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Fan : Movie Review
Shah Rukh Khan's latest film Fan' isn't just a story about a guy who develops a dangerous obsession with his favourite movie star, but also a running commentary on various issues like privacy, fame, and love. There's a dialogue in the film which fundamentally encapsulates the problem that the story deals with - What's a star without his fans?
On the periphery, the aforementioned question might sound like a no brainer with your heart telling you the odds are stacked in favour of "Doh! Is it even a question? Of course, a star is nothing without his fans." But once you dig deeper, the results aren't so simple. And that's precisely where Maneesh Sharma, the director of the film, hits the ball out of the park with his story, which had to be told. And he couldn't have asked for a better star than SRK himself to drive home the point that stars too are normal people.
In the film, Shah Rukh Khan plays Gaurav Channa, a 20-something lad from New Delhi, who is obsessed with his matinee idol Aryan Khanna (also played by Shah Rukh Khan). Gaurav runs a cyber cafe in Delhi and his biggest dream in life is to meet Aryan for few minutes and express his love and admiration for him. So, one fine day, when he gets a chance to go to Mumbai to (possibly) meet Aryan on his birthday, he tries to relive Aryan's real story (we are told that Aryan himself hailed from Delhi, who struggled a lot to make it big in the industry). He stays in the same hotel and the same room, where Aryan had first stayed when he came to Mumbai. Finally, on the D-Day, Aryan fails to meet the Superstar and after a series of unfortunate events, when he finally meets Aryan, he realises that the actor isn't what he imagined him to be. The rest of the story is all about how Gaurav wreaks havoc in Aryan's life, like the dialogue goes Pehle fan star ke peeche baagtha tha, abb star fan ke peeche baaghega' (First, the fan used to run behind the star and now, the star will run after the fan).
A film like this couldn't be more apt at a time where people get trashed, abused and even killed (yes, it has happened) for their statements on stars. It speaks volumes about the extent to which people go to defend someone close to their heart, without understanding the consequences. Now, the question is, why are we so obsessed with few stars? Is it because some stars are the personification of our fantasies and that they make seem everything possible which you and I can't accomplish in our lives? Or is it because we all need a hero to inspire us that we can achieve your dreams? In a lot of ways, Shah Rukh Khan has been one such star in the cinematic universe who has achieved the impossible - an outsider reaching the zenith of filmdom and thus inspiring millions of others to follow their dreams. It's the ultimate underdog story. And Fan', the film, milks this legend and adds a dash of vulnerability to the character of Aryan, whose seemingly perfect life, is almost always on the verge of collapsing because of the beast that his fame has created.
Talking about the thin red line between fame and privacy, Aryan and Gaurav are poles apart and yet, they are the two sides of the same coin. And this is where everything gets complicated. It isn't just about the 5 minutes of time' which Gaurav wants to spend with his favourite star. What Maneesh Sharma does is veer our attention to a bigger question - Just because you are a fan of an actor, do you also have a stake in the latter's life? And just because you are a fan of an actor, do you believe that they ought to be indebted to you? The entire plot of Fan' revolves around these two questions. It's like yin and yang. You need a perfect balance between the two forces to create something truly magical. However, the moment one gets more powerful than another, that's where things start going haywire.
In the film, when Aryan questions Gaurav's abnormal obsession with him, it rattles the latter so much that he just cannot get over the fact that Aryan shattered his life long dream. You can't question Gaurav's logic; however, he gets into a dark space where he decides to teach Aryan a lesson and bring him down on his knees, and beg for forgiveness. What makes Fan' interesting is its subtext more than the film itself. There's always an undercurrent of tension about who's going to take a step back and it isn't until the end that the characters find their closure. The beauty of the process is that you never know who won in the end.
