Demystifying the FAN Universe

Unlike our parents, we are people of the Digital Age. Our choices, our perspectives, our acceptance and rejections are majorly a result of our processing of the various platforms that we use to interact. Right from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp and of course the tons of blogs and advertorials that influence us cannot be forgotten. When it comes to films, like I mentioned in my previous blog (Tanu Weds Manu Is Overhyped Cinema), digital opinions have a major impact on our thinking and perception. While it can help us discover newer horizons and help us connect with our own likes and preferences, they can also have a reverse impact.

Courtesy: YRF

Talking of interest groups, I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with the founder of the biggest Indian Celebrity Fan Club on Twitter and other social media platforms- @SRKUniverse. From coming up with interesting concepts like Fandom Awards, Cartoon illustrations to ensuring a worldwide  (digital) buzz when SRK comes up with something new- be it films, songs or mere philosophies.

SRK Universe has about 30 branches worldwide, with a cumulative strength of over 2 million Twitter fans.

Here’s the story behind the rise and rise of @SRKUniverse!

Any interesting incidences in your life relevant to cinema and how you became a fan of Indian cinema? Please do elaborate a little on your background as well.

My full name is Mohamed Ashraf and I am the company HR manager of a group of companies based in Maldives. I was born into a very poor family of fishermen in a village island of Maldives and now I currently reside in the capital city of Maldives – Male. I live with my beautiful wife and my son – Maishaan.

Since I’ve had to struggle so much to get to where I am right now, the only relief that I used to go when I worked in resorts was when I got to watch Shah Rukh’s films and when I read about his life, he inspired me a lot. The movie that made me his fan has to be Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, though. It’s story of respecting and love between parents and children, resonated across my being.

I have learnt the art of working hard and managing time, and I have become successful because of him. Even till 3 years back, there were no cinema halls in Maldives so I used to fly to India or Sri Lanka just to watch his movies.

How was SRK Universe born? Share the details including branches.

I started using Twitter in 2010, where I met a few SRK fans, but they did not seem active or united enough to succeed with SRK Film promotional activities, either on Twitter or on the ground. I did see many negative activities for MNIK, and I realized then that the time had come to bring all of the SRK fans under one roof and create some effective promotions for his films through a Fan Club.

My idea was to make a global SHAH RUKH KHAN fan club, but unfortunately it could not start from India because I don’t live in India and I am not Indian.  So the challenge was to find a few people from India to partner with me, and I began checking the Twitter handles of fans and researching them to find the right people.

Three years ago, after the pre-release of Chennai Express, I saw many active fans on Twitter and discovered that someone called @HipsterSRKFan was holding promotional activities for the film from his personal handle.  Hipster was a very well-known SRK fan on Twitter, and I immediately realized that he was the kind of person I was looking for to start this mega-project. I had also shortlisted and interviewed a few other candidates, but @HipsterSRKFan was very talented, so I finally selected him.  I explained the project to him and was surprised to learn that he had also been looking for someone to help start such a project for SRK fans! We were obviously destined to meet.

Hipster then recommended @angrySRKFan to me, and the three of us started planning.  We decided to use an existing Twitter account, because if we started from zero, it would take time to grow, so we wrote to Bollywood accounts and asked if they were interested in selling their account. We did not receive a favorable reply, and in fact, one account exposed us by tweeting Screen shot of our our mail.  This trouble actually made us stronger.  At that time, there were four or five smaller active SRK fan clubs, and when I approached them with this mega-project, all of them refused to give us their handle except one person @Chandmouliman, who finally agreed.  We changed his FC name to SRK Universe.

We suffered no more setbacks from then on, and we started building the world’s biggest fan club for SRK.  The response from fans was huge; everyone loved the idea.

How do you run such a big fan club? (How do you branch out teams in different countries? What’s the selection procedure of members? How does the coordination procedure work?)

We do things differently and professionally. Our motto is: “From fans for fans by fans”. We try to involve them as much as possible in everything we do, and we also try hard to make their dream of meeting SRK come true by providing them with return tickets and accommodations in other countries when SRK performs or shoots there. We always take risks, but it is worth it. Some of these lucky fans are able to meet SRK and some of them cannot; it depends on luck, because we don’t have any contacts and we don’t ask anyone for help. But we and our SRK fans are happy in any case, because we know how busy our idol is.

