Tweeting for grrl powerhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/tweeting-for-grrl-power/

Tweeting for grrl power

How an actress used social media to get her way and upset power-relations in the business?

Lest anybody underestimate the power of Twitter and Facebook in Internet-scarce India,Kannada filmdom’s reigning diva,Ramya,aka Divya Spandana,has demonstrated that social networking can no longer be dismissed with a flick of the wrist.

The gutsy and outspoken Ramya,a talented actor of several hit Sandalwood films such as Mussanje Mathu (Twilight Talk) and Abhi,showed that girl power is a growing force in India’s fast-expanding social web.

By using Facebook and Twitter,Ramya took on the stodgy,male-dominated Kannada film industry and triumphed. At the end of it she acknowledged the engaging power of the social web by tweeting a thank you to Facebook,its founder,Mark Zuckerberg,and to Twitter.

Despite Indians’ spare Internet usage,social networks like Facebook and Twitter are booming at unprecedented rates. Their usefulness however is still in question. Facebook is still largely an online hangout for the young,and Twitter — with the exception of rare Lalit Modi-Shashi Tharoor tweet-spat which cost them both their jobs — is a forum where celebrities boast about their latest bungee-jumping holiday or send out yet another congratulatory message to the Indian cricket team on the World Cup win. Of course,celebrity tweets are giving gossip columnists a run for their money by fast upstaging the “exclusive” press interview.

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Certainly,Twitter and Facebook are making the process of information-sharing democratic and egalitarian,with no intermediaries. As somebody said,it is one central location and entry is free. The Ramya episode started a few weeks ago when A. Ganesh,producer of the actor’s yet-to-be-released Kannada film Dandam Dashagunam branded the actor unprofessional. At the movie’s music launch,Ganesh dismissively explained her absence to the media saying she had gone furniture shopping for her new home.

The spunky Ramya chose not to remain silent or keep it private. She captured the attention of her fans by flinging in the open a financial feud she had been having with the producer. She tweeted that Ganesh had borrowed Rs 10 lakh from her during the making of the movie and had not repaid it despite several complaints to the Karnataka Film Chamber. She tweeted asking to know why the chamber was silent and accused Ganesh of creating drama to drum up publicity for the upcoming film.

Ganesh and others,including long-time producer Rajendra Singh Babu,responded calling Ramya temperamental and unprofessional. She further tweeted asking if Singh Babu’s latest film was stuck as he had misappropriated funds loaned by the IDBI Bank for its making.

Ramya said she was fed up by the treatment given to women and was quitting the Kannada film industry. “I don’t wish to work anymore cos I have no strength left in me to fight. My life span only got shorter. I am taking voluntary retirement from this industry. I will start afresh,and look ahead. A new life beckons :0),” she said in her tweets.

Ramya is hardly a Twitter veteran and her following is yet to touch six figures. But this “outsider”,both in the male-dominated Kannada film industry and the techie-ruled Twitter,demonstrated that the social web could be a disruptive force.

Ramya’s outpouring of woe,140 characters at a time,travelled at the speed of light. As her tweets gathered momentum,the feud escaped the tweetosphere and became the talk of Sandalwood’s gossip networks and newspaper columns. Livid at her tweets,the Karnataka Film Chamber,a hoary,clubby group — where wives of producers and actors represent the meagre female presence — said they were banning the actor for a year. No producer would work with her,they declared.

Not to be cowed,Ramya tweeted that there was no sense in banning somebody who had already renounced her career. And,she tweeted cheekily,she had received five new film offers within hours of the ban. Ramya’s micro-blog escapade threatened to blow up into a full-fledged war between Sandalwood’s actors’ lobby and its producers’ group. Sensing the embarassment,veteran actor Ambarish stepped in to mediate.

The ban against Ramya is revoked,Ganesh has promised to repay her money and all is well,at least on the surface between Ramya,the Film Chamber and the producers.

The use of Twitter is still evolving in India and its user base is yet to cross a million. That is minuscule compared with the 200 million users the micro-blogging site has amassed worldwide,sending its valuation soaring up to several billion. It may not be a revolution of the critical kind that social networks triggered off in Egypt or Iran. Yet in its own way,Ramya’s escapade has illustrated that Twitter and Facebook are not just a measure of popularity,a Fame Count as some brand it. When used right,the social web’s power to mobilise fans and conduct campaigns is undeniable.

saritha.rai@expressindia.com