It's rarely that I have seen an audience step out of the theatre so sombrely after a Shah Rukh Khan movie. Perhaps in the mood and flow of the film which isn’t quite as light-hearted and feel-good as SRK starrers are preordained to be. Fan is completely out of SRK's comfort zone. There is hardly any romance, not a single song, little to laugh about. Instead there is plenty of action, chases (on the walls of Mumbai buildings, Dubrovnik roofs and finally Delhi roads) and unbridled emotions of the very dark and serious kind – in a film that’s all about a fan’s pursuit of the star and then the star trying to hunt down the fan. And SRK takes a huge stride forward to make the twin roles of Gaurav Chanana and Aryan Khanna his very own in a way that you can’t imagine anyone else quite fitting the bill.
Years ago, in an interview, SRK had told me, “I do walks for my films that nobody notices. This is the bane of my life. I do walks to prepare my characters and no one takes note of the ******* serious actor in me.” Few would be able to ignore the serious actor in him in Fan . He goes method acting with Gaurav, gives him a distinct gait and mannerisms and the typically Dilli way of talking. He plays to the gallery with him, the underdog you keep rooting for despite his transgressions. It marks a return of the most beloved of his flawed personae of yore — Kabhi Haan Kabhie Naa, Yes Boss, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman — cast in a different, more devious Darr and Baazigar mould. The entire first half goes in setting up Gaurav, at times quite heavily and tediously so. But you still enjoy it all for what the film does with SRK’s own 25-year-long stardom—how it creates a new entity of this Fan from bits and pieces of his own earlier avatars. No wonder then, the wistful channelling of SRK’s journey as the star, complete with old clips, make perfect sense here. It doesn’t irritate like the pointless homages and referencing some other recent YRF films have been prone to doing.
The makers very interestingly also play with the fans in the audience. There would anyhow be many who would travel w/t (without ticket) on a train to Mumbai and stay in room number 205 at Delight hotel in Charni Road and then soon realise the illusions and delusions that surrounds their love for a star. As Gaurav himself says: “ Kitna bhi chilla lo awaaz jaati nahin us tak (However much you may scream, your voice won’t reach him).” Isn’t it SRK talking to his fans when he tells them that he is nothing without them and then again when he tells Gaurav to be more than just a fan?
Gaurav may hog the screen but for me Aryan Khanna, the star in descent (with a new guy Sid Kapoor on the rise), is perhaps even more interesting, both as a character and as the star that we have known SRK as lately. The plastic home, wife and kids notwithstanding there is a restlessness, an edginess, a certain dark sense of humour about Aryan, the star who hasn’t quite faded but could be on the verge of imminent oblivion in the future. It rings a bell. The scene in which he finds himself alone in an auditorium which ideally should be full of fans tellingly captures the star at crossroads. In the figure of Aryan the film invokes a star in search of a reinvention while reinventing the star who plays the role, i.e. SRK himself.
While my stand on SRK is unequivocal, the reaction to the film remains conflicted — a bit like how the film ends. There is a sense of completion, of things coming a full circle and yet a feeling of loss. As though, something still remains amiss. The inexplicable extremities of the two characters, their egos and eccentricities, left me a bit incredulous as did the fact that no one intrudes in the conflict between the two (in fact the cops of both London and Mumbai don’t care to listen to the star in trouble) and that Gaurav boldly manages to go wherever he wants to with no one stopping him. But then had there been more logic there would have been no film. There are loads of significant moments scattered all over the film, especially about the star-fan binary, which somehow doesn’t come together well cohesively.
Having said that one thing is quite clear: SRK couldn’t have found a better vehicle than Fan , both as an actor and as a celebration of the highs and the lows of his own stardom. A stardom whose enormity he’d himself find difficult to wrap around his head. As Gaurav tells him: “ Rehn de. Tu nahin samjhega (Let it be, you won’t understand).” Will stars ever understand their fandom? Not quite. Nor will some logical journalists like yours truly.
One last point. However much Maneesh Sharma may travel from Dilli to Mumbai, London and Dubrovnik, the Capital culture (West Delhi to be precise) firmly stays by his side and in his frames. It’s in the lovely lingo —“one way wali girlfriend”—in the nostalgia for watching films at Delite, Novelty, Golcha. Why, he even sets up Gaurav’s shop in the same marketplace as the one shown in Band Baaja Baarat . No wonder this crib then — that Sohan Halwa from Ghantewala wasn’t Sohan Halwa at all, it was actually Karachi Halwa.