Instagram among Bollywood stars has also fundamentally reconfigured the dynamics of the star–fan relationship.

[3.7] Alice Marwick and dannah boyd (2011) have discussed in detail how "networked media is changing celebrity culture, the ways that people relate to celebrity images, how celebrities are produced, and how celebrity is practiced" (139). As Marwick and boyd further argued, the emergence of new media and social networking "has created a shift in traditional understanding of 'celebrity management' from a highly controlled and regulated institutional model to one in which performers and personalities actively address and interact with fans" (139–40), which has garnered "a sense of closeness and familiarity between themselves and their followers" (147). For Hindi film fans, already accustomed to venerating and idolizing their stars, social media offered the opportunity to connect with them in an intimate, personal manner.

[3.8] As celebrity management consultant Atul Kasbekar has pointed out, "What works in favour of a celebrity in online space is that he gets to reveal undisclosed facets of his personality to his fans. It can be his hobby, gym routine or a snap from a holiday, a fan gets to know a bit about the star directly without much assistance" (Mehra and Banerjee 2015). In a marked departure from previous years, where fans were allowed only restricted and mediated access (and information) through magazine and television interviews, or brief interactions in formal, controlled environments like autograph signings, social networking sites like Twitter not only promised "direct communication between the star and the user, through a virtual form of online interaction" (Baker 2013, 1062) but also, allowed "the fan to feel noticed by the star" (Baker 2013, 1068). For the Bollywood fan, the online interaction often offered a sense of accessibility and consequently, reciprocation that was missing in previous star-fan interactions.

[3.9] The Bollywood star, in his/her contemporary avatar as a consummate brand and transmedia celebrity, is well aware of this new intimate dynamics of the star–fan relationship. Bollywood thespian Amitabh Bachchan, a prolific blogger and social media user, refers to his online fans as extended family, using the acronym "EF," and his fans comment enthusiastically on his posts and share fan art commemorating him. Twitter and Instagram are now replete with posts by Bollywood stars, which are often rather personal and intimate in nature. When superstar Akshay Kumar posted a video on Twitter of his "yearly father-daughter ritual" of flying kites on the Indian festival Makar Sankranti, fans responded by posting pictures not only of the actor with his daughter but also of their own celebrations on the festive occasion. When actor Emraan Hashmi tweeted about his eight-year-old son being cancer free, he received responses from both fellow Bollywood celebrities as well as fans. As actress Sonali Bendre documented her struggle with metastatic cancer on Twitter and Instagram, Deepika Padukone was posting about her own journey as a depression survivor.

[3.10] For Bollywood fans, the stars' participation on social media—and, consequently, their own engagement and responses—underlines the fans' inclusion into the privileged world of Bollywood stardom, from which they had been previously excluded. Baker, in his discussion of Bollywood stars' engagement with Twitter, equated social networking sites with the concept of darshan: "social networking has expanded in popularity as a contemporary form of auspicious viewing" (Baker 2013, 1046), and consequently, "the tangible experience of darshan takes place not in temple, but in the exchange of messages" (1050). However, as fandom scholars like Henry Jenkins have discussed, social media has essentially fostered a participatory culture (Jenkins 1992, 2006) "whereby communicative balance between producers and recipients was reworked, so that consumers were no longer passive but active in their co-construction of texts" (Page 2012, 182).

[3.11] In the Indian context, the shift in star-fan dynamics facilitated by social media engagement has consequently not only reframed Bollywood fan culture as more active and participatory but also engendered the rise of the disrespectful online troll, whose interactions with the star are no longer circumscribed by adulation and veneration. To understand this resignification of the star-fan relationship, particularly in the context of social media, it is crucial to refer to some of the literature on internet trolling. As Susan Herring and colleagues (2002) remarked, "trolling entails luring others into pointless and time-consuming discussions" (372). Though some online discourse has likened troll to the "fictional monster waiting under the bridge to snare innocent bystanders" (Herring et al. 2002, 372), the more evocative definition is "a kind of angling where a lure is dragged through the water to provoke a feeding frenzy amongst the fish" (Binns 2012, 547). The trolls' tendency is to be "subtly or blatantly offensive in order to create an argument…[and] to lure others into useless circular discussion" (Binns 2012, 547) and thus, derive "pleasure in disrupting the social order out of anger, perversity or contempt" (Herring et al. 2002, 382). Gabriella Coleman has discussed at length how "there is a rich aesthetic tradition of spectacle and transgression at play with trolls, which includes the irreverent legacy of phreakers and the hacker underground" (2012, 101). Inevitably, this inherent "transgressive one-upmanship" (Philips 2012, 498) aspect of trolling coupled with the lack of accountability encourages and emboldens users to further engage in objectionable and offensive behavior.

[3.12] In a stark contrast to earlier norms and conventions of Hindi film fandom, where the star was venerated unconditionally, the contemporary Bollywood star is thus no longer shielded from censure and disapproval. As film journalist Mohar Basu (2015) has lamented, "Putting film actors on a pedestal has now become a ritual from the days of yore…infallibility is now restricted to only a handful of actors." With even A-list stars like Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan being mercilessly trolled on social networking sites, Bollywood stars are now "frequent victims of the Tweetizen's wrath" (Basu 2015). Even veteran actors like Rishi Kapoor chide Twitter users on their lack of respect and decorum, illustrating how the star-fan dynamics seem to have undergone a significant revision: fans no longer occupy a subordinate position but instead stake claims to a much more dominant role. According to Basu (2015), "attacking them [Bollywood stars] on social media gives Tweetizens a sense of sadistic pleasure because they get a feel of superiority when they think they were instrumental in making the mighty get on their knees."

[3.13] The rise of the disrespectful online troll, who eschews all presumptions of social civility, is intrinsically linked to the recent aggressive nature of the Indian online sphere, particularly with regard to political views and opinions. Investigative journalist Swati Chaturvedi has discussed at length how the digital armies of trolls play a crucial role in the dissemination and mobilization of contemporary political ideas, particularly right-wing ideologies (Chaturvedi 2016). These right-wing trolls, often referred to as "Internet Hindus," include "individuals across an entire spectrum of the Right, ranging from those who spout Hindu supremacist, anti-Muslim and/or anti-Christian views, to those who are socially liberal, but espouse right-wing approaches to economic policy" (Mohan 2015). Debarshi Dasgupta (2012) characterized them as "a specific group of people online who describe themselves as Hindu nationalists and who operate in well-organized groups to attack—in foul language—those perceived as liberal."

[3.14] The emergence of more divisive right-wing politics in the country has been accompanied by what author Chetan Bhagat describes as "chest-beating nationalism" (2012), devoid of any semblance of objectivity. Highly critical of any opposing views, the online troll perceives any disagreement as an affront not only to his own political beliefs but to the nation itself. Thus, for a troll any criticism translates into antinational behavior that deserves to be condemned and castigated severely. Chaturvedi describes these internet trolls as "persons who sow discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people by posting inflammatory comments and images. They are the goons of the online world…[who] are mostly anonymous" (2016, 5).

[3.15] The anonymity accorded by social media websites like Twitter and Instagram gives users further license to abuse and insult celebrities. Social media scholars have pointed out how "the relative anonymity of the Internet releases some of the inhibitions of a civil society, resulting in flaming, harassment, and hate speech online" (Herring et al. 2002, 371), and serving not only as "a magnet for 'trolls,' whose main purpose is to disrupt and annoy" (Binns 2012, 547) but also helping to "normalize extreme behavior" (552). Actress Swara Bhaskar, a frequent target of trolls, remarked, "You can easily hide your real identity on Twitter. You're just a Twitter egg and doing things behind that anonymity. And I feel that invisibility is giving you the power to misbehave" (Press Trust of India 2017). Actress and television host Shruti Seth (@SethShruti), also a victim of online trolling, agreed: "They see social media as a platform where they can say whatever they want with impunity" (quoted in Someshwar 2015).

