Fan

Of books and their covers


Fan

  • Of books and their covers

Fan

  • Of books and their covers


Rated

PG

Starring

Shah Rukh Khan
Sayani Gupta
Waluscha de Sousa
Deepika Amin
Yogendra Tiku

Written by

Habib Faisal
Sharat Katariya

Directed by

Maneesh Sharma



What to Expect

Fan boasts, probably, of some of the sneakiest marketing the Indian Hindi-language film industry has ever seen.

Marketed initially by a mini-teaser, we were sold the fan. In the second teaser, we were witness to the fan selling the star. Filled with references, however, the trailer went balls-out ballistic and teased the built worlds of two distinctly different people.

Of course, the fans off-screen went ballistic, but I was totally sold on it. While I’ve become extremely jaded to trailers, this is one of the very few that successfully managed to sell the film correctly to me. And while I’ve almost always admired Shah Rukh Khan, hoping for the actor to come back even when he was a mass-friendly producer, this movie excited me for the collaborative return of Habib Faisal and Maneesh Sharma, post the latter’s directorial debut Band Baaja Baaraat. Sharma is a brave filmmaker and, save for a derivative Ladies vs Ricky Bahl, he almost always chooses films with things to say.

Fan might be his fourth directorial venture, but it is both his first big-ticket film set around an ambitious platform and his first thriller film. That alone just had me excited like no other. But as one knows, excitement isn’t always the best option when you’re watching a big movie. There are significant chances of being disappointed and betrayed by the glitter.

Little did I know that behind the superficial glitter I’d find a lot of gold.

What’s it About?

For Gaurav Chandna (Shah Rukh Khan; Swades), Indian moviestar Aryan Khanna (Khan, again) is his life. Post a significant upturn, Gaurav decides to meet Aryan to show him his infinite love of the actor and his films. In a twist of fate, desperation takes over, and Khanna jilts Chandna. This initiates a domino effect where anything and everything is possible, and danger lurks around every corner.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Deadly aspirations

Deadly aspirations

Let’s all first try to understand how the film is superficially. Like most Indian Hindi-language films, Fan too is supported by an intermission point, which divides it into two halves. Now, while the first half is a flawed, but starkly authentic, comedy-drama with sinisterness only hovering around the narrative like a harmless fly, the second half takes a complete U-Turn and becomes your friendly neighborhood Hollywood blockbuster action thriller film, garnished with every implausibility one could think of.

Fan is undoubtedly bound to leave viewers flabbergasted (never mind the fans; they’ll cheer for Shah Rukh Khan like no other). It is that kind of film. Like its character Gaurav Chandna, the movie itself snaps and goes full-throttle—never mind the narrative inconsistencies and the ludicrous decisions made by the writers to keep the film going in the second half. So the fans of a ball-busting twisty mainstream action-thriller will love the second half, and those expecting a slow burn psychological drama-thriller will love the first. And from what I’ve read of the film’s reactions by its viewers so far, the sides have been chosen, and there are fewer in favor of the second-half than of the first.

But in what will undoubtedly be written off as a movie that, in the words of quite a few viewers I’ve had a conversation with, “sucks,” there’s a possibility that not many would know that it’s more; a lot more. Because while many movies do work on the basis of a solid, unfettered story, Fan was never going to be about the plot. (And it’s a surprise, but this might just have been hinted at in the film’s trailer itself; a feat seldom performed in Indian movie marketing.) This is a mainstream action-thriller film alright, but one that has commentary and subtext.

Let us first dissect the film by classifying its image systems. The image systems set up for Gaurav and Aryan are incredibly different. Both Gaurav and Aryan are from different socio-economic backgrounds. Aryan is wealthy and powerful while Gaurav comes from a modest neighborhood. This gives rise to aspiration as an emotion. Gaurav aspires to be Aryan. His love for Aryan comes from a multi-dimensional range of his status in society, and his need to be recognized and reassured. Aryan sees himself in Gaurav’s persistence. A crucial face-off between the two within these portions further embeds this, particularly since Gaurav coldly tells Aryan, “Aryan exists because Gaurav exists. Without Gaurav, there’s no Aryan.”

One from Another

One from Another

(Which then leads to another hypothesis: Gaurav and Aryan might probably be two representations of one person. Gaurav could be nothing but a marriage of Aryan’s demon and alter-ego. Demon, because Gaurav reminds Aryan of his past and delirious persistence. Alter-ego, because Gaurav can do what Aryan cannot.)

The second half then sets up an image system for Aryan. While the pre-intermission portions spoke of Aryan’s influence on Gaurav’s life, the post-intermission portions cleverly establish Aryan’s life and Gaurav’s power. Now, the bizarre anything-can-happen-in-a-movie turn this half takes is shockingly different from the low-key representation of Gaurav, but let’s understand why Sharma and Faisal went with this particular set-up. Aryan is an actor and a celebrated figure of “Bollywood” pop culture. A wild, self-aware risk one could take to would be to pull all stops from the narrative and make his life look like the escapist, self-unaware movies he’d regularly influence his viewers with, including all because-it’s-a-movie tropes the kind of template could go with.

The movie’s only trying to tell us that Aryan’s life, giving literal representation to The Muppets creator Jim Henson’s golden words, is like a limitless feature-film universe.

One of the most gorgeously shot action set-pieces of the film would probably be the one of the best in the Indian Hindi film industry (next only to the gorgeous one-take choreography in Sriram Raghavan’s Agent Vinod). But that’s not relevant. What’s relevant is that this dramatic throwback-to-Bourne set-piece might look contrived, yet is anything but. In Aryan’s world, anything’s possible. Challenging the rules of his world is Gaurav, whose own world was only previously shattered by him. At this particular juncture, Sharma and Faisal’s conscious utilization of the status transaction becomes quite apparent. The entire movie has been about the exchange of status, and most of us wouldn’t even know it.

In the first half, we’re shown two people of two different statuses, where Gaurav confidently reaches out to grab the status of another. The latter, of course, snatches that back from the former and sends him back to his world. The borderline-diabolical fighter that he is, he makes an entry in Aryan’s world to threaten the existence of his status (which, inherently, is all he has). And threaten he does, by metaphorically claiming, “I’ve been like you all this long, I can do you—and do you one better by ruining you as you.” The fan is now on a level-playing field with the star, during which ensues a rather entertaining cat-and-mouse chase.

Self versus alter-ego

Self versus alter-ego

But who’s the cat and who’s the mouse? Who is good? Who is evil? Nobody is black and white. Both humans are twisted reflections of each other. They’re now brought to face each other off by being on a similar platform of power. The star isn’t a complete saint or victim. The fan isn’t an entirely psychotic stereotype. Who is the audience going to root for? The arrogant, acerbic star or the almost entitled jilted-lover fan? You can’t root for anyone. You’re in a world with positives (the establishment of normalcy via families and friends) and negatives (the Bhutianis, the impostors, and the media trials). Humans are flawed, and despite their superficial Mary Sue behaviors, the characters’ emotions are only human and hold minuscule little moral ground. of course, there is compassion and principle, but there are no ethics.

The film dabbles a lot with irony (the multi-faceted scene at Madame Tussaud’s is a brilliant example) and weaves a not-so-subtle allegory of twisted borderline-narcissism and how the demons of your past are always lurking around. But more than anything else, what will be most visible to the viewers is the surgical deconstruction of a star and a fan, and how the social image of a star in the mind of a fan may not always be the same as his real life self. Which, in the garb of a commercial studio-backed film, is a feat that succeeds in a lot more than it shows it does.

Of course, for a movie to have given me a lot to write about analytically, it’s saddening when there are dips, technically or otherwise. Radio presenting as a plot device is an oft used one, but the vocal radio jockeying duo used in the beginning of the post-intermission portions is so cringeworthy to hear it’s flabbergasting. Surely considering the film’s ambitious platform, acquiring authentic radio jockeying voices shouldn’t have been a problem? Additionally, for its terrific CGI, there still is a shot or two that is less than convincing in its composite. And for all of its creation’s poetry, you’d expect the final conversation between Gaurav and Aryan to sound less like a preachy public service announcement of crazy fan-behavior; or better, have no dialogues at all. No, seriously, for a movie presented with the most precisely constructed dialogues (Sharat Katariya, you genius), this seems like that moment’s major setback.

Oh well. We can’t have it all now, can we?

To Perform or Not to Perform

Delusional dreamer

Delusional dreamer

Over the last decade, there have been only two films of prime importance to Shah Rukh Khan’s acting career—Chak De! India, and My Name is Khan.  And while his filmography is littered with the likes of Maaya Memsaab, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Hey Raam and Swades, among others, the performative highs over the last nine years haven’t been as strong as the amount of records his mass-friendly productions have broken.

Not this time.

Shah Rukh Khan might get back in the big-ol’ Bollywood doppelgänger trope, but he’s a spectacular screen presence. Rising out of the ashes of Dilwale and Happy New Year as a performer, Khan gleefully sinks his teeth into two diverse, multidimensional roles, and comes out a clear winner. As Gaurav Chandna, he is a wonderfully essayed character, while as Aryan Khanna, he hits closer to home. It is as Aryan Khanna though that he surprises with beautiful restraint.

Now, while of course Khan hogs the screen to boot, there is one more person whose confidence bowls you over like no other. Sayani Gupta as Khan’s personal assistant is a force of nature. Right from the deep understanding of the teensy characteristic bits of the person she plays (her earnest thank-you chants to an official after Khanna’s passive aggressive spat feel almost as real and urgent as they should, and this is just one of many, many terrific examples) to the confidence with which she essays them (her death-stare as Khanna jokes when he asks her if she was pregnant), she’s proven herself as an actress to keep a close eye on. Waluscha De Sousa as Khanna’s wife is a commendable presence in the film, despite the short runtime of her role. Yogendra Tiku—who as of now is turning into the Indian Hindi-film industry’s favorite on screen father—is excellent, but it is Deepika Amin who bowls us over with her low-key emotional performance. And last, but certainly not the least, there’s Shriya Pilgaonkar. Yes, there are times when her voice reminds me of early Deepika Padukone, but her confidence helps her sail through smoothly in the movie.

Worth it?

When Fan, in a voice as rare as it can be, made an authentic-to-boot commentary on the fickleness of film journalism (the crux of that London press-con) and how media trials can come close to ruining a person’s overall image, I was reminded of only one other movie in recent history successful enough to achieve it with the sneering cynicism of a jaded spectator—David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

The movie itself is filled with many such scathing, yet subtle, commentaries.

Sure, it’s illogical, implausible, and—at most times—downright bizarre. Superficially, this could probably be one of those unsurprising, lazily-written studio-backed films we’re witness to everyday, saved only by Shah Rukh Khan’s powerhouse performance. But that’s how it is. The self-awareness of the film isn’t as visible as—say—Adam Wingard’s action-thriller The Guest, for example. But the beauty of it all lies within how underplayed it is. The story and the narrative are, but, only a means to an end much bigger than anyone could have imagined.

This isn’t a film that can easily be recommended for many-a-reason. Given its popularity factor, one wouldn’t want to see through it; they’d heartily dismiss it even. Giving it an honest try, however, for Shah Rukh Khan’s performance at the very least, would be a good idea to see where you fit in the scheme of things. Should one understand where Fan is coming from and what it achieves, they’ll find a lot to appreciate within the fascinatingly deceptive narrative. Should that not happen, however, the least they’ll get to see is a comeback of sorts of Khan the actor and three gorgeously executed action set-pieces.

That wouldn’t mean it’s a terrible film, no. It’s only a few steps short of the kind of misunderstood, unblemished brilliance you’d expect from writer Habib Faisal and director Maneesh Sharma, packaged deceptively within multiple genre-template brackets, and scattered with easter eggs abound. And unlike YRF’s other self-aware productions—the fascinating, but fatally flawed Kill Dil and Tashan are perfect examples—this is the first that’s an actual success in pure filmmaking terms.

Of course, movie-viewing and film appreciation is almost always subjective, and the debate and discussion this has already begun to cause is proof enough of it. But the very fact that a mainstream film like this has caused a debatable discussion more than anything else gives the discerning movie viewer hope of a widened knowledge, and of subjectivity being more than just an abused phrase.

Consensus: 4 Stars
Impressive!
About the Author

Ankit Ojha

Facebook

Ambivert. Intermittent cynic. Content creator. New media enthusiast. Binge-watcher. Budding filmmaker.

Watch the trailer

We’re viral

Like UsFollow Us


Rated

PG

Starring

Shah Rukh Khan
Sayani Gupta
Waluscha de Sousa
Deepika Amin
Yogendra Tiku

Written by

Habib Faisal
Sharat Katariya

Directed by

Maneesh Sharma



What to Expect

Fan boasts, probably, of some of the sneakiest marketing the Indian Hindi-language film industry has ever seen.

Marketed initially by a mini-teaser, we were sold the fan. In the second teaser, we were witness to the fan selling the star. Filled with references, however, the trailer went balls-out ballistic and teased the built worlds of two distinctly different people.

Of course, the fans off-screen went ballistic, but I was totally sold on it. While I’ve become extremely jaded to trailers, this is one of the very few that successfully managed to sell the film correctly to me. And while I’ve almost always admired Shah Rukh Khan, hoping for the actor to come back even when he was a mass-friendly producer, this movie excited me for the collaborative return of Habib Faisal and Maneesh Sharma, post the latter’s directorial debut Band Baaja Baaraat. Sharma is a brave filmmaker and, save for a derivative Ladies vs Ricky Bahl, he almost always chooses films with things to say.

Fan might be his fourth directorial venture, but it is both his first big-ticket film set around an ambitious platform and his first thriller film. That alone just had me excited like no other. But as one knows, excitement isn’t always the best option when you’re watching a big movie. There are significant chances of being disappointed and betrayed by the glitter.

Little did I know that behind the superficial glitter I’d find a lot of gold.

What’s it About?

For Gaurav Chandna (Shah Rukh Khan; Swades), Indian moviestar Aryan Khanna (Khan, again) is his life. Post a significant upturn, Gaurav decides to meet Aryan to show him his infinite love of the actor and his films. In a twist of fate, desperation takes over, and Khanna jilts Chandna. This initiates a domino effect where anything and everything is possible, and danger lurks around every corner.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Deadly aspirations

Deadly aspirations

Let’s all first try to understand how the film is superficially. Like most Indian Hindi-language films, Fan too is supported by an intermission point, which divides it into two halves. Now, while the first half is a flawed, but starkly authentic, comedy-drama with sinisterness only hovering around the narrative like a harmless fly, the second half takes a complete U-Turn and becomes your friendly neighborhood Hollywood blockbuster action thriller film, garnished with every implausibility one could think of.

Fan is undoubtedly bound to leave viewers flabbergasted (never mind the fans; they’ll cheer for Shah Rukh Khan like no other). It is that kind of film. Like its character Gaurav Chandna, the movie itself snaps and goes full-throttle—never mind the narrative inconsistencies and the ludicrous decisions made by the writers to keep the film going in the second half. So the fans of a ball-busting twisty mainstream action-thriller will love the second half, and those expecting a slow burn psychological drama-thriller will love the first. And from what I’ve read of the film’s reactions by its viewers so far, the sides have been chosen, and there are fewer in favor of the second-half than of the first.

But in what will undoubtedly be written off as a movie that, in the words of quite a few viewers I’ve had a conversation with, “sucks,” there’s a possibility that not many would know that it’s more; a lot more. Because while many movies do work on the basis of a solid, unfettered story, Fan was never going to be about the plot. (And it’s a surprise, but this might just have been hinted at in the film’s trailer itself; a feat seldom performed in Indian movie marketing.) This is a mainstream action-thriller film alright, but one that has commentary and subtext.

Let us first dissect the film by classifying its image systems. The image systems set up for Gaurav and Aryan are incredibly different. Both Gaurav and Aryan are from different socio-economic backgrounds. Aryan is wealthy and powerful while Gaurav comes from a modest neighborhood. This gives rise to aspiration as an emotion. Gaurav aspires to be Aryan. His love for Aryan comes from a multi-dimensional range of his status in society, and his need to be recognized and reassured. Aryan sees himself in Gaurav’s persistence. A crucial face-off between the two within these portions further embeds this, particularly since Gaurav coldly tells Aryan, “Aryan exists because Gaurav exists. Without Gaurav, there’s no Aryan.”

