April 16, 2016
So, Fan. How is it?
Hardly ever has this straight-forward, reductive yet inevitable question asked on most Fridays demanded a more complex, elaborate and conflicting answer.
Watching Fan is like watching two films. The first one, the one outlining the story idea and characters, arrives with such deliciously devilish potential and flair that it’s shocking Shah Rukh Khan the star and YRF the production company dared to attempt it. The second one, the one hurtling towards the climax after interval, is so dim-witted and formulaic that it’s shocking the star and the production company put their names on it.
A dazzling display of bravura is followed by depressing timidity.
Usually, this is par for the course in Bollywood. Way too many films begin with an exciting story idea, even have a stunning first half, only to stoop to fatuous pandering post-interval, to appease the box-office god.
Except for one thing. Fan would have been easy to write off and dismiss with a half-hearted rating if it hadn’t been for Shah Rukh Khan.
In this soaring-and-then-sinking film sits an unblinking, self-assured reply from Shah Rukh Khan to all those who’ve ever questioned, doubted or joked about his acting abilities.
Khan, who essays two roles here — that of the fan and the star — plays both with bristling vanity and authority.
It is SRK’s most daring, most complex performance to date. There are moments of such brilliance, scenes so piercing and extraordinary that they’ll leave you speechless.
I hate using abbreviations of names, especially of stars. It’s the sort of familiarity that I feel must not creep into journalistic writing. But today I want to make an exception. Today I want to say SRK not out of any ownership of the star, but out of deep respect for an actor, a man who has in his 50th year said through one film, quite simply, “My name is Khan, and I’ll show you what acting is”.
And he says this not with his trade-mark clenched-teeth, piercing-eyes, vein-throbbing exaggerated determination, but with the agility and lightness of an actor who is in the zone.
There comes a time when three letters are enough. There comes a time when three letters carry heft and can convey a man’s command over his craft. That is when they have been earned. Today is that day.
In cinema in this country, it’s a moment to savour.
I’m savouring it, and I’m not even a fan.
Gaurav Chandna, a resident of Inder Vihar in Delhi, lives with his parents (played by Deepika Amin and Yogendra Tikku), runs a cyber cafe and has a love interest.
But that’s not his identity. His identity is pieced together like the walls-and-ceiling collage of photographs of Bollywood star Aryan Khanna that suffocates his room. He is a fan, a die-hard one.
This is brought to us through crisp dialogue and intense camerawork that convey not just the desperations and joys of a fan, but also give us a glimpse of the extent to which he’ll go to make sure you register his credentials. There are moments when he looks us straight in the eye, locks us in his gaze and tells us who he is — “Fan”.
He cares two hoots about the world and people around him — about his own life — and happily inhabits another, imaginary world in his head with his idol, his star, his hero. Aryan Khanna is his god.
We see him in his natural habitat, living his seemingly normal life, but also sense his determination, doggedness through a fight and the Super Sitara Competition in his colony which carries a cash prize — his ticket to Aryan.
He wins it and begins his journey to his hero with an innocent and yet delusional loyalty. Retracing Aryan’s own journey from Delhi to Bombay, Gaurav travels without ticket and checks into the same room of the same hotel in Bombay.
As he makes his way to the star carrying a trophy and a box of halwa, we think about those moments when the camera literally stalked him in Inder Vihar, letting us not just observe but also attribute disturbing meaning to his body language.
There’s a creepiness in his devotion — a stalker streak, an obstinate spring in his cute, middle-class shuffle.
Gaurav’s character is strung together carefully and intelligently. The writers (Maneesh Sharma has written the story and Habib Faisal has written the film’s screenplay and dialogue) have exercised admirable restraint and avoided using stock accessories to embellish the fan, leaving a lot to our imagination, and to the actor to breathe life into it with his acting. It’s brilliantly sparse and is brought to glorious life by Shah Rukh Khan.
The star Aryan Khanna is created with strokes we’ve come to recognise in SRK. Aryan has attributes that define SRK the star and the man.
Gaurav tries to get close to the star by doing him a “favour”, but at his very first meeting he is spurned. This shattering of a dream throws the film on to the same track that the terribly tacky 1996 Fan, starring Robert De Niro and Wesley Snipes, chugged on.
Till now the film had its own self-assured pace. But as the hurting, humiliated fan turns criminal stalker, whispering a challenge — “Main nahin, toh tu nahin. I am, therefore you are” — what follows is a cat and mouse game that is predictable, dull and devoid of any thrill.
Abandoning the story idea that should have soared, the psychological thriller takes to the streets of foreign locations for meaningless chases on bikes and with stunt doubles, transforming into a pastiche of dreary star vehicles.
A great story is ruined by terrible plotting.
Towards the end there is a preachy message from the star to fans. Thankfully, the film doesn’t end with that. It ends instead, aptly, with the fan’s reply: “Tum nahin samjhoge“.
Fan, especially the first half and the uneasy end, is the ultimate homage — by a writer-director to his star, by an actor to his craft, stardom and, inevitably, to fans. But it’s not celebratory. It’s a dark and twisted homage.
The character of the fan, his face-off with the star, and the fact that Shah Rukh Khan plays both, together add a layer, a subtext to the film. There’s stuff between the lines here that makes the film very interesting.
Fan is the story of a star and his fan and their symbiotic relationship, but also the story of the schizophrenia that accompanies success, stardom. The superstar is usually his own biggest fan, but also his own sabotaging, evil twin, itching to end the fakery by calling attention to the fraud.
The battle between Gaurav and Aryan at times seems like a hopeless clash in a hall of distorted mirrors — there are many faces, personalities, and it’s not easy to tell the real man. It’s a rare experience to see this Freudian tango of The Ego and the Id in Indian cinema.
Sadly, the rest of the film that doesn’t measure up to its own muse and Shah Rukh Khan’s superlative performance.
Free of his usual hamming, he invests Gaurav with the energy and charm that he has always brought to his darker characters.
Few actors embody and exhibit obsession, junoon the way Shah Rukh Khan does. And here he goes beyond Baazigar, Darr, Anjaam…
While his star Aryan Khanna is a posturing, entitled man unapologetic about flexing his status and power, he is totally dissolved in the character of the star-lookalike, the distorted facsimile of the original.
The way he owns Gaurav’s character, playing the ugliness and desperation not just with a full toothy grin, a twinkle in teary eyes, but also a measure of haughty dignity, in gambling terms it’s called going for broke.
And SRK doesn’t just win the hand. He beats the house.