[3.16] On June 28, 2015, Seth criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "#SelfieWithDaughter" campaign, in which he had urged Indian fathers to post selfies with their daughters on social media; she tweeted, "A selfie is not a device to bring about change Mr. PM. Try reform. #selfieobsessedPM" (Tweet now deleted). The response by the online trolls was swift and severe: she was reprimanded and chastised for her show of disrespect to the prime minister and her lack of patriotic fervor, and the abuse became increasingly personal, even targeted at her toddler daughter and husband, film director Danish Aslam. As her online detractors labeled her a prostitute and accused her of being antinational (by virtue of being married to Aslam, who is a Muslim), they underlined how the star-fan dynamics had drastically altered on social media. As Chetan Bhagat pointed out, "Since social media allows anonymity, their anger expresses itself as the worst personal abuse" (2012). In an interview discussing the controversy, Seth made a similar comment: "I challenge any of my detractors to come find me, stand in front of me and say the things they said. They won't. It is so much easier to hide behind a handle on Twitter" (quoted in Someshwar 2015).

[3.17] The anonymity offered by social networking sites like Twitter and Instagram allows online users to viciously troll the stars, particularly when the latter exhibit any political opinion or views that contradicts that of the trolls. The two case studies discussed here exemplify not only the resignificantion of the Bollywood star-fan relationship but also the changes engendered by social media—blurring the line between the real and reel personas of the stars as well as the emergence of the (new) trollish fan.

4. #BeefBan

[4.1] The Maharashtra state government's decision to ban cattle meat not only provoked controversy and contentious debates, particularly on social media sites, but also illustrated the limits to the stars' agency, particularly with regards to vocalizing their political views and opinions. In March 2015, the Maharashtra government received the presidential sanction for the proposed Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, legislation that imposed a blanket ban on all forms of cattle slaughter in the state. Though the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act of 1976 had unequivocally prohibited the slaughter of cows, the new bill sought to extend the ban to also bulls, bullocks, and calves. With the exception of buffalo, the consumption and sale of all other forms of cattle meat was now a nonbailable offense with a hefty fine and five years' imprisonment.

[4.2] The bill, which had been passed by the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition in the state assembly in 1995, was seen as being largely politically motivated, reflecting the right-wing ideologies of both political outfits. Cow slaughter and consumption of beef has been historically a sensitive and controversial issue in India, with the majority Hindu population treating the cow with reverence. However, the decision to impose a blanket ban on not only slaughter but also the sale and consumption of beef in a state like Maharashtra, which also includes a significant percentage of Muslims and Christians, was criticized by many. As #BeefBan started trending on social media, users vehemently argued whether it was a question of Indian tradition or right-wing politics, with even Bollywood celebrities joining in the debate. Some joked and commented sarcastically, but others severely criticized the Maharashtra government's attempt to appease their voters.

[4.3] Actor-director Farhan Akhtar (@FarOutAkhtar): So now in Maharashtra you can have a beef with someone but you can't have beef with someone. (March 2, 2015, 11:45 p.m.)

[4.4] Actor and stand-up comic Vir Das (@thevirdas): Dear Govt. With beef, let's ban teeth. We can live on vegetable smoothies and this way your politicians can't make hate speeches anymore:-) (March 3, 2015, 12:04 a.m.)

[4.5] Director Shirish Kunder (@ShirishKunder): Do not be surprised if the cows are given voting rights in the next election. #BeefBan (March 3, 2015, 6:00 a.m.)

[4.6] Director Onir (@IamOnir): #BeefBan is a violation of human rights. The govt cannot dictate what I eat (March 3, 2015, 5:13 a.m.). Seems like the 'democratic' constitution of India does not guarantee diversity. #BeefBan is a sad reflection of that. (March 3, 2015, 5:17 a.m.)

[4.7] Music director Vishal Dadlani (@VishalDadlani): It'd be amazing, if M'tra govt. showed the same urgency in tending to real problems such as water &power, as they have for the #BeefBan (March 3, 2015, 4:51 a.m.). Where farmers commit suicide daily &kids die hungry, they want to build a massive statue and ban beef! What a solution-oriented government! (March 3, 2015, 4:33 p.m.)