One from Another

One from Another

(Which then leads to another hypothesis: Gaurav and Aryan might probably be two representations of one person. Gaurav could be nothing but a marriage of Aryan’s demon and alter-ego. Demon, because Gaurav reminds Aryan of his past and delirious persistence. Alter-ego, because Gaurav can do what Aryan cannot.)

The second half then sets up an image system for Aryan. While the pre-intermission portions spoke of Aryan’s influence on Gaurav’s life, the post-intermission portions cleverly establish Aryan’s life and Gaurav’s power. Now, the bizarre anything-can-happen-in-a-movie turn this half takes is shockingly different from the low-key representation of Gaurav, but let’s understand why Sharma and Faisal went with this particular set-up. Aryan is an actor and a celebrated figure of “Bollywood” pop culture. A wild, self-aware risk one could take to would be to pull all stops from the narrative and make his life look like the escapist, self-unaware movies he’d regularly influence his viewers with, including all because-it’s-a-movie tropes the kind of template could go with.

The movie’s only trying to tell us that Aryan’s life, giving literal representation to The Muppets creator Jim Henson’s golden words, is like a limitless feature-film universe.

One of the most gorgeously shot action set-pieces of the film would probably be the one of the best in the Indian Hindi film industry (next only to the gorgeous one-take choreography in Sriram Raghavan’s Agent Vinod). But that’s not relevant. What’s relevant is that this dramatic throwback-to-Bourne set-piece might look contrived, yet is anything but. In Aryan’s world, anything’s possible. Challenging the rules of his world is Gaurav, whose own world was only previously shattered by him. At this particular juncture, Sharma and Faisal’s conscious utilization of the status transaction becomes quite apparent. The entire movie has been about the exchange of status, and most of us wouldn’t even know it.

In the first half, we’re shown two people of two different statuses, where Gaurav confidently reaches out to grab the status of another. The latter, of course, snatches that back from the former and sends him back to his world. The borderline-diabolical fighter that he is, he makes an entry in Aryan’s world to threaten the existence of his status (which, inherently, is all he has). And threaten he does, by metaphorically claiming, “I’ve been like you all this long, I can do you—and do you one better by ruining you as you.” The fan is now on a level-playing field with the star, during which ensues a rather entertaining cat-and-mouse chase.

Self versus alter-ego

Self versus alter-ego

But who’s the cat and who’s the mouse? Who is good? Who is evil? Nobody is black and white. Both humans are twisted reflections of each other. They’re now brought to face each other off by being on a similar platform of power. The star isn’t a complete saint or victim. The fan isn’t an entirely psychotic stereotype. Who is the audience going to root for? The arrogant, acerbic star or the almost entitled jilted-lover fan? You can’t root for anyone. You’re in a world with positives (the establishment of normalcy via families and friends) and negatives (the Bhutianis, the impostors, and the media trials). Humans are flawed, and despite their superficial Mary Sue behaviors, the characters’ emotions are only human and hold minuscule little moral ground. of course, there is compassion and principle, but there are no ethics.

The film dabbles a lot with irony (the multi-faceted scene at Madame Tussaud’s is a brilliant example) and weaves a not-so-subtle allegory of twisted borderline-narcissism and how the demons of your past are always lurking around. But more than anything else, what will be most visible to the viewers is the surgical deconstruction of a star and a fan, and how the social image of a star in the mind of a fan may not always be the same as his real life self. Which, in the garb of a commercial studio-backed film, is a feat that succeeds in a lot more than it shows it does.

Of course, for a movie to have given me a lot to write about analytically, it’s saddening when there are dips, technically or otherwise. Radio presenting as a plot device is an oft used one, but the vocal radio jockeying duo used in the beginning of the post-intermission portions is so cringeworthy to hear it’s flabbergasting. Surely considering the film’s ambitious platform, acquiring authentic radio jockeying voices shouldn’t have been a problem? Additionally, for its terrific CGI, there still is a shot or two that is less than convincing in its composite. And for all of its creation’s poetry, you’d expect the final conversation between Gaurav and Aryan to sound less like a preachy public service announcement of crazy fan-behavior; or better, have no dialogues at all. No, seriously, for a movie presented with the most precisely constructed dialogues (Sharat Katariya, you genius), this seems like that moment’s major setback.

Oh well. We can’t have it all now, can we?

To Perform or Not to Perform

Delusional dreamer

Delusional dreamer

Over the last decade, there have been only two films of prime importance to Shah Rukh Khan’s acting career—Chak De! India, and My Name is Khan.  And while his filmography is littered with the likes of Maaya Memsaab, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Hey Raam and Swades, among others, the performative highs over the last nine years haven’t been as strong as the amount of records his mass-friendly productions have broken.

Not this time.

Shah Rukh Khan might get back in the big-ol’ Bollywood doppelgänger trope, but he’s a spectacular screen presence. Rising out of the ashes of Dilwale and Happy New Year as a performer, Khan gleefully sinks his teeth into two diverse, multidimensional roles, and comes out a clear winner. As Gaurav Chandna, he is a wonderfully essayed character, while as Aryan Khanna, he hits closer to home. It is as Aryan Khanna though that he surprises with beautiful restraint.

