In the wee hours of the morning, when all is quiet, Chennai’s Rohini Silverscreen theatre tells a different story. Neon LED lights shine brightly and hundreds of people throng the premises waving their phones in the air as though they are taking part in a live concert. As the DJ loudly plays the Mankatha theme song, several fans break into dance and light fireworks as a large crowd watches on.
Unofficially known as Rohini fans fort, the theatre sees a sea of fans wearing face masks of actor Ajith Kumar as they celebrate their star.
In Kasi theatre, the actor’s ardent followers arrive at 3 am to not only catch the first show of the day but also partake in the festivities. With every inch of the theatre wall covered in banners and posters of the actor, it is not long before they throw flowers and open packets of milk to pour over them as a sign of worship. The revelry continues well after dawn with fans bringing out their drums to commemorate the occasion. Soon, other bystanders break into an impromptu jig to complement the beats.
Fan rituals for the first day first show are not new to Indian cinema but this time around, Valimai is different for fans of Ajith Kumar.
Having waited for almost three years or 900 days (as most of Twitter puts it) for a release, the movie sees his fans go all out.
Since fans and fan clubs across the country began to prepare for the film in January, they have remained unfazed by its postponement. Initially, the film was expected to hit the screens for Pongal in January but due to the third wave, it was pushed to February 24. Devoted fans have been springing into action over the last month to ensure that their lofty plans are carried out as per schedule. Everything comes together as the lights go out and the first day’s first show begins.
Manoj Kumar, who is a member of Thalainagaram Ajith Fans Chennai, has coordinated the celebrations at Rohini Silverscreens and Rakki Cinemas this year. According to him, the organisation and execution of the event required him to dedicate a whole week prior to the film’s release. “There were cut-outs and banner work to do and that takes about 10 days. We also needed police permission to host the event. So, that took time,” he says. As an avid Ajith fan, Manoj has been coordinating the pre-release events for some time now. “With every release of Ajith sir, we try to do something unique. For Nerkonda Paarvai, we had a DJ event and for Viswasam, we put up an LED screen and conducted a trailer celebration event,” he says.
For these fans, another perk of attending a first day first show is the chance of seeing the film’s actors. This time, Valimai’s producer Boney Kapoor, actors Huma Qureshi and Karthikeya were spotted at the theatre to watch the movie. Despite being an unofficial fan club, members not only interact with celebrities but also help theatre owners ensure that they watch the film without being mobbed by the crowd. Even for Ajith’s earlier film Viswasam, the members helped the staff coordinate the screening for director Siva.
Despite these efforts, it is unlikely for the first day of a big-budget film like Valimai to pass without incident.
During the screening, Boney Kapoor’s car was anointed with curd instead of milk, and videos of fans lunging towards him as he made his way from the bathroom surfaced on the internet. Prior to the film’s release, Kapoor was also incessantly requested to give an update on the film on forums like Twitter. In another incident, two men hurled a petrol bomb just minutes before Valimai‘s first show at Coimbatore’s Ganga Yamuna Kaveri theatre.
However, for the fan club heads, it is all about getting that one glimpse of Ajith on screen.
The online community is also not far behind in its contribution towards such intense fandom.
Fan page AK Fans Community hosted a pre-release Valimai party on Clubhouse on February 19. The page’s administrators organised a music event for which they hired a DJ and invited the actor’s fans via social media. Despite not having an official fan club, several fan page administrators keep in touch with each other. Their partnership even leads them to be invited by offline fan bases to partake in multiple movie celebrations across the state.
Ajith’s extensive fan base is, perhaps, one of the most probable causes for the hype surrounding Valimai. From trending #ValimaiUpdate on Twitter to even approaching political leaders and cricketers to enquire about the film, his fans never let up. Karthik, one of the administrators of the AK Fans Community page says, “This combination between H Vinoth and Ajith caused it to raise expectations. And with the pandemic, there were no updates… fans just wanted some stills. Usually a still of Ajith sir will get leaked but this time, the production team ensured that no such thing happens.”
Despite not getting updates on promotions beforehand unlike other actors’ fan clubs, Ajith’s fan pages are quick to coordinate with each other to ensure that his film trends on social media. As a movie’s release date inches closer, they start to do countdown trends and create video edits based on the songs and teasers. Anandhu Anand, who runs the page Ajith Fans Kerala says, “We all contribute to it. If there’s a song release or title release, we create a hashtag, then the fans share it. Ajith is popular, so whenever we create a hashtag, it trends organically.”
Ardent fans are sure to watch the film on the first day but such hashtags help spread the word about the film and keep it consistently relevant.
For fans of Ajith Kumar, things are usually quieter when there is no release. It is only around the time of a film release that their schedule begins to get hectic. And now that Valimai has finally hit the screen, the content on their fan pages will also witness a hiatus. They will revert to occasionally posting rare photos of the actor. “We remain in touch with other fan pages. Apart from a film’s release, the other main celebrations are for his birthday and the day he started acting. We call that ‘Ajithism’ day. These are the other days when we create trending hashtags,” says AK Fans Community’s Karthik.
Their reasons for all this are simple- they do it for their favourite actor. Despite the setbacks and lack of an official body to streamline processes, these fans are more than willing to dedicate their time to organise and engage in these celebrations only because of their reverence for Ajith. The paal abishekams, banners, fan posters, and countless hours of social media trends online are just a way of tipping their hat towards their favourite star.
“We are all big fans of him, not just for his films but also for his personality…We just want to see him on the big screen,” says Anandhu of Ajith Fans Kerala.