Fan tells the story of Gaurav Chandna, a 25-year-old lookalike of fictional Bollywood superstar Aryan Khanna – both roles played by the legendary Shah Rukh Khan. Gaurav annually competes in and wins an impersonation contest where he poses as Aryan, and one year decides to spend the prize money to go to Mumbai from Delhi to meet his one and only idol. However things don’t go to plan when Gaurav takes extreme measures to get his attention, and when Aryan fully rebukes Gaurav’s desperate attention-seeking, Gaurav makes it his mission to destroy Aryan’s life piece-by-piece.
So far so melodramatic. But it’s so intelligently done. And on the most part, a believable look into the dangerous psyche that a fan carries for their hero, to such a limit that they’re ready to risk their life towards as little as meeting them. From the off, Gaurav isn’t painted as an unhinged crazy who might at any second splutter out “I love you, A-A-A-Aryan” but a naïve boy who’s simply going down the wrong path. Writer Habib Faisal (Dum Laga Ke Haisha) makes a brave choice in showing the story from Gaurav’s perspective in the first half before moving to the viewpoint of Aryan in the second, a star doing everything to save his crumbling reputation.
The plot has been accused of unoriginality, bearing resemblances to the Robert de Niro / Wesley Snipes baseball film The Fan, but giving the concept a Bollywood sheen here allows Fan to stand on its own. Both characters of Gaurav and Aryan are given a good amount of depth, and our bias unknowingly shifts from one to the other despite feeling empathy for both of them. Even when Gaurav goes into nemesis mode, he does it with a tinge of such dark humour that we can’t help rooting for him just a little. It’s only when he goes ‘full psycho’ when his character feels a tad far-stretched. Unfortunately, it really is only the characters of Gaurav and Aryan that have this depth, with everyone else playing pretty one-dimensional characters. It would have been good to see other characters fleshed out more, particularly those of Gaurav’s parents and one-directional love interest in the second half.
Undoubtedly, the action scenes are choreographed by director Maneesh Sharma fantastically, particularly a well-designed chase between Gaurav and the police amongst the ledges of a hotel complex that almost challenges the Bourne movies. But unfortunately, these action scenes are also the film’s biggest downfall. When we see a boy who’s made his life as an impersonater, and a 47-year-old actor chasing each other over roofs and exchanging expert kicks and blows, it may look great but is also seriously implausible. Though it may not have served the commercial outreach as well, Fan would have benefitted from being a straight up psychological thriller than an action thriller. It’s when Gaurav plays mind games with Aryan that Fan truly grips us as an audience, and it would have been great to get more of this.
There are plenty of meta-moments for Shah Rukh fans, with old footage from his films being spliced to stand in as iconic moments from the backlog of Aryan Khanna. The film also cleverly gives a good amount of satire on the lives of Bollywood stars, and how they’re humiliatingly treated like play-toys for the megarich. Many could see Fan as a prime slab of self-indulgence for Shah Rukh Khan, especially with the personality of Aryan Khanna feeling so true to the SRK we can imagine to be behind closed doors, but the film delivers an important and timely message on celebrity needs for privacy. Poor rich attractive famous people. Still human though. And as Aryan keeps reminding us, his success was self-made. Like another actor we know.
Without a single song to its name (Jabra Fan was only used for marketing purposes) and no romantic female lead, it’s good to see Bollywood taking more chances (though they need to stop with the slow-motion-falling-from-a-height scenes). It’s also refreshing to see Shah Rukh Khan back in the challenging meaty roles he excels in rather than the candy-floss crowdpleasers he’s been doing for the last few years. Welcome back Shah Rukh. As a born-again fan, count me in for Raees.