Actor Vijay is one of those old-school celebrities who has kept his on- and off-screen personae distinctly separate. He makes ridiculous yet curiously engaging dialogues believable, pulls off impossible feats on-screen and has the ability to make a theatre full of adult men dance to his tunes. In this age of information overload, he doesn’t believe in sharing bits of his life on social media – the actor is extremely private about his personal life. Even at film events, it is rare to hear him dish out opinions. He reserves the punchlines for his reel avatar. But then, he doesn’t really have to do much; an army of Vijay fans online and offline, do the tom-tomming for him. They make the names of his movies trend all day through relentless tweeting, advertise every little social service the actor engages in, and take on anyone who dares to speak against their “Anna”. Some fanatics are not even apologetic about issuing rape and death threats, though the actor has not condoned such behaviour.

But, what drives fans to do so much for Vijay? On his birthday, Silverscreen talks to a young Thalapathy fan in an effort to understand the makings of a typical Vijay fan.

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Twenty-one year-old Hari Prasad is called ‘Theri Hari’ by friends. His face lights up every time Vijay’s name comes up – more than a fan, he can be called a Vijay devotee. Just like his idol, instead of a regular hello, he waves his hand.

IT employee Hari is a member of the Online Thalapthy Fan Club. On Vijay’s 44th birthday, the group is planning 44 different things. They have adopted two schools to celebrate the birthday, planted a thousand saplings, organised a blood donation camp, and come up with video mash-ups, poster designs and write-ups of the actor’s films that will find space online and off it as part of the celebrations. They have also designed special posters for Thalapathy 62, now titled Sarkar.

Asked which Vijay film made him a convert, and Hari says: “This is like asking me which rose I like in a rose garden.” Later, he says that the 2004 film Ghilli was a defining moment.

Hari finds it overwhelming to articulate his feelings for the actor and specify the reasons why he is called a Vijay fan. “There is a sense of satisfaction. My heart fills up with joy when I see him on-screen. His smile, his silence, and his humanity inspire me,” he says.

What’s interesting is Hari’s body language. Consciously or unconsciously, he imitates Vijay’s gestures and gait. He is caught off-guard when you point that out. With a little flair of drama, he says, “I have been his fan for so many years now; now, I can’t think of how to be me without thinking of him.”

While some fans refer to Vijay as Ilaya Thalapathy, many prefer using a more personal moniker, ‘Anna’ (brother). These fans believe that Vijay is their elder brother. Little doubt, for Vijay takes his superstardom seriously. He is a conscientious celebrity – be it joining the Nadigar Sangam’s silent protest demanding the formation of the Cauvery Management Board, meeting the bereaved family of Anitha, the student who committed suicide over NEET, or visiting families affected in the Thoothukudi police firing, Vijay has always stood up for the Tamizh cause. Naturally, as with any other Tamil star, speculations hover around him joining politics.

Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth are making their political entry with the enormous support of their fan associations. Will Vijay get the same help? “When a person can address so many issues and care about people despite not being a politician, imagine how much he can do if he is given the power,” is Hari’s unfiltered viewpoint.

Hari’s loyalty transcends the organised online trolling that Vijay fans are often accused of. A prominent journalist’s rather innocuous tweet criticising Vijay’s Sura led to a vitriolic attack on her, orchestrated by Vijay fans. She was abused online and issued threats – the extremely misogynistic attack continued for days. When a poster of Thalapathy 62 was recently being circulated online, his fans took umbrage, stating that actress Keerthy Suresh’s foot should not be on top of Vijay’s. It’s apparently disrespectful to the actor!

Hari remains unfazed when asked about the rabid trolling. “Being a Vijay fan, it is the right thing to do. How can one stay quiet when someone is talking rubbish about a family member? These fan reactions are justified,” he says and immediately adds, “Thalapathy had once said ‘Ignore negativity’. I do just that. Personally, I think trolling is wrong.”

What about the turf wars with Ajith Kumar’s fans? “Every year, on Ajith’s birthday, we wish him, make videos of him and also celebrate the day. Only his fans troll and talk nonsense about Vijay.”

Hari has met the actor only twice. The Online Thalapthy Fan Club had made a 30-minute telefilm titled Unn Nenjil Kudiyirukkum Rasigan and it was screened in front of Vijay. “I was surprised to see Anna that close to me. I wanted to tell him that I was born to be his fan, but before I could even complete the sentence, he hugged me. I have a photograph of it. My heart stopped beating when he hugged me. I wanted to jump with joy and scream at top of my voice. I will cherish that moment even on my deathbed,” Hari animatedly describes his first meeting with Vijay.

Last year on the actor’s birthday, Hari and members of his association visited an orphanage, provided food to the children and took them to Rohini theatre for a screening of Theri. “This year, something else is in the offing. Every year, Anna’s birthday is celebrated in a different style,” informs Vijay.

A few weeks ahead of his birthday, there were rumours that the actor would not celebrate his birthday in tribute to the lives lost in the Thoothukudi protests. But, there hasn’t been any official statement on this. The fans’ enthusiasm refuses to dim, though. Scores of other groups spread across Tamil Nadu have planned activities for the star’s birthday. The Cuddalore District Vijay Fan Club Association will help out farmers and provide clothes to agricultural students. In Chennai, the leader of the Pallavaram Youth Association Praveen Shaji says: “We have organised blood donation camps and arranged food for two orphanages.”

And, then, there’s Vijay’s online army of fans who will ensure that on his birthday, his name will trend not just nationally, but outside too.