Now, while of course Khan hogs the screen to boot, there is one more person whose confidence bowls you over like no other. Sayani Gupta as Khan’s personal assistant is a force of nature. Right from the deep understanding of the teensy characteristic bits of the person she plays (her earnest thank-you chants to an official after Khanna’s passive aggressive spat feel almost as real and urgent as they should, and this is just one of many, many terrific examples) to the confidence with which she essays them (her death-stare as Khanna jokes when he asks her if she was pregnant), she’s proven herself as an actress to keep a close eye on. Waluscha De Sousa as Khanna’s wife is a commendable presence in the film, despite the short runtime of her role. Yogendra Tiku—who as of now is turning into the Indian Hindi-film industry’s favorite on screen father—is excellent, but it is Deepika Amin who bowls us over with her low-key emotional performance. And last, but certainly not the least, there’s Shriya Pilgaonkar. Yes, there are times when her voice reminds me of early Deepika Padukone, but her confidence helps her sail through smoothly in the movie.

Worth it?

When Fan, in a voice as rare as it can be, made an authentic-to-boot commentary on the fickleness of film journalism (the crux of that London press-con) and how media trials can come close to ruining a person’s overall image, I was reminded of only one other movie in recent history successful enough to achieve it with the sneering cynicism of a jaded spectator—David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

The movie itself is filled with many such scathing, yet subtle, commentaries.

Sure, it’s illogical, implausible, and—at most times—downright bizarre. Superficially, this could probably be one of those unsurprising, lazily-written studio-backed films we’re witness to everyday, saved only by Shah Rukh Khan’s powerhouse performance. But that’s how it is. The self-awareness of the film isn’t as visible as—say—Adam Wingard’s action-thriller The Guest, for example. But the beauty of it all lies within how underplayed it is. The story and the narrative are, but, only a means to an end much bigger than anyone could have imagined.

This isn’t a film that can easily be recommended for many-a-reason. Given its popularity factor, one wouldn’t want to see through it; they’d heartily dismiss it even. Giving it an honest try, however, for Shah Rukh Khan’s performance at the very least, would be a good idea to see where you fit in the scheme of things. Should one understand where Fan is coming from and what it achieves, they’ll find a lot to appreciate within the fascinatingly deceptive narrative. Should that not happen, however, the least they’ll get to see is a comeback of sorts of Khan the actor and three gorgeously executed action set-pieces.

That wouldn’t mean it’s a terrible film, no. It’s only a few steps short of the kind of misunderstood, unblemished brilliance you’d expect from writer Habib Faisal and director Maneesh Sharma, packaged deceptively within multiple genre-template brackets, and scattered with easter eggs abound. And unlike YRF’s other self-aware productions—the fascinating, but fatally flawed Kill Dil and Tashan are perfect examples—this is the first that’s an actual success in pure filmmaking terms.

Of course, movie-viewing and film appreciation is almost always subjective, and the debate and discussion this has already begun to cause is proof enough of it. But the very fact that a mainstream film like this has caused a debatable discussion more than anything else gives the discerning movie viewer hope of a widened knowledge, and of subjectivity being more than just an abused phrase.

Consensus: 4 Stars
Impressive!
About the Author

Ankit Ojha

Facebook

Ambivert. Intermittent cynic. Content creator. New media enthusiast. Binge-watcher. Budding filmmaker.

Watch the trailer

We’re viral

Like UsFollow Us

Cast Shah Rukh Khan
Sayani Gupta
Waluscha de Sousa
Director Maneesh Sharma
Consensus: 4 Stars
Impressive!

What to Expect

Ticking time-bomb

Ticking time-bomb

Fan boasts, probably, of some of the sneakiest marketing the Indian Hindi-language film industry has ever seen.

Marketed initially by a mini-teaser, we were sold the fan. In the second teaser, we were witness to the fan selling the star. Filled with references, however, the trailer went balls-out ballistic and teased the built worlds of two distinctly different people.

Of course, the fans off-screen went ballistic, but I was totally sold on it. While I’ve become extremely jaded to trailers, this is one of the very few that successfully managed to sell the film correctly to me. And while I’ve almost always admired Shah Rukh Khan, hoping for the actor to come back even when he was a mass-friendly producer, this movie excited me for the collaborative return of Habib Faisal and Maneesh Sharma, post the latter’s directorial debut Band Baaja Baaraat. Sharma is a brave filmmaker and, save for a derivative Ladies vs Ricky Bahl, he almost always chooses films with things to say.

Fan might be his fourth directorial venture, but it is both his first big-ticket film set around an ambitious platform and his first thriller film. That alone just had me excited like no other. But as one knows, excitement isn’t always the best option when you’re watching a big movie. There are significant chances of being disappointed and betrayed by the glitter.

Little did I know that behind the superficial glitter I’d find a lot of gold.

What’s it About?

For Gaurav Chandna (Shah Rukh Khan; Swades), Indian moviestar Aryan Khanna (Khan, again) is his life. Post a significant upturn, Gaurav decides to meet Aryan to show him his infinite love of the actor and his films. In a twist of fate, desperation takes over, and Khanna jilts Chandna. This initiates a domino effect where anything and everything is possible, and danger lurks around every corner.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Deadly aspirations

Deadly aspirations

Let’s all first try to understand how the film is superficially. Like most Indian Hindi-language films, Fan too is supported by an intermission point, which divides it into two halves. Now, while the first half is a flawed, but starkly authentic, comedy-drama with sinisterness only hovering around the narrative like a harmless fly, the second half takes a complete U-Turn and becomes your friendly neighborhood Hollywood blockbuster action thriller film, garnished with every implausibility one could think of.

