Scepticism and optimism were the two conflicting emotions that surrounded Shah Rukh Khan’s first release of 2016, Fan. However, the former, caused by a recent string of underwhelming SRK flicks, was quickly usurped by the latter. This high-octane, edgy, albeit occasionally absurd thriller gave King Khan addicts their fix and the rest of us assurance that he hasn’t yet slipped into the clutches of masala mediocrity.
Khan’s three previous shallow releases – Chennai Express, Happy New Year and Dilwale – made less of an impact than Shikhar Dhawan did at the World Twenty20, hence the trailer’s promise of a more complex movie and a return to the villainy that shot him to stardom in the early 1990s was welcome. The knowledge of Khan’s double role drew comparisons to Baazigar, while the obsessive streak in one of his characters had seen Fan likened to Darr.
However, those assumptions proved unfounded as the film carved out a unique space for itself – at least in Hindi cinema – allowing SRK to turn in his most accomplished and complete performance since My Name is Khan (2010). Fan is admittedly not a flawless film – it would have benefitted without the sudden changes of pace – but it had enough to keep you engaged throughout and asking questions even after its completion.
The movie, as indicated in the trailer, stories the relationship between Aryan Khanna (Shah Rukh Khan), a Bollywood megastar and Gaurav Chandna (also Khan), his biggest fan. Both hailing from Delhi, Aryan is Shah Rukh himself in all but name, while Gaurav, or ‘Junior Aryan Khanna’ as he prefers, is a committed supporter who’s happily destined to be forever in his hero’s shadow – a situation his parents indulge him in. That is until they eventually meet, when things take a sudden dark and creepy turn.
It was apparent once again that SRK thrives in crazed roles, even after more than 20 years removed from such a part. Khan creates a seemingly harmless character in Gaurav, who is able to shift from devoted to demented effortlessly. We are invited fully into the life of a fan that spends nearly every waking moment imitating his “God”, before travelling with him on the rocky rollercoaster of rejection.
The picture painted can easily be extrapolated from cinema to real life, where fandom is more feverish now than it ever has been. “Tu nahin samjhega,” (“You will not understand”) has become something of a slogan for Fan, and although we are unlikely to ever understand what drives such passionate and unburdened obsession, the movie at least scratches the surface of its effects – and there is no better actor in Bollywood to delve into the theme than SRK.
In Aryan, Khan plays the superstar he is in reality, yet, while the parallels between actor and character are clear – both are from Delhi and real shots from Khan’s home ‘Mannat’ are featured – SRK ensures Fan doesn’t become a dramatised biopic or a glorified fawning. Khanna is in the midst of seeing his stardom challenged before Gaurav arrives, and truly threatened once he does. To his fans Aryan is the stereotypical superstar but, as the film develops, we gradually become witness to his fiery Dilli roots as he reconnects with his ragged pre-fame personality.
Waluscha de Sousa and Sayani Gupta play Aryan’s wife and his PA respectively, but are unsurprisingly irrelevant considering Khan plays both lead roles.
With no songs or a heroine, Fan is as atypical a Bollywood production – especially a Yash Raj Films production – that you will see. Not that it hurts the movie – it certainly doesn’t. Any attempt to cram in either would quell the tension that steadily boils throughout. Aryan and Gaurav’s souring relationship is plenty intriguing enough, and their identities are so contrasting it’s scarcely believable they are played by the same person.
Hence, the flashy action scenes embedded into the whistle-stop tour around Europe in the second half were unexpected and unnecessary, despite being executed well. They were perhaps director Maneesh Sharma’s only major mistake in what was otherwise a terrific picture. The opening hour dedicates so much time in investigating what makes Aryan and Gaurav tick, that unravelling that further would have been preferred to the classic action pizzazz we were treated to instead.
Fan also drifts from realistic to far-fetched at times as it wears on, which is peculiar given the film’s evident desire to construct true images of madness and obsession. But this is far from a deal-breaker. The occasional imagination-stretcher barely dents the powerful plot, which re-engages well at the end to deliver a strong conclusion.
These fallbacks stop Fan from being one of Khan’s greatest works, but not from it being lavished with the acclaim it deserves. With a running time of two hours and 24 minutes, this thriller is lengthy – remember, there are no songs – but it doesn’t drag.
For SRK’s devoted followers, Fan was always going to be a roaring success; it was the more impartial viewer – whose trust has been somewhat lost – that needed convincing. And, by and large, their faith will be mostly restored in the Badshah. Shunning silliness for seriousness was a much-required move that gave cinemagoers a long-awaited glimpse of King Khan at his best, and builds enthusiasm for his upcoming Eid release Raees.
The biggest Hindi movie of the year so far, Fan was a tough project for Shah Rukh Khan, but ultimately one that was right in his hitting zone. Finally back in his strongest genre, SRK always had the cards to play a strong hand, but he still had to come up trumps. And he did.