What does that bring to mind?

“Sorry for being late, I headed over as soon as I finished my ice cream. Sooo. What’s up?”

“Oh you know, same ol’ same ol’. Except for the lying on a hospital bed part.”

“Right, right. Sooo, what are you calling it?”

“It?”

“Sorry, him. The baby.”

“Her. I haven’t thought that far yet.”

“What else were you doing the past few months?”

“Coby! It’s not like I expected her to pop out 20 weeks early.”

“Sure. Anyway, you’re in luck. I thought up a few options on my way over.”

“Are they boy names? Because a moment ago you thought she was a…”

“Listen. She popped out of you prematurely. Unexpectedly. What does that bring to mind?”

“Nothin–”

“A volcano. Exactly. Now what does that bring to mind?”

“Your mind? Or a normal one?”

“Magma. What a name!”

“Magma.”

“Little Magma! Bless her heart. You likey?”

“Bring out the birth certificate!”

“I knew it!”

“You want me to name my baby after a thing that incinerates whatever gets in its way?”

“I –”

“You know what that brings to my mind? Child protective services! To whom I’ll have to explain why I let a narcissistic, piece of scum brother, who wouldn’t deign to get to my bedside until he was done slurping his ice cream, name my little girl!”

Pause. “So, more of a boy’s name you think?”

Ajith vs Vijay, and other Data Stories

“Ah, the internet. A fantastic creation, wouldn’t you say?”

“It’s fine.”

“What?”

“Ya. Not bad.”

“No, think about this: all of the world’s information, finally cross-indexed and gathered together at your service! All you need to do is ask the right questions. This is no Alexandria, no fire can bring this library down. Ours is the first generation the future will never have unanswered questions about!”

“Dei –”

“Even Harry Potter’s life would have been easier had the internet been around. Remember all the times those wizards’ heads appeared in a fireplace instead of Skype! Do you understand what that means?”

“Dei –“

“The internet is better than magic! I’ll let that sink in for a moment.”

“Yes, yes. That and all OK.”

“It’s not magnificent? It doesn’t blow your mind away the more you think about it?”

“Dei. Don’t put too much hype. Tell one thing, can your internet answer my question?”

“Ha! Ask me anything.”

“Who is better: Thala or Vijay?”

And so we come to the big divide of our era, a watered down incarnation of Shiva vs Vishnu, of MGR’ah Sivaji’ah, of ‘Saar, Bisleri or Kinley?’ (yes, more ‘watered’ down than even that last one). But unlike the neutral observers of the past, we can take a stab at a moderately adequate answer.

Thanks to the internet.

Google Trends is the tool of my choice. It’s a service that compares Google’s search volumes to derive all kinds of meaningful insights about society (and a handful of meaningless ones as well. Like this one).

The Fine Print: Google Trends results are subject to sizing risks. Please read the offer document carefully before investing. Search volume indicates interest in a subject; it doesn’t tell if you if the interest is good or bad. For a textbook example of how search volume and sentiment can diverge, see how Vijay Mallya fares in 2016. Results below are for the state of Tamil Nadu, and are trailing 4 weeks (to smoothen out the noise).

So place your bets on the table, take a deep breath, and behold the collective wisdom of the internet.

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Ahem. This would be a good moment to insert a meme featuring one of those actors showing his teeth at the other, but as someone who tries to avoid both of them, I can’t think of one. Oh wait, that’s what the internet’s for.

Moving along. We don’t have to feel beholden to the comparisons thrust upon us by rabid fanboys. Let’s add the Father of all stars to the list, and watch in glee as Ajith and Vijay disappear into the ether.

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Wait, what? That can’t be right. Let’s look at that again.

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I don’t believe it. Turns out the twerps that use the internet are <redacted because this is a family blog>. The only times Superstar’s beaten these two pretenders are around the times Sivaji and Enthiran came out. Since 2011, even film releases haven’t helped sustain a rise over Ajith. Sob.

And now, in case you weren’t depressed enough, let’s add one last Actor to round it out.

Pasted Graphic 4Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Is this what the world has come to? Has the new order decimated the old, the glorious stars of the past now but a shadowy memory?

No.

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Look at Raja go! Except for the time ARR took the Oscars, Ilayaraja’s never fallen far behind. Talk about a heavyweight legacy that’s standing the test of time!

Also, did you notice Anirudh’s remarkable rise from mid-2014? The man appears all set to enter the pantheon of Tamil music’s enduring stars; all he’s missing right now is a title. I tried adding other recent finds in the Tamil music scene, including Santhosh Narayanan, Ghibran, Imman, and Sean Roldan to the chart, but they were barely visible on this scale. Talent is one thing; star material is another.

So we’ve looked at actors and music directors. What else can Google Trends reveal?

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Ah yes, the beast that was I can’t be beaten when it comes to buzz. Baahubali came awfully close. Even more impressive is its staying power: people’s interest in SS Rajamouli’s historical epic didn’t jump off a cliff after release. Half a year later, it’s the most looked up film from this list; apparently, a film for the ages. On the flip side, take a look at Papanasam, by most accounts Kamal’s best film in a while. In a world where box office returns are as closely guarded as the Coca Cola secret formula, I wonder if Google Trends data can help insert some democracy.

Speaking of democracy:

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Now there’s a chart you need a magnifying glass for! Just as chaotic as TN politics itself. Let’s take it piece by piece.

The spikes in search volume every 5 years are election times. Clearly, the internet was a bigger deal in 2011 than in 2006.

The other big takeaway: despite internal fracas and corruption scandals seared into public memory, Karunanidhi’s DMK is far from having lost its allure. Even in the 2011 elections, where it was decimated (and dealt one of its worst losses since becoming a political force, even failing to become the principal opposition party in the Assembly), it outperformed Vijayakanth’s DMDK on Google.

Of course, this data can only go so far: in a first-past-the-post electoral system with a fractured electorate, elections are won and lost on the vagaries of coalition politics and not the popular vote; for the record, the DMK’s alliance received almost 40% of votes cast in 2011. And while you could reasonably argue the recent buzz is driven by negative public sentiment, it at least means people are thinking about the DMK. In the world of politics, anything’s better than deafening silence. And it looks like all the wall posters in the world aren’t getting people to look for the PMK or MDMK online.

But maybe that’s because they’re all busy looking up Vijay and Ajith.