Too many times we have seen films lose the plot after intermission—a concept as old as the movies that India, and a few other countries, have retained. Some call it The Curse of the Second Half. Some movies recover miraculously post-interval, like tail-enders winning a match after the team’s main batsmen have failed. In this series, we write about films that are half good, and half bad. Or the other way around. Thank god for the loo break though.
Gaurav Chandna (played by Shah Rukh Khan), a West Delhi boy, is a diehard fan of Bollywood superstar Aryan Khanna. His face also bears an uncanny resemblance to the actor’s. But things spiral out of control when Gaurav reaches Mumbai to meet his hero.
Why the first half works:
The first half of Fan is a near-perfect portrait of a simmering sociopath. It slowly reveals unchecked idol worship as a psychological disorder fanned by the comforting flames of middle-class parenthood. Gaurav leads an eerily ordinary life. He is pampered, he runs a small-time cyber cafe, and unlike most monsters in the making, thrives on social visibility and public validation. People in his locality view him as a harmless character – an impressionable youngster who, like millions in India, simply adores an iconic celebrity.
His father and mother indulge his boyish fanaticism, treating it as one of those cute adolescent traits that everyone grows out of. It isn’t hinted at, but they seem like the kind of folks who might have caved into Gaurav’s tantrum for a plastic surgery: The (skewed) visual effects almost allude to physical alteration, his skin smoothened to the point of artificial gloss. In a charming scene featuring the annual talent contest, his parents even serve as live prop masters, helping Gaurav craft his winning stage act: an interactive homage to Aryan Khanna. Because everyone around him playfully partakes in his obsession, Gaurav expects Mumbai to be just as considerate of his desires. He expects everyone, not least Khan-na himself, to welcome the purity of his passion.
The first hour presents Gaurav as a sheltered soul who gets systematically disillusioned by the pragmatism of the outside world. Like a child constantly shut down by adult party poopers, you can sense his bemusement: What do you mean I can’t meet Aryan? Why are you being so rude? The film doesn’t overplay the doppelganger card either. Gaurav is treated as little more than a vague lookalike – slighter frame, shriller voice – who has merely modelled himself on his favourite actor. His enthusiasm is both funny and sad; every time he faces rejection, one can almost visualize how his parents have protected him over the years.
The first half of Fan is a near-perfect portrait of a simmering sociopath. It slowly reveals unchecked idol worship as a psychological disorder fanned by the comforting flames of middle-class parenthood.
More importantly, jarring similarities to the De Niro-starring The Fan aside, I’ve always looked at Fan as a candid Shah Rukh Khan confession parading as a double-role drama. The characterization is surprisingly self-critical. It seems to suggest that the 47-year-old Aryan Khanna, a fading and insecure superstar, is today’s Khan: smart, struggling to stay relevant, making news for all the wrong reasons (slapping someone at a party). But Gaurav is the ‘90s Khan: edgy, versatile, volatile and a risk-taker, effortlessly swaying between unorthodox hero and misunderstood villain. Maybe it’s no surprise that the first half – largely featuring Gaurav – is the best part of the film.
Why the second half doesn’t work:
One of the greatest tragedies of Indian cinema is that our filmmakers – owing to the commercial machinations of the “interval” culture – are also trained to think in two halves. Scripts are written and ideas conceived to aid a film’s artistic duality. The simplest explanation for the second half’s identity crisis: Fan suddenly remembers that it’s a modern-day YRF production. Straight away, the “action” moves to foreign locales: London, then Dubrovnik. Writer Habib Faisal had a million options to examine the miffed-fan narrative, but the device to make it a “cool” overseas thriller (and ape the Dhoom franchise) trivializes the first half: Suddenly, Gaurav’s face becomes the plot point.
The simplest explanation for the second half’s identity crisis: Fan suddenly remembers that it’s a modern-day YRF production. Straight away, the “action” moves to foreign locales: London, then Dubrovnik.
He impersonates the star, in full view of the public, at Madame Tussaud’s no less. He also becomes magically suave and agile, leaping across Croatian rooftops and breaking into Mumbai mansions. This idea – of framing Aryan by impersonating him – is a running motif in the second half, and one that is supposed to be seamless enough to incite the official authorities. The minuteness of the moments works – for example, the self-referential wink of Khanna dancing at a wealthy industrialist’s wedding, or even the pathos of Gaurav’s parents helping Khanna trap their deranged son. But the foundation is based on flimsy doppelganger deceit, the laziest trick in the book. This triggers a domino effect of smaller issues: The fickleness with which the media and Bollywood fans behave (imagine if they actually turned on reckless idols), the way Khanna’s Delhi ego surfaces, the way Gaurav alone fools an entire nation.
The film unfurls in a real world, with a real sense of psychology, but the suspension of disbelief required to mount the superhero-supervillain chase in the second half turns Fan into a tonal misfire. To make matters worse, the present (Aryan) defeating the past (Gaurav) is perhaps the unkindest cut of all.