We have 30 officially approved branches in the world and we have a presence in all of continents in the world.

We have a whatsapp group of all the branch heads who coordinate with each other for various posts on twitter, facebook, viber and Instagram. We have also recently opened our official Youtube account.

We have set of guidelines that we follow.

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How do you keep the account active and fresh with a variety of content? 

We just like to innovate and try out new things which keeps SRK and his fans fresh and makes their social media experience with us a happy one. We hold weekly contests on our twitter, facebook and instagram accounts which are both fun and also bring out the passionate fan in all of us. We also do weekly chat sessions to make sure we hear the suggestions of all these ever loving fans to know what they want from us.

What are the kinds of costs you incur?

 The Fan Club was started with my hard earned money from 14 years of savings as I felt the urge from within to do something for a long held passion of mine.

  • We acquired the Twitter and Facebook IDs. I have spent a lot of money on digital advertising to increase viewership. To go from 0 to 1.7 million likes on Facebook was our biggest achievement.

Like I earlier mentioned, I often send people across the world to meet SRK at possible events. All the expenses are on me.

  • Last year on Shah’s birthday, the SRKUniverse team stood outside Mannat with customized T-shirts to wish him, the next day I sponsored tickets for them to watch Happy New Year at a theatre and they went back for the grand fan celebrations at Mannat. The team was fortunate to present him a customized SRKUniverse T-shirt, which he also happened to wear. Later in the night, 5 members got to meet him yet again, personally in Mannat.We did something similar for the celebrations of #1000WeeksOfDDLJ at Maratha Mandir.
  • I’ve spent a considerable amount of money on developing the website and creating what many consider the best Fan Club website in the world of any star – www.srkuniverse.com. It is something that I’m very proud of, and I am glad to say that we run this without any ads or anything. We also have a well-crafted Android app, available on Playstore.
  • I shell out $50 daily on special animes version of SRK’s photographs and film posters, created by Chinese artists. SRK himself has mentioned that he loves these animes a lot so that’s my motivation.I have spent about $300,000 on this complete project and even though I spent the savings of my entire life on this, I don’t regret it.

6. What benefits do you enjoy of running a fan club? Do you get support from the celeb’s team?

Getting a follow by SRK was the ultimate stamp of approval for me and for the whole team. It meant that the work we have done has been appreciated by him and his team. I am not sure if he knows the full extent of our operations and the crazy workforce we have built just to serve him, but I am sure his

team knows about it as we have been in contact with them for a lot of work related activities.

He has retweeted and thanked us a lot of times for the work we’ve done and his words will always make me love him even more.

 

Here’s a video a team member of ours recorded of him with his greetings for us –

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gg7jRk0I2xQ

  1. Do you own fan clubs of any other stars?

No, we love Shah Rukh Khan too much to even think about opening a Fan Club for any other stars. But yes, if any existing Fan Club of any star wants to get under the Universe brand then we will certainly vet them and if they fulfill the requirements, we can bring them under the ‘UNIVERSE’ family.

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  1. Tips to people who intend to start a fan club?

Just three tips:

  1. Love your idol passionately, unconditionally and never expect anything in return for all the dedicated work you will be doing. If you do good work, you will be noticed for sure.
  2. Spread your idol’s philosophies, don’t malign other actors and never indulge in abusive or showmanship posts.
  3. And be authentic. Don’t be a part of the hearsay and spread false and sometimes harmful rumours to other fans. It never helps!

What’s your way forward with the fan club? Do you have any other extensions offline?

Our future plan is to make SRKUniverse, the biggest professional run Fan Club in the whole world. And this will enable us to promote SRK, his life and his movies in places that have not been touched by Bollywood.

We also plan to hold the SRK Fandom Awards in a real stage soon by inviting fans from across the world to Mumbai. Making it a real event where we hand out the awards personally to all winners will require a lot of effort and we are ready for it.

We also hope to make as many fans’ dream come true by giving them the chance to meet SRK whenever we get those chances by his team.

If Shah Rukh Khan were to grant any one wish of yours, that would be…

To come to Maldives and just stay here in one of our world class resorts and experience the beauty of Maldives. It will be a dream come true indeed for me, if SRK were to land in my native country.

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