We have watched stars wave warmly at fans from their balconies and cars, saying a kind word here and there at sundry public dos. We have seen them interact with their admirers at well-organised corporate meet-and-greet programmes. What happens though after those few moments of engagement? Beyond the smiles and cordiality, how would a public figure react when a fanatical supporter demands more than some seconds and wants to play a larger part in his life?
Writer-director Maneesh Sharma’s Fan sets out to answer those questions not by dispensing grandiose philosophies about fame and achievements, but in a specific scenario featuring Bollywood superstar Aryan Khanna and a cyber café owner in Delhi, Gaurav Chandna, who is obsessed with him. Gaurav is not a routine fan-turned-stalker of the kind celebrities have been known to report to the police. His actions involving Aryan have far-reaching consequences in his own life and in the fortunes of the object of his devotion.
To say more would be to give away too much. Know this: this film is not a light-hearted affair as it might seem from the lovely promotional song “Jabra fan“. It is not a comedy drama, although the hugely entertaining opening 15 minutes might suggest that. It is funny and engaging to begin with, and then at one point changes gears in a completely unpredictable fashion to become an uncommon thriller revolving around one star who turns out to be a human being after all and one very foolish fan.
While the film establishes Gaurav’s Aryan fixation and his parallel career as an Aryan impersonator, it is unrelentingly amusing and believable. Adopting a patronising tone towards Gaurav would have been the easy thing to do, but it avoids taking that lazy route to elicit laughs or turn us against him. Yet it manages to make him a creepy, disturbing creature. When it switches modes, it remains gripping in a way you might usually expect in a crime flick. Again, it would have been so easy to paint Aryan as either satan or saint, but the film does neither. And though it has a couple of flaws that are exasperating to say the least, the narrative is so pacey and the acting so credible that there is not enough time to stop and think too much while events unfold on screen.
Shah Rukh Khan plays both Aryan and Gaurav with help from an excellent team of make-up artists who ensure that Gaurav bears an uncanny resemblance to his idol yet is clearly younger and, when you give him another glance, different. There is also some clever camerawork at play here, which serves to make Gaurav a slighter figure.
Their personalities are dissimilar not just because of prosthetics, creams, brushes and trick photography though. SRK alters his body language, his posture and his mannerisms to dissolve into Gaurav, in a way we have seen him do once before to differentiate his Don from Amitabh Bachchan. Through much of his career, Shah Rukh has played to the gallery with his performances, delivering that charming dimpled grin and the trademark quirky mannerisms that his dedicated followers are so in love with. It is such a pleasure to see his star traits take a backseat in Fan while he reminds us, as he did with Chak De! India and Swades, that he is a tremendous actor when he chooses to be one. C’mon SRK, give us more of this.
Two problems in the script by Habib Faisal pull this film down though. First, considering that he is such a major film star, Aryan seems to be accompanied by a rather minuscule personal team at a gala in Dubrovnik, Croatia — one manager, one lawyer, one securityman. Really? Don’t know about other industries, but Bollywood stars of that stature are usually escorted by large entourages including multiple bouncers, which makes this a very irritating flaw since any industry observer would know this. It is as though the writer could not think of an adequate ploy to explain how Gaurav manages to do what he does in this sequence.
Equally implausible are Aryan’s actions at the point when he decides to take matters into his own hands in Dubrovnik. His moves might have appeared natural if the script had spent time establishing him as an impetuous, quick-tempered man. Unfortunately, while a lot of effort is devoted to drawing us into Gaurav’s life in the beginning, we get to know Aryan far less as a person before he begins reacting to Gaurav’s behaviour.
These shortcomings in the writing are infuriating because they are what hold Fan back from being the great film it could have been. This is particularly disappointing because Maneesh and Habib had earlier too teamed up as director and writer respectively on the fantastic Band Baaja Baaraat (Fan’s story is by Maneesh, screenplay by Habib, dialogues by Habib and Sharat Katariya who made the heart-warming Dum Laga Ke Haisha last year). Fan is not BBB, but as things stand it is still a very good and very unconventional Bollywood film. SRK’s performance is so enjoyable and the question of what will happen next is so pressing at all times in this film, that it is impossible to look away from the screen.
Although this is not a regular cops ‘n’ robber flick, it features three very exciting, very well-handled, crisply edited chase scenes. Its use of music too is unusual, since “Jabra fan” does not appear in the film nor is there any long ruminative number playing in the background while the protagonists go about their business, as is typical of Bollywood. For the kind of film Fan is, this is a wise decision. Andrea Guerra’s unobtrusive background music is effective in building up a sense of heightened tension and low-key poignancy as and when required.
The story is almost entirely focused on Gaurav and Aryan, yet the supporting cast use their limited screen time to good effect. It is also such a relief to see that producers Yash Raj Films have not penny-pinched while casting their European extras, as most Hindi films do. Whew!
As an aside, it is worth noting some of the detailing in the film. Fan is clearly made by people who know Delhi and Mumbai well. It is nice, for instance, to see a Hindi film referencing Golcha and Delite theatres in the national capital, and not feeling the need to have a character drive past India Gate, the Hanuman statue at Jhandewalan or Red Fort to convince us that we’re in Delhi.
Though Fan is far from being perfect, it urges us to think about issues relating to stardom, fandom, idolatry and public expectations from famous people without overtly appearing to do so. It is suspenseful without beating drums and clanging cymbals around its many twists and turns. Much of its appeal lies in the fact that the central characters are not stereotyped. Besides, when Shah Rukh Khan decides to go real and understated, it always makes for compelling viewing.