Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Sayani Gupta, Waluscha De Sousa
Director: Maneesh Sharma
Fan is an elaborately crafted hall of mirrors. Shah Rukh Khan plays a superstar named Aryan Khanna. He also plays a pathologically obsessed fan named Gaurav Chandna. Aryan, of course, resembles the real Shah Rukh – the exteriors of Shah Rukh’s own home, Mannat, double here as Aryan’s house. Like Shah Rukh, Aryan also fills up stadiums, dances at weddings, and is a lethal mix of high-beam charm and cockiness. Most importantly, Aryan has also come from a middle-class, ‘mamooli’ family in Delhi. And without godfathers or connections, he has conquered the world.
Gaurav comes from a middle-class, ‘mamooli’ home too. His entire life is centered on his love for Aryan. The highlight of his life is winning the Super Sitara competition in his housing colony where he does pitch-perfect imitations of Aryan. There is a real star, a fictional star and a fictional fan who poses as a star. It’s exciting and intriguing and in places flat-out fabulous.
Gaurav is a riveting character – he’s naïve, beguiling and sweetly delusional, at least in the beginning. But even then, underneath that wide-eyed, starstruck innocence, there is a tinge of creepy about him. Aided by prosthetics, make-up and skillfully rendered special effects, Shah Rukh gives his finest performance in years – nine, to be precise, which is when he played Kabir Khan in Chak De! India. Shah Rukh makes Gaurav a living, breathing character who is defined by his desperate desire to be recognised by Aryan. Gaurav is clearly pathetic, repellent and dangerous. And yet I wanted to save this poor lost soul from his own worst instincts.
Writer and director Maneesh Sharma has constructed Gaurav with affection and care. His milieu and his manners are absolutely authentic. So when he embarks on his doomed mission to meet Aryan in Mumbai and his mother gives him some sohan halwa for the star and this warm, smiling family takes a selfie together, you really want this to end happily. Which, of course, can’t happen.
The plot here veers briefly toward Tony Scott’s 1996 film of the same name, in which Robert De Niro plays an obsessive baseball fan. Exactly like that character, Gaurav does something illegal to please his idol. All Gaurav wants is attention. Which doesn’t come, and then things get dark and bloody.
It’s at this moment that Maneesh loses his grip on the film and us. The action moves to glossy foreign shores. We get snazzy rooftop chases and lavish locations. The attention shifts to Aryan, who is inherently not as interesting as Gaurav — though I loved that Shah Rukh was willing to puncture his own mythology with the dancing-at-weddings sequence.
There’s a telling shot in which Aryan is walking backstage trying to remember the names of the relatives and family. It’s clear that the entire gig is driven by money. So when the bride’s father rudely reminds Aryan that he’s paid the star a bomb, Aryan is briefly angered but then swallows his pride and starts dancing.
In the second half, Fan gets more and more illogical and implausible. Aryan weirdly never has enough security around him and Gaurav manages to pull off some unbelievable stunts in both public and private spaces. None of this seems grounded in logic or reality, so it doesn’t move us emotionally. The writing team also includes the very talented directors Habib Faisal and Sharat Katariya, but despite their best efforts, Fan deflates considerably in the second half.
What keeps you hooked is Shah Rukh Khan. He pumps vitality into the narrative. It might get silly but it doesn’t get dull. You finally exit the theatre thinking of Gaurav. And the reverential, all-consuming relationship that we Indians have with our stars.
I can guarantee that the next time you see a horde of screaming fans, you’ll observe them more keenly. You might even wonder what their stories are.