By Sami Ali (London, UK)
Fan is a somewhat unconventional Bollywood film with Shah Rukh Khan at his finest.
Fan is constructed around an intriguing premise. Shah Rukh Khan plays a movie star named Aryan Khanna, and also an obsessed mid 20’s fan of the star named Gaurav Chandna. The concept of an obsessed fan is nothing new, the similarly named The Fan (1996) also had Robert De Niro portraying a fan who crosses the personal space of a baseball star, though the similarities really end there.
Gaurav, who hails from a middle class neighborhood in Delhi, spends his every moment worshipping his idol. His walls are plastered with Aryan’s pictures and his parents (quite strangely) indulge his obsession with the star, Gauravs homage to the actor’s dance numbers wins him the top prize at the local talent contest each year.
Aryan, who is clearly modeled after Shah Rukh Khan himself, lives the good life and regularly shows up on his balcony to wave to the thousands of fans that have gathered for a glimpse of him below. Gaurav makes the trip to Mumbai to meet his idol and ends up doing something foolish in the hope of pleasing Aryan. Unsurprisingly, Aryan is anything but pleased and ends up telling Gaurav a few home truths about his unhealthy obsession. When Gaurav asks Aryan why he can’t have five minutes of his life, Aryan replies, quite stubbornly, ‘it’s my life and my time, why should I give you even five seconds?’ This leaves Gaurav bitter towards his hero and determined to exact revenge. At this point, his resemblance to Aryan becomes a useful tool in his payback strategy. He manages to fool everyone from the London police to Aryan’s own wife in a dangerous game of cat and mouse that forms the rest of the story.
Shah Rukh Khan is spectacular as Gaurav, the naive, beguiling and sometimes a little delusional ‘super fan’. He gives layers to his performance that are tough to not make you find the character endearing, such that you really want him to go to Mumbai, meet his ‘god’ and live happily ever after, which of course isn’t going to happen. When things start to go wrong for Gaurav, you feel pity for him but you also question his sanity, for underneath that wide eyed smile there is a tinge of creepiness, yet you’re aware that there is a childlike innocence about him which makes him view the world in black and white. Gauravs character is incredibly fleshed out by Maneesh Sharma and Shah Rukh Khan is at his finest aided by prosthetics and snazzy (yet also inconsistent) VFX. However despite Gaurav, it’s Aryan which is the trickier role for the actor to pull off.
I think it’s brave of Shah Rukh Khan, who has legions of fans himself, to play the superstar as conceited and stubborn, and as someone unwilling to take any responsibility for the situation. Aryan even tells Gaurav at one point: ‘Go and become someone else, forget being a fan’. It’s a great idea, in theory, to imbue Aryan with such unheroic (and therefore human) qualities and to make Gaurav more than just a psychotic villain (you feel for his parents), it rides well with the constant juggling of identities that occurs in the film: First, Gaurav is desperate to find Aryan and then Aryan is desperate to find Gaurav. First, Gaurav plays Aryan on stage and then Aryan plays Gaurav on stage. It might also be an indication from Shah Rukh Khan that he might be a ‘god’ to his fans but the reality is that he too is just a human. To his credit however, Shah Rukh Khan is careful to never let the two characters intertwine, he also ensures that he doesn’t mock his real fans for the support they show him, but also presents his response to such unwanted attention. It’s also refreshing to see Shah Rukh Khan (the thespian) greenlight a role outside his comfort zone and rise to the occasion, given that in his past few outings he has played one dimensional caricatures of himself.
The supporting cast do well, Shriya Palgonkar stands out as Aryans personal assistant but given the theme of the film, whatever she or anyone else does is limited to making up the background. This romp is all about Shah Rukh Khan.
Fan, by the interval, is all set to speed up and become a great experience with Gaurav declaring: ‘fans used to chase stars, now a star will chase a fan’. Unfortunately Maneesh Sharma takes that line too literally and the post-interval story diametrically shifts the whole tone of the film to Jason Bourne territory. We go to London, then Croatia (the cinematography is on point) and then back to Delhi for one too many long, drawn out chases. To the credit of the technical team, they’re shot and conceptualized exceptionally, yet the same sequences add little value to the story. The second half feels bloated, the editing table needed a few more scenes left on it. The grip Maneesh Sharma has on reality in the first half of the film slowly diminishes, for example Aryan Khanna is arrested by the London police and we are lead to believe that a ‘VIP’ like him can’t get access to his lawyer for 24 hours, really? Also, why does an Indian film star who is hanging around in London not employ a reasonable amount of security? And why would the same film star confront a stalker by himself?
Logic goes for a walk and then never really returns. The climax too, though a treat to watch, is horrendously predictable. Yet despite such flaws, the film is always engaging. (Especially when Gaurav, posing as Aryan, enters Aryans study and trashes it, the speech that accompanies it too is powerful and impassioned). It’s a real shame that the opportunity to ‘experiment’ a bit more (the film has no songs, usually a Bollywood 101) with the screenplay is sacrificed so that, in the end, Maneesh Sharma is able to just play it by the numbers.
Fan is a brave film, it tackles a subject that is rarely touched on in Bollywood, the dynamic between a film star and his fans. It starts off rooted in reality and is fresh and exciting but then, perhaps in an effort to live up to the demands of commercial cinema, it U-turns to deliver a stagnated thriller. I’m going with 3/5, see it for Shah Rukh Khan’s excellent performance.