About two weeks ago, those who followed popular Chennai-based Radio Jockey and singer Suchitra Karthik on Twitter were surprised to see a sudden reverence for the actor Dhanush on her timeline. "Dhanush is a god!!!," exclaimed one February 20 tweet, far removed from Suchitra's usual style, which led to people speculating that perhaps a friend - or even Dhanush himself - had gotten hold of Suchitra's phone and was sending out casually embarrassing tweets. All in good fun, it seemed.
Not quite, alas. Soon the 34-year-old singer was, via Twitter, alleging that her account had been hacked, and that Dhanush's assistants had "manhandled" her - a claim that hasn't been elaborated on by Suchitra or by Dhanush - along with photographs of her bruised arm.
This was only the beginning of the confounding saga that has been labelled #Suchileaks. It hit a sordid peak on Saturday when a series of tweets
from Suchitra accused Dhanush - the National Award-winning actor who is also Rajinikanth's son-in-law - of having drugged and molested her.
Over the last week, Suchitra - or at least her Twitter account @SuchitraKarthik (with over 5,00,000 followers) - claimed to expose a casting couch nexus and the way Tamil film producers prey on young actresses. This was followed by a slew of pictures and emails, most of which were already in the public domain, and the rest barely noteworthy. Still, feathers had been ruffled, and soon, Karthik Kumar, her estranged husband, stepped in and made a heartfelt plea for sensitivity since, he explained, the singer is suffering from mental health problems and her tweets should not be taken personally.
Then came the nudes. On Saturday, explicit photographs and video clips spilled out of Suchitra's (now-defunct) Twitter account, claiming that these were pictures of Dhanush and his friends, music composer Anirudh Ravichander, the actresses Andrea Jeremiah and Trisha Krishnan, and a few newcomers. The first few pictures, the ones which look real and feature recognizable faces, are mostly pictures of people partying - nothing explicit, nothing shocking. But the allegations created a sinister context. "See what your heroes are doing," shouted these posts, alongside those of nudes that could belong to absolutely anybody. Immediately, #Suchileaks began trending worldwide. At the time of writing this column, hundreds of fake Suchitra Twitter accounts are out there, abusing the hashtag to send out blurry porn clips and claiming they feature a certain actor or actress. There may or may not be fire, but the smoke is blinding.
The situation with Suchitra herself is troubling. She has since spoken to Sun TV and said her account had been hacked, and she has deactivated it following her lawyer's advice - a statement which is at odds with the story told by her family about her mental condition. New reports
suggest she might be flown to London for further treatment. Either way, be these inane tweets the result of a vicious hack or health-related stress, the singer seems - to me - to be a victim here. The nudes will be shrugged off as doctored, while Suchitra is likely to be stigmatized more harshly by an industry that dislikes secrets made public.
The idea of a woman in the Tamil film industry being pushed past breaking point, and therefore suddenly playing whistleblower, is a compelling one. Everyone believes showbiz is murky, and any scandalous revelations would naturally be lapped up by an eager public. Suchitra's tweets, however, don't seem revelatory enough to match up to the promised exposé. There is much white-hot anger and linguistic incoherence, completely uncharacteristic given her tweets in the past, and while some tweets do indeed level serious charges of the singer being drugged and physically molested by Dhanush and Anirudh, her current insistence that these odd, angry tweets were the result of a hack appears believable.
Dhanush has maintained complete silence so far, while his sister Vimala Geeta, in a Facebook post
, has called the allegations an act of "character assassination" and "revenge." The ever-controversial director Ram Gopal Varma jumped in with a tweet a few days ago
- "Just spoke to Dhanush regarding #Suchileaks. He laughed like Rajinikanth and said it's just a publicity stunt" - that has since been deleted, but the idea of anyone laughing this off sounds disheartening in itself.
Right now, the videos and tweets you will find spread by various fake accounts claiming to belong to the real Suchitra are sickening. These are tawdry, nasty videos bent on shaming actors and actresses, sent out by toxic "fans" out to humiliate the rivals of actors they like.
This has most predominantly been seen by fans of actors like Ajith and Vijay, who hate each other with a passion that would make Arvind Kejriwal and Amit Shah appear chummy in comparison. "What can we say about the mental health and general lack of employment of star fans who create hashtags like #CASTRATEDCOWARDVIJAY and #LowLifeAjithDisgraceToCinema," says filmmaker and critic Sudhish Kamath. "The unhealthy obsession with stars makes these frustrated fans get their thrills by nationally trending hate hashtags against the rival, much to the embarrassment of all of Tamil Nadu."
Clearly this culture of constant and relentless one-upmanship between factions has been building, and its toxicity is now unbearable.
Based on a few conversations with industry insiders from Chennai, the general consensus is that groups of fans - those positioned against Dhanush and his clique - got together to orchestrate this huge and horrible hack. If true, this is a crushing thought, and a sobering reminder of how passionately and strongly hate-speech spreads across our social networks today.
Even if untrue, just look to the videos being uploaded to that unfortunate hashtag right now. (On second thought, don't look at them). So-called fans are putting up naked pictures of women, pointing to their birthmarks and claiming that they are popular actresses. These fake accounts are gathering up 50,000-1,50,000 followers merely by posting smut in the name of celebrity, and even with nothing to be seen, there is far too much finger-pointing. Gluttonous for scandal, the public is feasting on this nonsense simply because it sounds believable - simply because they are believing what they want to believe.
The truth is that even if the nastiest rumours perpetuated by these hyenas online was true, every single one of them, what it would prove would still be less dirty than what these hackers, voyeurs and abusers are doing right now. These are not fans, they are vultures.(Raja Sen is a film critic, columnist and screenwriter. He is currently working on a children's book.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.