You don't have to be a fan of Shah Rukh Khan to admire what the actor brings to the table. And a film like this feels like someone teleported himself to another era when Shah Rukh Khan wasn't too self-conscious about his star status and brought that SRK back to play himself in this film. He's dazzling as Gaurav and turns Aryan into a man living life on the edge. There are instances where the plot turns into a fantasy, where a middle class guy from Delhi gets all the sources to follow his star all the way to England and pull off amazing stunts. But then, Fan' is much more than a well-shot, brilliantly edited and smartly written thriller. It's these questions about fan culture that the film throws up that turn it into a Fan'tastic experience. And it heralds the arrival of a long lost warrior, with fire in his belly to prove something to the world, named Shah Rukh Khan, who sets the screen ablaze with his ferocity. Two big thumbs up for Fan'. It's the kind of film which stays with you long after walking out of the theatres.
^^ Particularly loved this review.
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Posted on April 16, 2016
Forget, for a moment, the fan on screen. Maneesh Sharma's fourth film is, first and foremost, a tribute to fans of Shah Rukh Khan, the actor, the star, the middle-class-boy-to-millionaire myth. When I first heard about the film, I thought of Misery, The King of Comedy, The Fan, those other thrillers about the rich and the famous besieged by monomaniacal fans, but Fan is a uniquely Bollywood creation, a uniquely Shah Rukh Khan creation. It's possibly easier to write a thesis around the movie and what it says about one of our biggest self-made stars than write a review about it. Watch Shah Rukh split his two sides - the overt crowd-pleaser with that high-pitched whinny of a voice, the grave actor who can vanish into a disgraced hockey coach - into the two roles of Gaurav Chandna (the fan) and Aryan Khanna (the star). Did you catch the star's name, which is that of the real-life Shah Rukh's son? There's also a character named after his daughter. And doesn't Gaurav' roll off the tongue the way Gauri' does? Thus, watch the conflation of on-screen and off-screen Shah Rukh. A scene that pits Gaurav against Aryan plays out in front of a splotchy mirror, which yields reflection after reflection of these boys from modest homes in Delhi - you could reflect on this single visual for days.
Watch Shah Rukh sportingly allude to the moolah he made (and probably still makes) from dancing at the weddings of the well-heeled. Watch a scene riff on Shah Rukh being detained by US authorities, who had little regard for his Shah Rukh-dom back home. Watch Shah Rukh playing his own... Duplicate. Watch Shah Rukh play Sunny Deol's part in Darr, while the Shah Rukh part is played by... Shah Rukh. Watch Gaurav pretend to be Aryan and molest a woman, thus destroying Aryan/Shah Rukh's reputation as someone who values women enough to put his heroines' names before his own in his movies. Watch Shah Rukh play a mega-star threatened by the rise of younger stars in a Bollywood more conversant with English than Hindi. Watch Shah Rukh face his biggest fear - not Gaurav, but an empty auditorium. Watch Shah Rukh in a Yash Raj production that unfolds in foreign locations - but without a song in it, and without a heroine for him to romance. But wait. Consider Gaurav's ring tone, which is one of Aryan/Shah Rukh's most famous songs, Tujhe dekha to yeh jaana sanam. It's a testament to a fan's love for his star (in a sense, Shah Rukh is playing his own heroine here), and given that both roles are being enacted by the same actor, perhaps even a testament to self-love, the narcissism that's such a part of being a big star. A star's biggest fan is... the star himself.
The first half of Fan, however, belongs to the fan, and it goes to great lengths to show how utterly un-star-like he is. Two key scenes underscore the discrepancy between who Gaurav is inside his head (a special somebody) and who he really is (a nobody). When he impersonates his hero at a local competition, we keep cutting between close-ups and long shots - the former tell us who he thinks he is, while the latter tell us (by dwarfing him amidst his surroundings) otherwise. And later, when he stands outside Aryan's home in Mumbai, waiting with thousands of equally frenzied fans for a glimpse of the star, we hear his voice in the close-ups, as though he's the only one calling out to Aryan. But the long shots tell another story. Gaurav's voice is lost in the din.
Elsewhere, in a small scuffle in the Internet centre Gaurav runs (yes, this isn't the part of Delhi with laptops; it's Maneesh Sharma's Delhi, which is as ordinary as Gaurav is), he manages to overpower three bigger men. A girl he's soft on - though not as soft as he is on Aryan - asks, "Akele hero banne ki kya zaroorat thi?" Translation: This isn't a movie. Why endanger yourself? But in his head, his life is a movie, an Aryan Khanna movie. Again, the difference between who he thinks he is, who he is. After he sets out to meet Aryan Khanna, we get a bigger action sequence, one that's almost movie-like, involving a lot of leaping around a dilapidated building. (The action stretches are fantastically shot, edited and choreographed.) But at the end, he is overpowered. Gaurav may have been a star in his corner of Delhi, but Mumbai puts him in his place. Not every Delhi boy with dreams is going to get a warm welcome from the city that manufactures them.
But these are all externalities. Apart from his Aryan-worship, who is Gaurav as a person? He's neither a figure of sympathy nor empathy. He comes across like a mild creep, an impression that's furthered by his uncanny-valley resemblance to Aryan. (I was reminded of the two Kangana Ranaut characters in Tanu Weds Manu Returns, who looked the same... yet different.) Gaurav is scrawnier. His nose is straighter. His teeth stick out. There's a scene set in Madame Tussauds in London - Gaurav could be a waxwork in progress. He even gets a line to this effect, that God made him from the leftover clay after He made Aryan. He regards, as many fans undoubtedly do, Aryan as someone who owes him something. "Main hoon to tu hai." But I found myself nodding more at Aryan's retort: "Tum apni jagah, main apni jagah." Put differently, we end up caring more about Aryan. We understand that he's royalty, that he doesn't have time for every besotted fan. And we feel for him when he understands finally, what his tossed-off platitudes can come to mean to fans like Gaurav. Early on, he keeps saying he is where he is because of his fans. But after being stalked by Gaurav, he pauses when the line comes to his mind unthinkingly, automatically. I'm guessing it's another meta moment, a star forced to face the things he says to remain a star.
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 simplistic, psychotic villain (we feel terrible for his parents) - and it sits well with the film's constant juggling of identities. First, Gaurav is desperate to find Aryan; later, Aryan is desperate to find Gaurav. First, Gaurav plays Aryan on stage; later, Aryan plays Gaurav on stage. First, Gaurav falls at Aryan's feet, like a devotee before God; later, in a metaphorical scene... Aryan remains in the heavens, like a God, as Gaurav falls to earth. But these complexities might have played out better had the film taken the understated route of Anurag Kashyap's Murabba segment from Bombay Talkies, which was about another deluded fan setting out for Mumbai to meet another self-made star.
Fan, instead, turns into a preposterous thriller. And it doesn't have the pace to make us swallow the ludicrous contrivances. Like the fact that a superstar feels the police in India are not going to protect him. Like the fact that Gaurav can transform, overnight, into a globe-trotting, Ethan Hunt-like master of disguises. Like the fact that no one seems to be able to tell that Gaurav looks like Aryan. Perhaps the point is that the film is itself as much of a double-role player as its protagonist - one half meek and mild-mannered character-driven drama, the other a comic-booky superhero saga, one half an ode to the Shah Rukh of Chak De! India, the other a nod to his Chennai Express-es and Dilwale-s. But it remains a conceit, and the director cannot pull it off. The two halves never cohere, though the two Shah Rukhs certainly do. This is one of the actor's finest hours. He's terrific as Gaurav, and he's even better as Aryan, a man who has everything, and whose ego will not allow him to apologise to a man who wants nothing more than a "sorry." Who's to say how much of Aryan is Shah Rukh not acting but being? After all, who better to play a super-entitled one-percent-er than a super-entitled one-percent-er?
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