[4.8] Interestingly, very few of the current A-list Bollywood stars commented on the issue, clearly an attempt to avoid any unpleasant controversy. Some, like the 1990s popular actress Raveena Tandon (@TandonRaveena), were careful to clarify that they did not have any issue with the ban, but rather with the mandatory enforcement: "My only take on beef issue [is] that it should not be enforced, it should be optional…to eat or not to eat, is a personal choice" (March 3, 2015, 4:36 a.m.). However, it was not merely the sensitive nature of the topic, but also the fear of the vitriolic social media response that made many celebrities cautious. The Bollywood fan, in his new incarnation as the vicious troll, was unsparing of any transgression committed by the star, irrespective of its severity—a far cry from the cultured connoisseur, the rasika, or the fanatical devotee, the rowdy. As some of the recent controversies have illustrated, the Indian social media space has become a vulnerable site for the Bollywood star, who is often trolled viciously and attacked mercilessly for voicing political views. The online skirmishes between the trolls and stars like Rishi Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, and Sonakshi Sinha regarding the beef ban further illustrate the changing dynamics of the Bollywood star–fan dynamics.

[4.9] After a hiatus of five years, Hindi film veteran Rishi Kapoor (@chintskap), who had rejoined Twitter in February 2015, inadvertently angered the trolls with his criticism of the beef ban. The star, known for his romantic films in the 1970s, tweeted shortly after the announcement.

[4.10] I am angry. Why do you equate food with religion?? I am a beef eating Hindu. Does that mean I am less God fearing than a non-eater? Think!! (March 15, 2015, 2:48 p.m.)

[4.11] Aapko naheen khaana beef/pork mat khao. [If you don't want to eat beef/pork, don't eat.] Ultimately your Karma counts not fuckn dictates by bigots. Karo Apna kiddos. Karm achche hon bas! [Do what you want, but your deeds should be good!] (March 15, 2015, 2:52 p.m.)

[4.12] Ye pandit maulvi sab chodo! Karo dil ki baat. Man ki baat. [Leave these priests and maulvis. Just listen to your heart.] Ban on food? Unheard of by idiots!!! Politics!! (March 15, 2015, 2:55 p.m.)

[4.13] Though there were many who agreed with the actor, as evident by the numerous "likes" (upvotes) and some who respectfully disagreed, the majority of responses were abusive in nature, with many questioning even his religious affiliation.

[4.14] (@gauravmittal805) @chintskap one day you will eat your own mother's flesh and proudly leave it on karma to decide. Shame on you! (March 16, 2015, 12:49 p.m.)

[4.15] (@ashu_tryambak) @chintskap "Beef eating Hindu". Sounds like a "rapist who claims to be feminist". (March 16, 2015, 10:08 a.m.)

[4.16] (@ShobhitGosain) @chintskap your friends and fans may appreciate you for this. But sorry being Indian I would love to slap you for this! (March 16, 2015, 4:18 p.m.)

[4.17] (@vbghia) @chintskap The 'only' difference is that you are "God fearing" and we non-eaters are "God loving"… jerk. (March 16, 2015, 12:46 p.m.)

[4.18] Kapoor initially attempted to explain himself—"Please don't get me wrong I do not advocate killing of animals I am against this shit of double standards of politicians to suit themselves" (March 15, 2015, 3:05 p.m.)—but as the taunts and abuse became more personal and vicious, he responded indignantly, "Knew this would go wrong!When did I say I have 'Gau Maas' [cow meat] and I kill cows? Yes, I eat beef where cattle are bred for food legally Not in India" (March 16, 2015, 11:48 a.m.). As the actor tweeted about how he was "greatly hurt by wrong insinuations by some Hindu radicals and fundamentalists" (March 16, 2015, 11:57 a.m.), the controversy illustrated the precarious position of the Bollywood star.

[4.19] The transmedia nature of contemporary Hindi film stardom makes it necessary for the stars to maintain an active social media presence, but any transgression, particularly pertaining to politics, is met with a strong backlash from online trolls. For Kapoor, the only way to deal with disrespectful trolls was to block them, thus denying them access to his exclusive virtual space—"Have blocked abusive people. Idiots do not understand simple English but take pleasure in swearing at me. UNDERSTAND WHAT I AM SAYING" (March 18, 2015, 12:54 p.m.). As Kapoor went on a tirade of complaints, his tweets demonstrated anger at the trolls but also hurt and reproach at being "misunderstood" and having his faith questioned.

