In this series, Film Companion picks movies of the past decade with great first and last shots and asks directors to break down how they came up with them, shot them and what their significance is.
Maneesh Sharma’s Fan (2016) explores the blurry, symbiotic relationship between an actor and his fan. Who needs whom more? While the first shot traces the beginning of Gaurav’s (Shah Rukh Khan) fixation with his idol Aryan (also Shah Rukh Khan), the last suggests that even after Gaurav’s death, it’s his presence Aryan will find hard to shake off now.
Sharma talks about why he chose to open the film with footage of a young Shah Rukh from Deewana (1992), shooting outside Mannat on the actor’s 50th birthday and what the symbolism of the last shot is:
Archival footage of Shah Rukh Khan doubles up as an introductory montage to Aryan’s career, as seen through Gaurav’s eyes. The Shah Rukh of Deewana cartwheels across the frame, before posing with his arms outstretched in what is now a stance synonymous with the actor.
“In whatever work I have done, the first and last shots have not always been a concrete thought. For Band Baaja Baaraat (2010), I knew what the last shot was going to be but the first wasn’t planned, it came to us in the edit. It’s a shot of two birds flying. Sometimes in the edit or in the rushes, you see things that speak to you and they find their way into the film. That was not the case with Fan. We planned the shots narratively and then just had to decide what take we wanted to use during the edit.
The first shot was a stock footage shot. There was a lot of back-and-forth because I was keen on choosing a shot from Fauji, the serial. Whoever saw Shah Rukh on screen for the first time saw him in Fauji, right? But that became problematic with regard to the timeline of the film and especially Gaurav’s age. If the first time he had seen Aryan on screen had been Fauji, he would’ve had to be a much older character. And I didn’t want that. I kept trying to include that shot but ultimately, I couldn’t convince myself. So the shot I really wanted isn’t in the film.
So Gaurav watches Deewana when he’s 3. And there’s that voiceover: Connection kamaal ki cheez hoti hai. At 3 or 4, how do you really feel connected to a star? We made the choice that he hasn’t become a fan because of a particular character Aryan plays or his comedic style or even his Raj from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). It’s away from a film context, it’s just the image of him that’s appealing. These are all subliminal, internal thoughts that we had while setting up the film and deciding on the treatment of the montage.
Dewaana marked the big screen appearance of Shah Rukh. That was one of the reasons why we chose it. Shah Rukh told us that the first time a choreographer told him to spread his arms and pose was in King Uncle (1993). He said he didn’t know how to dance and that’s why in such a romantic song, he just spreads his arms behind the girl. That pose then eventually became a thing because of DDLJ and the romantic Raj character. When we were putting together the opening montage, I saw Deewana and told him: This was inborn in you. You haven’t realized, but even before King Uncle you were doing this.
You have all these visuals in your head when you’re talking about a star and his fan. One of them is that the fan’s sitting in the theatre and watching him — that’s an iconic image. But to show Gaurav arriving at that, we show him first looking at the billboard of a product Aryan is endorsing. He’s on the road, there’s the city sound, it’s a moment in his day. He’s still too young to have that excitement of bunking school and going to watch his movie. Next he sees some more films, some speeches, some interviews, some dance numbers – that graph drove our choices of images for the opening montage.
We always planned for the reverse of that billboard shot in the opening montage to be our last scene. If the billboard shot is you seeing this guy who is, from Gaurav’s perspective, on a pedestal, the last shot is from Aryan’s point of view, looking down into that sea of people. I wanted both shots to have a sense of expanse.”
Aryan, used to reflexively parroting that his fans are the reason for his success, while simultaneously believing he doesn’t owe them his time, is forced to re-examine his relationship with them after Gaurav’s suicide. On his birthday, he steps out onto his balcony for a half-hearted wave at the crowds below. As he turns to leave, he sights Gaurav in the crowd and turns back, this time with renewed appreciation for his fans.
“The film closes on Gaurav but even then, it’s more about Aryan. He’s been through this whole situation and by the end he’s a bit more introspective about being on this pedestal in front of so many people. I think Shah Rukh as Aryan, that performance was under-noticed. It was very nuanced. I found it magical.
The scene earlier in the film, in which Gaurav comes to Mumbai and goes to Mannat — we shot that on Shah Rukh’s 50th birthday. So we captured the crowds live. You’ve been seeing these images forever, these crowds outside Shah Rukh’s or Salman Khan’s or Rajinikanth’s houses, but the sound and the energy there, you have to be there to witness it. It’s stadium-level energy. If you’re on the top on the terrace, you realize the star who is waving actually can’t see anything. Everything is a motion blur. You can’t focus on anyone, it’s almost impossible. So the idea for the last scene was that when you go into Aryan’s point of view, he’s now getting to focus on a single face amid the motion blur.
The usual way of shooting was that I’d meet Shah Rukh, we’d go over the scene and rehearse. This scene was the first time he asked me: But what is Gaurav doing here? So I told him that he wasn’t really there. From Aryan’s point of view, in a sea of people, there is another Gaurav, or a Gaurav in the making or maybe it’s Aryan’s desire to connect with Gaurav after he couldn’t do so earlier. And I told him we could try different things. I didn’t want to ask him for definite emotion. So I didn’t tell him to smile or look peaceful or give a look of longing. I wanted to see what would happen.
It was a fairly chaotic shoot and there was a lot of crowd. We were losing light — we wanted the magic hour to give a sort of halo to Gaurav. Because he’s not real in that moment. So all those logistics were at stake and there was no time. Plus this was our last shot, we wanted it to be magical. We started to roll. I’m looking at the monitor and Shah Rukh starts crying, which was never my intention. We cut and he says, ‘I don’t know how, I just felt like crying.’ I’m sure even he was under pressure because of the logistics. I told him we would try another take. He started crying again during take 2. And he was crying with all his believability and conviction. It was looking good but it’s not what I had imagined. I didn’t want there to be a resolution. I didn’t want to underline any emotion. It had to be more of a gentle bowing out that the audience keeps thinking about. So we kept on going and did around six or seven takes.
The film was being edited simultaneously and so one fine day, I went to see this sequence. My editor Namrata Rao‘s choice of take was the crying one only. So I explained that Aryan might have a wavering feeling when he sees Gaurav in the crowd. The tears coming down his eyes might be touching, but it wasn’t really working. So we ended up having a moment in which his eyes have welled up and yet, he still has a sense of calm. I felt that emotion I didn’t want to give a name to. There was closure — for the film, for the characters and for the makers also.”