Fan is undoubtedly bound to leave viewers flabbergasted (never mind the fans; they’ll cheer for Shah Rukh Khan like no other). It is that kind of film. Like its character Gaurav Chandna, the movie itself snaps and goes full-throttle—never mind the narrative inconsistencies and the ludicrous decisions made by the writers to keep the film going in the second half. So the fans of a ball-busting twisty mainstream action-thriller will love the second half, and those expecting a slow burn psychological drama-thriller will love the first. And from what I’ve read of the film’s reactions by its viewers so far, the sides have been chosen, and there are fewer in favor of the second-half than of the first.

But in what will undoubtedly be written off as a movie that, in the words of quite a few viewers I’ve had a conversation with, “sucks,” there’s a possibility that not many would know that it’s more; a lot more. Because while many movies do work on the basis of a solid, unfettered story, Fan was never going to be about the plot. (And it’s a surprise, but this might just have been hinted at in the film’s trailer itself; a feat seldom performed in Indian movie marketing.) This is a mainstream action-thriller film alright, but one that has commentary and subtext.

Let us first dissect the film by classifying its image systems. The image systems set up for Gaurav and Aryan are incredibly different. Both Gaurav and Aryan are from different socio-economic backgrounds. Aryan is wealthy and powerful while Gaurav comes from a modest neighborhood. This gives rise to aspiration as an emotion. Gaurav aspires to be Aryan. His love for Aryan comes from a multi-dimensional range of his status in society, and his need to be recognized and reassured. Aryan sees himself in Gaurav’s persistence. A crucial face-off between the two within these portions further embeds this, particularly since Gaurav coldly tells Aryan, “Aryan exists because Gaurav exists. Without Gaurav, there’s no Aryan.”

One from Another

One from Another

(Which then leads to another hypothesis: Gaurav and Aryan might probably be two representations of one person. Gaurav could be nothing but a marriage of Aryan’s demon and alter-ego. Demon, because Gaurav reminds Aryan of his past and delirious persistence. Alter-ego, because Gaurav can do what Aryan cannot.)

The second half then sets up an image system for Aryan. While the pre-intermission portions spoke of Aryan’s influence on Gaurav’s life, the post-intermission portions cleverly establish Aryan’s life and Gaurav’s power. Now, the bizarre anything-can-happen-in-a-movie turn this half takes is shockingly different from the low-key representation of Gaurav, but let’s understand why Sharma and Faisal went with this particular set-up. Aryan is an actor and a celebrated figure of “Bollywood” pop culture. A wild, self-aware risk one could take to would be to pull all stops from the narrative and make his life look like the escapist, self-unaware movies he’d regularly influence his viewers with, including all because-it’s-a-movie tropes the kind of template could go with.

The movie’s only trying to tell us that Aryan’s life, giving literal representation to The Muppets creator Jim Henson’s golden words, is like a limitless feature-film universe.

One of the most gorgeously shot action set-pieces of the film would probably be the one of the best in the Indian Hindi film industry (next only to the gorgeous one-take choreography in Sriram Raghavan’s Agent Vinod). But that’s not relevant. What’s relevant is that this dramatic throwback-to-Bourne set-piece might look contrived, yet is anything but. In Aryan’s world, anything’s possible. Challenging the rules of his world is Gaurav, whose own world was only previously shattered by him. At this particular juncture, Sharma and Faisal’s conscious utilization of the status transaction becomes quite apparent. The entire movie has been about the exchange of status, and most of us wouldn’t even know it.

In the first half, we’re shown two people of two different statuses, where Gaurav confidently reaches out to grab the status of another. The latter, of course, snatches that back from the former and sends him back to his world. The borderline-diabolical fighter that he is, he makes an entry in Aryan’s world to threaten the existence of his status (which, inherently, is all he has). And threaten he does, by metaphorically claiming, “I’ve been like you all this long, I can do you—and do you one better by ruining you as you.” The fan is now on a level-playing field with the star, during which ensues a rather entertaining cat-and-mouse chase.

Self versus alter-ego

Self versus alter-ego

But who’s the cat and who’s the mouse? Who is good? Who is evil? Nobody is black and white. Both humans are twisted reflections of each other. They’re now brought to face each other off by being on a similar platform of power. The star isn’t a complete saint or victim. The fan isn’t an entirely psychotic stereotype. Who is the audience going to root for? The arrogant, acerbic star or the almost entitled jilted-lover fan? You can’t root for anyone. You’re in a world with positives (the establishment of normalcy via families and friends) and negatives (the Bhutianis, the impostors, and the media trials). Humans are flawed, and despite their superficial Mary Sue behaviors, the characters’ emotions are only human and hold minuscule little moral ground. of course, there is compassion and principle, but there are no ethics.

The film dabbles a lot with irony (the multi-faceted scene at Madame Tussaud’s is a brilliant example) and weaves a not-so-subtle allegory of twisted borderline-narcissism and how the demons of your past are always lurking around. But more than anything else, what will be most visible to the viewers is the surgical deconstruction of a star and a fan, and how the social image of a star in the mind of a fan may not always be the same as his real life self. Which, in the garb of a commercial studio-backed film, is a feat that succeeds in a lot more than it shows it does.

Of course, for a movie to have given me a lot to write about analytically, it’s saddening when there are dips, technically or otherwise. Radio presenting as a plot device is an oft used one, but the vocal radio jockeying duo used in the beginning of the post-intermission portions is so cringeworthy to hear it’s flabbergasting. Surely considering the film’s ambitious platform, acquiring authentic radio jockeying voices shouldn’t have been a problem? Additionally, for its terrific CGI, there still is a shot or two that is less than convincing in its composite. And for all of its creation’s poetry, you’d expect the final conversation between Gaurav and Aryan to sound less like a preachy public service announcement of crazy fan-behavior; or better, have no dialogues at all. No, seriously, for a movie presented with the most precisely constructed dialogues (Sharat Katariya, you genius), this seems like that moment’s major setback.

Oh well. We can’t have it all now, can we?

To Perform or Not to Perform

Delusional dreamer

Delusional dreamer

Over the last decade, there have been only two films of prime importance to Shah Rukh Khan’s acting career—Chak De! India, and My Name is Khan.  And while his filmography is littered with the likes of Maaya Memsaab, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Hey Raam and Swades, among others, the performative highs over the last nine years haven’t been as strong as the amount of records his mass-friendly productions have broken.

Not this time.

Shah Rukh Khan might get back in the big-ol’ Bollywood doppelgänger trope, but he’s a spectacular screen presence. Rising out of the ashes of Dilwale and Happy New Year as a performer, Khan gleefully sinks his teeth into two diverse, multidimensional roles, and comes out a clear winner. As Gaurav Chandna, he is a wonderfully essayed character, while as Aryan Khanna, he hits closer to home. It is as Aryan Khanna though that he surprises with beautiful restraint.

Now, while of course Khan hogs the screen to boot, there is one more person whose confidence bowls you over like no other. Sayani Gupta as Khan’s personal assistant is a force of nature. Right from the deep understanding of the teensy characteristic bits of the person she plays (her earnest thank-you chants to an official after Khanna’s passive aggressive spat feel almost as real and urgent as they should, and this is just one of many, many terrific examples) to the confidence with which she essays them (her death-stare as Khanna jokes when he asks her if she was pregnant), she’s proven herself as an actress to keep a close eye on. Waluscha De Sousa as Khanna’s wife is a commendable presence in the film, despite the short runtime of her role. Yogendra Tiku—who as of now is turning into the Indian Hindi-film industry’s favorite on screen father—is excellent, but it is Deepika Amin who bowls us over with her low-key emotional performance. And last, but certainly not the least, there’s Shriya Pilgaonkar. Yes, there are times when her voice reminds me of early Deepika Padukone, but her confidence helps her sail through smoothly in the movie.

Worth it?

When Fan, in a voice as rare as it can be, made an authentic-to-boot commentary on the fickleness of film journalism (the crux of that London press-con) and how media trials can come close to ruining a person’s overall image, I was reminded of only one other movie in recent history successful enough to achieve it with the sneering cynicism of a jaded spectator—David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

The movie itself is filled with many such scathing, yet subtle, commentaries.

Sure, it’s illogical, implausible, and—at most times—downright bizarre. Superficially, this could probably be one of those unsurprising, lazily-written studio-backed films we’re witness to everyday, saved only by Shah Rukh Khan’s powerhouse performance. But that’s how it is. The self-awareness of the film isn’t as visible as—say—Adam Wingard’s action-thriller The Guest, for example. But the beauty of it all lies within how underplayed it is. The story and the narrative are, but, only a means to an end much bigger than anyone could have imagined.

This isn’t a film that can easily be recommended for many-a-reason. Given its popularity factor, one wouldn’t want to see through it; they’d heartily dismiss it even. Giving it an honest try, however, for Shah Rukh Khan’s performance at the very least, would be a good idea to see where you fit in the scheme of things. Should one understand where Fan is coming from and what it achieves, they’ll find a lot to appreciate within the fascinatingly deceptive narrative. Should that not happen, however, the least they’ll get to see is a comeback of sorts of Khan the actor and three gorgeously executed action set-pieces.

That wouldn’t mean it’s a terrible film, no. It’s only a few steps short of the kind of misunderstood, unblemished brilliance you’d expect from writer Habib Faisal and director Maneesh Sharma, packaged deceptively within multiple genre-template brackets, and scattered with easter eggs abound. And unlike YRF’s other self-aware productions—the fascinating, but fatally flawed Kill Dil and Tashan are perfect examples—this is the first that’s an actual success in pure filmmaking terms.

Of course, movie-viewing and film appreciation is almost always subjective, and the debate and discussion this has already begun to cause is proof enough of it. But the very fact that a mainstream film like this has caused a debatable discussion more than anything else gives the discerning movie viewer hope of a widened knowledge, and of subjectivity being more than just an abused phrase.

About the Author

Ankit Ojha

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Ambivert. Intermittent cynic. Content creator. New media enthusiast. Binge-watcher. Budding filmmaker.

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Cast Shah Rukh Khan
Sayani Gupta
Waluscha de Sousa
Director Maneesh Sharma
Consensus: 4 Stars
Impressive!

What to Expect

Fan boasts, probably, of some of the sneakiest marketing the Indian Hindi-language film industry has ever seen.

Marketed initially by a mini-teaser, we were sold the fan. In the second teaser, we were witness to the fan selling the star. Filled with references, however, the trailer went balls-out ballistic and teased the built worlds of two distinctly different people.

Of course, the fans off-screen went ballistic, but I was totally sold on it. While I’ve become extremely jaded to trailers, this is one of the very few that successfully managed to sell the film correctly to me. And while I’ve almost always admired Shah Rukh Khan, hoping for the actor to come back even when he was a mass-friendly producer, this movie excited me for the collaborative return of Habib Faisal and Maneesh Sharma, post the latter’s directorial debut Band Baaja Baaraat. Sharma is a brave filmmaker and, save for a derivative Ladies vs Ricky Bahl, he almost always chooses films with things to say.