[4.20] Didn't know you also have to interact with unintelligent stupid people. Maine koi Gunah naheen kiya coz [I did not commit any crime just because] I do not relate food with religion. (March 18, 2015, 1:48 p.m.)

[4.21] Fed up fed up! When did I say cow slaughter or gau Maas khata hoon [that I eat cow meat]. Ye aapne socha aisa maine naheen kaha. Do waqt ki puja karta hoon main. [You all assumed that but I never said it. I pray twice a day.] (March 19, 2015, 3:29 p.m.)

[4.22] Sab gaali aur khaffa ho gaye? Meri baat to sunte. Khair sabko block kar diya who abused me. [Everyone abused and got upset. But at least you should have listened to me! Anyway, I have blocked everyone who abused me.] Not fair to me Hindu Sabha!! Correct them Plz. (March 19, 2015, 3:34 p.m.)

[4.23] The controversy erupted again in September when the Maharashtra government banned the sale and consumption of all meat for four days during the Jain festival Paryushan, when the community observes a period of fasting. Commenting on the ban, Kapoor tweeted, "My take on bans!Practise your religion within the four walls of your house.Stop imposing your beliefs and wants on others. Live and let live" (September 10, 2015, 11:00 a.m.). He was soon embroiled in an online altercation with Twitter user Karna Ram (@Karnara_m), who wrote, "@chintskap Fools like Rishi kapoor eat beef; have a mini church at home &then call themselves a Hindu &comment on Hindu Saints. Sochna! [Think!]" (August 8, 2015, 6:15 a.m.). Facing a backlash from Twitter users, Kapoor became increasingly defensive—"What I do,eat,drink or pray is none of your business" (September 13, 2015, 5:23 a.m.)—trying to repeatedly reassert his religiosity—"There's a perception that I am anti-Hindu.Sad.I am a 'Proud' two time a day praying Hindu.But I respect other faiths too.I just say the truth!" (September 13, 2015, 5:32 a.m.). As the more genuine fans attempted to defend the beleaguered actor, Kapoor assured them, "Don't worry guys.You have to embarass these types of abusive idiots in front of the world.This is the only way. Let their heads hang in shame" (September 14, 2015, 1:13 p.m.). Thus, the virtual realm may become a site of conflict and confrontation between the star and the fan, particularly with regard to politics.

5. When Salman Khan broke the internet

[5.1] Bollywood superstar Salman Khan rarely voiced his political views on Twitter, instead preferring to use the social networking site to engage with his fans or promote his upcoming releases. Known as the industry's enfant terrible, Khan had been embroiled in multiple controversies, including his tumultuous relationship with actress Aishwarya Rai, illegal hunting of endangered animals, and his infamous 2002 drunk driving case where the inebriated actor drove his car into a bakery, killing one person and injuring four others who were sleeping on the pavement. He was subsequently charged with culpable homicide; he had claimed that his driver was behind the wheel, but this was later proven untrue. While he was out on bail after his May 2015 conviction in the drunk driving case, Khan kept a low profile despite the huge success of his 2015 film release, Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Then, in an unprecedented move, late Saturday night on July 25 to early Sunday morning on July 26 he took to Twitter to oppose the death sentence of Yakub Memon, a convicted collaborator in the 1993 Mumbai terrorist attacks, who was scheduled to be hanged on July 30.

[5.2] Yakub Memon, the brother of the bomb blasts' mastermind Tiger Memon, was arrested in 1994 and accused of providing financial and logistical support for the bombings, though he consistently claimed innocence. After a protracted legal battle, Yakub Memon was found guilty of the terrorism charges and sentenced to death. His conviction evoked mixed reactions, with many journalists, human rights activists, and even a former supreme court judge arguing that he was being made a convenient scapegoat for his brother's crimes (Bose 2015). The series of now-deleted tweets from Salman Khan (@BeingSalmanKhan) seemed to echo many of these dissenting voices (The Quint Staff 2015a). Labeling Tiger Memon a "lomdi" (fox) and "billi" (cat), he even asked Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to inform the Indian authorities of Tiger's whereabouts in case he was in Pakistan.

