I went into ‘Fan’ with a great deal of trepidation, wondering how Maneesh Sharma’s new film would play out: a Bollywood superstar playing a Bollywood superstar AND his biggest fan could either be a multi-layered meta delight, or just plain icky.
I am happy to report that ‘Fan’ is a triumph. Shah Rukh Khan is played to all his strengths, and he plays it just right, gliding in and out of the star and the fan, creating distinct identities and outlines in one scene, and blurring the lines just so in the next. It is a wonderful, grasping, knowing performance, the actor and the star all rolled in one, all at our service, even as they service Shah Rukh Khan’s stratospheric stardom.
But, and this is the thing, the film does not simper or slobber. It is not in thrall to its star, even when it recognizes his stardom. It goes at itself with with a raised devil’s eyebrow (just like SRK’s) and a nod and a wink, and brings us in on the joke. And Shah Rukh Khan keeps pace with us, all the way.
A 1987 Stephen King novel called ‘Misery’ has a bestseller author locked into a deadly duel with a woman who calls herself his ‘biggest fan’, and who will do anything—even kill– to preserve the image that she has of him. In some ways, ‘Fan’ reminded me of that King novel, which is part horror, part thriller, and part a rumination on how obsessive fandom and the object of the all the worshipping is connected, and how when things go wrong, they can go horribly, inexorably south.
Gaurav Chandna (Shah Rukh Khanna) is a Dilli boy who grows up worshipping Aryan Khanna ( Shah Rukh), another Dilli boy who conquered Bombay and Bollywood. The Aryan Khanna who went from an ordinary middle class home to an ocean-front mansion surrounded by screaming mobs, who says, as if means every word, that he, Aryan, exists only because of his fans.
Gaurav’s journey to Mumbai to meet Aryan—who grants a ‘darshan’ to hysterical swarms waiting outside his bungalow, just the way the real-life superstar does, in just one of the many meta references littering the film– is both familiar and not-familiar. The in-between spaces are filled with the unexpected, and that’s where the film scores. Stars are also human and fallible, and a victim of both hubris and frailty, and Aryan channels all those emotions.
Oh wait, it is Shah Rukh doing the channeling, via Aryan, also Bollywood superstar. So if Aryan has feet of clay, does SRK too? This is one of the several clever inferences the film leaves us to draw from a film which is fashioned directly out of the star’s persona and power and pull, and how it impacts other lives. The dilemma of a star who wants everything–can you ever have enough fans, and can they be mixed blessings—is laid out in full techni-coloured messy glory.
The astonishingly-Aryan-lookalike Gaurav is not all sugar and spice either, and much of what he is impelled into doing is the result of what blind hero-worshipping can do. The star opens his arms wide; so does the copycat fan and wins a trophy. The star travels the world ; the fan stalks him. And when the star draws the line – “main yahaan, aur tum wahaan”—the fan reacts in anger, disbelief and rage. There’s just one thing this fan wants, and that’s the one thing the star will not give him. He can, but he won’t.
A couple of quibbles : in the zeal to make it audience-friendly, long sequences are devoted to star and fan chasing each other, racing down roads, leaping up and down high walls and difficult inclines, accompanied by loud background music. It gives us a chance to see Aryan shake his tingling hand after landing a punch : aah, so a star also hurts! But it tells us that a ‘different’ film is still forced into adopting populist measures. Also, a speech delivered by the star to the fan on the virtues of being his own man, and not a me-too, seems stuffed in and stuffy, if practically ordained. There are a few contrivances which make you go hmm, and you can see the end coming too, before it does.
But the rest of it is so good that you let it pass. There are a bunch of other actors here, all competent. Gaurav has a ‘kind of’ girl-friend who wants to go to Amreeka, and loving parents (Amin, Tiku); Aryan has a wife and kids and opulent interiors and an entourage. But this is an out-and-out Shah Rukh Khan show, in which the star proves again, after a too-long gap, that he can greenlight roles completely out of his comfort zone, and deliver. It is what’s called a command performance.
Only trouble, after this terrific three-hander—all deft elision, switcheroos and nods– Shah Rukh Khan can never go back to lazily sending himself up again.
Star Cast of Fan: Shah Rukh Khan, Waluscha DeSousa, Deepika Amin, Yogendra Tiku, Sayani Gupta
Director: Maneesh Sharma