Strong parasocial ties leave fans shattered after death of celebs

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These demises are a personal loss to admirers

Dhruv Yadav, a man in his late twenties, did not eat for three days after his favourite actor passed away. The sudden death of Puneeth Rajkumar caused him to feel empty from within. Yadav, who never met the actor, felt as if a loved one had departed.

Asked to share his feelings with The Observer, he turned his back and tears started rolling down his cheeks. Overwhelmed with grief, he refused to talk and waved goodbye.

Mahantesh M, another die-hard fan of the actor said: “I can’t accept what has just happened. Every day I get up believing that my hero is still alive, but soon I realize he is no more. My day becomes hard to pass. Somehow, I have convinced myself I am going to miss him until I die.” Mahantesh runs a Twitter page dedicated to Puneeth.

Strong parasocial bonds in the digital age are making celebrity deaths look like personal loss, say experts.

Dr Pallavi Walia, a practising psychologist, said: “Relationship with a celebrity is like standing in front of a mirror. They often represent a part of oneself. When a celebrity dies, that part dies. Most of the time, people who are emotionally disconnected from their families, form such virtual relationships with these stars. When their favourite actor or actress passes away, their source of inspiration dies.”

Dr Nitin Mehra, another practising psychologist,  agrees with Dr Walia that radical steps like suicide are usually attempted by people who have unbalanced egos and who sometimes have underlying mental health issues.

 “Rationale is a big factor while making meaning of death. In cases of celebrity accidental deaths, meaning is hard to find, and this creates insecurity,” Mehra noted.

Dr Geetha Appachu, an experienced psychologist, said: “The purpose of social media is to provide new information. As a fan, it is very natural for one to be curious about the events that followed a celebrity death, but these days, instead of showing new information, media channels bombard us with repeated sources and with the same information that simply intensifies the pain.”

Allu Raghu, an associate Kannada actor Chiranjeevi Sarja, who died in June 2020, informed The Observer:“I think work flashback is a big reason for feeling this intense grief. A fan knows he won’t be able to see the deceased actor again on screen.”

As report published by Firstpost said seven fans committed suicide after the death of Puneeth, while three fans died of sudden cardiac arrest on hearing the news. A similar trend was observed when last year Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput died.

 “Celebrity deaths remind us of our mortality which often we fail to reflect on,” said psychiatrist, Dr Valli Kiran.

“New media have penetrated our life to the extent that we are living multiple lives. Our disconnection with real life is a real concern,” he added.

Experts have defined parasocial relationships as one between a celebrity and the audience where one is emotionally invested in the other, but the other is unaware of their existence. In a digital world, social media have strengthened these relationships by bringing fans close to celebrities.


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