[5.3] Brother is being hanged for tiger, Aarrre Whr is tiger? (July 25, 2015)

Phasisi k phande pe chardne walla hai. Koi statement. Koi address. Kuch toh bolo k tum teh. Wah bhai ho toh aisa. Matlab. Ya khoob menan. [He is going to be hanged. Some statement. Some address. Say something that you were the one. Wow! One should have a brother like you. Wow, Memon!] (July 25, 2015)

1 innocent man killed is killing the humanity (July 25, 2015)

Get tiger hang him. Parade him not his brother (July 25, 2015)

Kidhar chupa hai tiger? Hey koi tiger nahi hai hai hai billi aur hum ek billi ko nahi pakad sakteh [Where is Tiger hiding? He is not a tiger, he is a cat and we can't even catch a cat] (July 25, 2015)

Sharif Saab ek darkhaust hai k agar yeh aap k mulkh mein hai toh plz iktila kar deejiyeh. [Sharif Sir, I have a request that if Tiger is in your country, please inform us.] (July 25, 2015)

been wanting to tweet Tis fr 3 days n was afraid to do so but it involves a man's n family. Don't hang brother hang the lomdi who ran away (July 25, 2015)

[5.4] There was some positive feedback, with many online users applauding Khan for his honesty and support of Yakub Memon, such as journalist Shivom Oza (@shivom_oza): "Tremendous respect for Salman for speaking out in support of Yakub Memon. The man does not deserve to be hanged. And yes—TIGER mat kaho" (July 25, 2015, 6:49 p.m.); and news anchor Manak Gupta (@manakgupta): "Hats off to @BeingSalmanKhan for openly challenging underworld Don Ibrahim and Tiger Memon. Has any other star ever had guts to do so" (July 26, 2015, 1:27 a.m.). However, the overwhelming response was criticism, anger, and ridicule.

[5.5] (@RakehSinha01) Now Salman Khan is Super Supreme Court … his judgement is beyond the wisdom of all courts in India, he himself is a privileged accused!! (July 26, 2015, 2:01 a.m.)

[5.6] (@SidExiled) @rahulroushan @BBCHindi instead of tiger &yakub why not their drivers should be hanged..? (July 26, 2015, 12:02 a.m.)

[5.7] (@afoodnazi) Salman khan is drunk. (July 26, 2015, 8:12 a.m.) Oh wait, Salman khan is not drunk, his driver is. (July 26, 2015, 8:13 a.m.)

[5.8] (@doctoratlarge) If Salman Khan is feeling so sorry for Yakub Memon, why doesn't he give some of his collection from Bajrangi Bhaijaan to his family? (July 26, 2015, 12:38 a.m.)

[5.9] (@sachinbahad) Salman who himself made mockery of India's justice system, now has empathy for Yakub as well. Surprised? I'm not. (July 26, 2015, now deleted)

[5.10] (@AnujazzZ) Freedom of speech aside, .@BeingSalmanKhan should stick to drunk texting exes at 2 am instead of tweeting abt national matters #SalmanKhan (July 26, 2015, 4:21 a.m.)

[5.11] (@Yaaaaaayme) Salman Khan's story teaches two things that one should not touch after getting drunk. 1. Car key 2. Mobile phone #Salmanwithterrorist (July 26, 2015, 9:27 a.m.)

[5.12] As online users commented on the irony of the situation—Khan defending Memon's innocence when he himself had been found guilty—the actor was denounced for his antinational tweets. Kirit Somaiya (@KiritSomaiya), a BJP member of parliament from Mumbai, tweeted a demand that Khan apologize to the nation: "#SalmanKhan feels Court Guilty &#YakubMemon Nirdosh [innocent]? Salman ko terrorist Yakub ki chnta hai kintu lakho atank pidito ki shthiti ka kya!!! [Salman is worried about terrorist Yakub, but what about the state of the lakhs of terror victims!!!]" (July 26, 2015, 12:21 a.m.); "I will raise #SalmanKhan Twit issue in #Loksabha #Parliament-Salman Khan ne Desh ki Mafi magni chahiye [Salman should apologize to the country]" (July 26, 2015, 1:40 p.m.). Ashish Shelar (@ShelarAshish), Mumbai BJP president, even met the Maharashtra governor and submitted a letter requesting the cancellation of the actor's bail (Twitter, July 26, 2015, 5:30 a.m.); "Salman Khan is a convict. He wants no punishment to convicted Yaqoob. Salman Khan has no respect for Honble SC &law. Bail shud b cancelled" (July 26, 2015, 5:05 a.m.). According to Uttar Pradesh BJP President Laxmikant Bajpai, Salman Khan's remarks were tantamount to "abetting terror" and "rubbing salt" on the wounds of those who had lost family members in the 1993 Mumbai blasts (Press Trust of India 2015). BJP politician Yogi Adityanath issued a statement accusing Khan of promoting terrorism: "A person who himself has been sentenced by a court and is out on interim bail opposes the hanging of a person responsible for a terror incident that claimed the lives of innocent people. This is promotion of terrorism" (Express News Service 2015). Ujjwal Nikam, the special public prosecutor for the Mumbai blasts case, who had insisted on death penalty for Memon, described the actor's statements as "objectionable" and "uncalled for" (Deshpande 2015). Accusing him of "trying to undermine the image of the Judiciary," Nikam demanded that Khan withdraw his tweets promptly.

[5.13] As incensed protestors burned Salman Khan in effigy and threatened to disrupt the screenings of Bajrangi Bhaijaan, the threats prompted the Mumbai police to deploy security outside the actor's house. After his own father, scriptwriter Salim Khan, had voiced disapproval—"Whatever Salman has written is ridiculous and meaningless. Salman is ignorant of the issue and people should not take him seriously" (Deshpande 2015)—the actor apologized and retracted his tweets. Seemingly contrite, he repeatedly emphasized that his tweets were not "anti-religious," and that he respected all faiths and had "complete faith" in the judiciary (The Quint Staff 2015b).

[5.14] My dad called &said I should retract my tweets as they have the potential to create misunderstanding. I here by retract them. (July 26, 2015, 7:33 a.m.)

I would like to unconditionally apologise for any misunderstanding I may have created unintentionally. (July 26, 2015, 7:33 a.m.)

I had tweeted that Tiger Memon should hang for his crimes and I stand by it. What i also said is that Yakub Memon should not hang for him. (July 26, 2015, 7:32 a.m.)

I have not said or implied that Yakub Memon is innocent. I have complete faith in the judicial system of our country. (July 26, 2015, 7:32 a.m.)

[5.15] As the controversy over Salman Khan's tweets demonstrates, a Bollywood star cannot afford to voice political views, particularly if they counter the majority stance. In Khan's case, his religious identity (Muslim) marked him as doubly vulnerable, bringing into question his patriotism and loyalty to the Indian nation-state. Though he is known for celebrating the Hindu festival Ganesh Chaturthi, thus attesting his subscription to the majoritarian (Hindu) values and ethos, Salman Khan's minority status, similar to fellow Muslim superstars like Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan, also underlines the problematic discourses of citizenship and belonging for Indian Muslims.

[5.16] With divisive right-wing ideology often demarcating them as the perpetual outsider, reiterating the familiar rhetoric of the (unpatriotic) Indian Muslim's allegiance to neighboring Pakistan, Muslim celebrities and actors voicing their political opinions has become untenable. Any attempt at being politically vocal or critical is invariably met with accusations of being a traitor and demands by online trolls to go to Pakistan, their rightful home (India Today Web Desk 2018). Thus, Muslim Bollywood stars, despite their popularity, mass appeal, and celebrity stature, occupy a position of vulnerability that is further exacerbated by the inherent vitriol of online trolling. Moreover, Bollywood stars are not expected to hold any political views, let alone express them on social media. As Journalist Suresh Mathew (2015) argued, "The reason for the uproar is the simple fact that Salman Khan is a Bollywood actor, and for our 'politically aware' masses—an actor is just that—an actor, who is paid to perform and entertain…No matter how popular they are, we hate it if they have an opinion, more so if it's political. Actors who are in the prime of their careers are supposed to be apolitical beings."

