Toon Bodyslam – from indie rock to rocking the road for charity
Rock star Artiwara Kongmalai, better known as “Toon Bodyslam”, has returned to running for charity. But instead of being hailed again as a hero, this time he’s been slammed – especially by young people who say he should be using his celebrity status to push for political change.
Artiwara’s fans have rushed to his defense, applauding him for his noble self-sacrifice. Caught in the middle, the Bodyslam frontman has maintained his silence, as always.
A week ago, he announced his upcoming charity run on Instagram. The 109-kilometre trek is scheduled to last 59 days, from January 1 to February 28, and aims to raise funds to educate 109 cash-strapped students.
The announcement triggered an avalanche of criticism from netizens. On Dec 19 Artiwara posted a simple response: an image of the reclining Buddha with no caption.
Rise of the running hero
In 2012, Artiwara was advised to give up football, his favorite sport, after being diagnosed with a neck problem. Seeking other forms of exercise to fill the gap, he got hooked on running.
In December 2016, he decided to run 400km from Bangkok to Prachuap Khiri Khan to raise funds for medical equipment needed by Bang Saphan Hospital. The run attracted about Bt85 million in donations.
A year later, Artiwara took his charity running to the next level, setting off on an epic trek from the southernmost tip of Thailand to its northernmost border.
This gruelling 55-day odyssey raised Bt1.3 billion for 11 hospitals but also transformed Artiwara into a national hero.
He staged more runs for hospitals, before switching his charity efforts in 2020 to helping students from poor backgrounds.
Few doubted that Artiwara’s intentions were pure and generous, but the rock star soon ran into controversy amid rising political conflict.
The pressure came from anti-government rallies led by university students seeking reforms to Thailand’s establishment and protesting the legacy of the 2014 coup.
Protesters have also sought the support of prominent public figures, including Artiwara. However, the rock star has so far remained silent. He has also declined to speak a word of criticism against the government, even at the height of the COVID-19 crisis in the middle of this year.
So when Artiwara announced his upcoming charity runs, many netizens complained that he could have done much more for disadvantaged students by pressuring the government for inclusive and egalitarian policies.
Hashtags questioning his upcoming run were top-trending on Twitter last week.
Other netizens hit back at the critics, pointing out that Artiwara is just lending a helping hand where he can. Every baht raised from the run is going to needy children, with nothing taken from donations to pay for expenses.
The rock star learned about the 109 student recipients via the Equitable Education Fund. Without scholarships, these children risk dropping out of school once their 12 years of free education end when they get to Mathayom 3 or junior secondary school. The scholarships offered by the run will cover the rest of their schooling and also their living expenses.
The charity run is being organised by the Kaokonlakao Foundation.
A former member of his band said Artiwara was good person who was unaffected by the criticism.
Before being known for running and charity, Artiwara shot to fame as the lead singer of “La-On”. The band formed in 1993 during his days at the prestigious Suankularb Wittayalai School and released its first album a year later.
In 2002, Artiwara shifted from pop rock to indie by joining Bodyslam. Its most recent album was released in 2019.
Born in 1979, Artiwara completed primary school in Suphan Buri before moving to Bangkok to further his studies. He eventually graduated with a law degree from Chulalongkorn University.
In 2006 he won the award for Thailand’s “most dutiful child”. In 2012 he met the love of his life – DJ and actress Rachwin Wongviriya. They tied the knot on November 28 last year and now live in Phuket with their son.
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk