India's Bollywood embraces Twitter

As a large number of their fans go online, Indian film stars are not far behind

Indian film stars are making a beeline for Twitter, updating fans on what they are doing, exchanging pleasantries, promoting their movies, and at times even settling scores with one another.

Some of these film stars may not be well known outside India, but they have a huge number of fans among India's 1.2 billion people.

Aamir Khan, an Indian actor who signed up to Twitter on June 30, saw the number of his followers soar to 107,266 by Wednesday. Khan says he was persuaded to join by another actor, Amitabh Bachchan, who welcomed Khan to Twitter with the words: "Now handle it brother ! There will be madness."

Bachchan, a veteran film star in his 60s, also runs a blog which is updated regularly.

Twitter has also witnessed serious if at times stormy debates among Bollywood celebrities on a variety of issues, including proposed amendments to the country's copyright laws. Bollywood is the name generally used to refer to India's booming Hindi film industry.

Bollywood actors have proven to be Internet savvy, using a combination of Twitter, personal blogs, and social networks like Facebook. As a large number of Indians looked for information and entertainment online, it was to be expected that actors and others in the film industry would move online too, analysts said.

About 52 million urban Indians were active Internet users in September last year, according to a report released jointly by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), and research firm IMRB International. Active users are those who have used the Internet at least once a month.

The move online by Indian film stars may also have been driven by the large number of fans of these actors who have migrated from India, and are looking for information on their favorite Indian actors and their movies. Some of the actors have a large number of followers who appear to be persons of Indian origin residing abroad.

Bollywood's relationship with Twitter has however not always been happy. Sonu Niigaam, a singer, said in a post this month that he was quitting Twitter. He described Twitter as a deadly tool for the blunt and forthright, and said that he wanted to be happy in his own world.

Twitter has already attracted some businessmen and politicians from the region, including a former Indian minister of state for external affairs, Shashi Tharoor, and Rehman Malik, Pakistan's interior minister. Tharoor, one of a small group of Indian politicians who use the Internet extensively, had 813,226 followers on Twitter by Wednesday.

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John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
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