[5.17] With the popular expectation that neither Bollywood films nor their stars are explicitly political, any attempts to engage with such issues on social media are often met with disapproval and criticism. However, social media presence has become a requisite part of contemporary Bollywood stardom, so the line between the public and the political is being increasingly eroded.

6. Conclusion

[6.1] On February 19, 2019, the online portal Cobrapost issued a press release detailing the explosive findings of its latest sting operation, Operation Karaoke. Known for its investigative reporting and exposes, the nonprofit journalism website listed more than thirty Bollywood celebrities who had agreed to support political parties on social media in exchange for money.

[6.2] Posing as representatives of a fictitious public relations company, Cobrapost reporters had contacted actors, singers, choreographers, and television stars to negotiate deals and facilitate a positive image for certain political outfits ahead of the upcoming general elections in May 2019. Although most of the celebrities they contacted were lesser-known entities, the list did include some notable names such as Jackie Shroff, Vivek Oberoi, and Sonu Sood. Apart from a few exceptions such as Vidya Balan, Arshad Warsi, Raza Murad, and Saumya Tandon who refused outright, most of the celebrities readily agreed to post political content disguised as personal views on their social media accounts.

[6.3] Addressing a press conference, Cobrapost editor-in-chief Aniruddha Bahl disclosed how the stars agreed to "defend the government even on controversial issues such as rape and fatal accidents such as bridge collapses. They were even willing to sign a dummy contract for endorsement of products to disguise the real nature of the proxy political campaigning that they were willing to do" (Outlook Web Bureau 2019). As the stars brazenly discussed their endorsement fees for sharing their political views on social media, some even posted tweets to show their enthusiasm and willingness.

[6.4] Nick Muntean and Anne Helen Peterson (2009) have pointed out how "with so many mediated voices attempting to 'speak' the meaning of the star, the Twitter account emerges as the privileged channel to the star him/herself." It is evident that the Bollywood star is aware of both the crucial significance and the power of social media. Actor Vivek Oberoi, responding to the Cobrapost reporters' suggestions, boasted of the "ripple effect" his message would create because of his large fan following on social media—"Saare platform milaakar apne kareeb 25–30 lakh direct followers hain aur unka jo retweet aur ripple effect aata hai wo kareeban do-dhai karod ke kareeban aata hai. Ten times aata hai…toh hum kar sakte hain…iski frequency kya hogi?" [I have 25–30 lakh direct followers in all platforms and their retweets make a ripple effect that goes to about 2–2.50 crore. About 10 times…so I can do that…what is its frequency?] (Bhatnagar 2019). Oberoi further reassured, "Aisa lagna nahi chahiye ki humein bola gaya hai likhne ke liye…lagna aisa chahiye ki hum khud hee likh rahe hain…lagna aisa chahiye ki hum genuinely bol rahe hain" [It should not look like that I have been asked to write that… ather, it should look like that I am writing it on my own…it should look like I am writing it genuinely].

[6.5] As questions are raised over the authenticity of the Bollywood stars' social media avatars, and consequently the opinions and views shared on these sites, it further complicates the issue. Social media has become an integral aspect of contemporary Bollywood stardom, often playing a crucial role in the dissemination of a star's image and consequently facilitating the transmedia character of his or her celebrity stature. With stars actively engaging with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the earlier distance between the star and the fan has consequently blurred, engendering new modes of engagement. Although historically star–fan dynamics in Hindi cinema were characterized by veneration and adoration, in recent years increasing emphasis has been placed on familiarity and accessibility—a shift that has invariably encouraged a more insolent and irreverent fan, the troll.

[6.6] As discourses of Hindi film stardom are reconfigured, with the contemporary Bollywood star functioning more as a transmedia celebrity who straddles the varied platforms of film, television, and new media, predominant notions of Hindi film fandom have also been significantly altered. As the stars become more accessible and familiar, particularly on social media platforms, fans no longer comprise merely the rasika and the rowdy but also the troll. Emboldened by the anonymity provided by the social media sites, the troll feels empowered to chastise and ridicule the star for any perceived transgressions in the virtual realm. Thus, in the context of the increasing politicization of the Indian online space, and particularly the emergence of right-wing politics, it becomes necessary to revisit discourses of popular film fandom culture and examine the phenomenon of the fan-as-troll.

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