Fan might be his fourth directorial venture, but it is both his first big-ticket film set around an ambitious platform and his first thriller film. That alone just had me excited like no other. But as one knows, excitement isn’t always the best option when you’re watching a big movie. There are significant chances of being disappointed and betrayed by the glitter.

Little did I know that behind the superficial glitter I’d find a lot of gold.

What’s it About?

For Gaurav Chandna (Shah Rukh Khan; Swades), Indian moviestar Aryan Khanna (Khan, again) is his life. Post a significant upturn, Gaurav decides to meet Aryan to show him his infinite love of the actor and his films. In a twist of fate, desperation takes over, and Khanna jilts Chandna. This initiates a domino effect where anything and everything is possible, and danger lurks around every corner.

Deadly aspirations

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Let’s all first try to understand how the film is superficially. Like most Indian Hindi-language films, Fan too is supported by an intermission point, which divides it into two halves. Now, while the first half is a flawed, but starkly authentic, comedy-drama with sinisterness only hovering around the narrative like a harmless fly, the second half takes a complete U-Turn and becomes your friendly neighborhood Hollywood blockbuster action thriller film, garnished with every implausibility one could think of.

Fan is undoubtedly bound to leave viewers flabbergasted (never mind the fans; they’ll cheer for Shah Rukh Khan like no other). It is that kind of film. Like its character Gaurav Chandna, the movie itself snaps and goes full-throttle—never mind the narrative inconsistencies and the ludicrous decisions made by the writers to keep the film going in the second half. So the fans of a ball-busting twisty mainstream action-thriller will love the second half, and those expecting a slow burn psychological drama-thriller will love the first. And from what I’ve read of the film’s reactions by its viewers so far, the sides have been chosen, and there are fewer in favor of the second-half than of the first.

But in what will undoubtedly be written off as a movie that, in the words of quite a few viewers I’ve had a conversation with, “sucks,” there’s a possibility that not many would know that it’s more; a lot more. Because while many movies do work on the basis of a solid, unfettered story, Fan was never going to be about the plot. (And it’s a surprise, but this might just have been hinted at in the film’s trailer itself; a feat seldom performed in Indian movie marketing.) This is a mainstream action-thriller film alright, but one that has commentary and subtext.

Let us first dissect the film by classifying its image systems. The image systems set up for Gaurav and Aryan are incredibly different. Both Gaurav and Aryan are from different socio-economic backgrounds. Aryan is wealthy and powerful while Gaurav comes from a modest neighborhood. This gives rise to aspiration as an emotion. Gaurav aspires to be Aryan. His love for Aryan comes from a multi-dimensional range of his status in society, and his need to be recognized and reassured. Aryan sees himself in Gaurav’s persistence. A crucial face-off between the two within these portions further embeds this, particularly since Gaurav coldly tells Aryan, “Aryan exists because Gaurav exists. Without Gaurav, there’s no Aryan.”

One from Another

(Which then leads to another hypothesis: Gaurav and Aryan might probably be two representations of one person. Gaurav could be nothing but a marriage of Aryan’s demon and alter-ego. Demon, because Gaurav reminds Aryan of his past and delirious persistence. Alter-ego, because Gaurav can do what Aryan cannot.)

The second half then sets up an image system for Aryan. While the pre-intermission portions spoke of Aryan’s influence on Gaurav’s life, the post-intermission portions cleverly establish Aryan’s life and Gaurav’s power. Now, the bizarre anything-can-happen-in-a-movie turn this half takes is shockingly different from the low-key representation of Gaurav, but let’s understand why Sharma and Faisal went with this particular set-up. Aryan is an actor and a celebrated figure of “Bollywood” pop culture. A wild, self-aware risk one could take to would be to pull all stops from the narrative and make his life look like the escapist, self-unaware movies he’d regularly influence his viewers with, including all because-it’s-a-movie tropes the kind of template could go with.

The movie’s only trying to tell us that Aryan’s life, giving literal representation to The Muppets creator Jim Henson’s golden words, is like a limitless feature-film universe.

One of the most gorgeously shot action set-pieces of the film would probably be the one of the best in the Indian Hindi film industry (next only to the gorgeous one-take choreography in Sriram Raghavan’s Agent Vinod). But that’s not relevant. What’s relevant is that this dramatic throwback-to-Bourne set-piece might look contrived, yet is anything but. In Aryan’s world, anything’s possible. Challenging the rules of his world is Gaurav, whose own world was only previously shattered by him. At this particular juncture, Sharma and Faisal’s conscious utilization of the status transaction becomes quite apparent. The entire movie has been about the exchange of status, and most of us wouldn’t even know it.

In the first half, we’re shown two people of two different statuses, where Gaurav confidently reaches out to grab the status of another. The latter, of course, snatches that back from the former and sends him back to his world. The borderline-diabolical fighter that he is, he makes an entry in Aryan’s world to threaten the existence of his status (which, inherently, is all he has). And threaten he does, by metaphorically claiming, “I’ve been like you all this long, I can do you—and do you one better by ruining you as you.” The fan is now on a level-playing field with the star, during which ensues a rather entertaining cat-and-mouse chase.

Self versus alter-ego

But who’s the cat and who’s the mouse? Who is good? Who is evil? Nobody is black and white. Both humans are twisted reflections of each other. They’re now brought to face each other off by being on a similar platform of power. The star isn’t a complete saint or victim. The fan isn’t an entirely psychotic stereotype. Who is the audience going to root for? The arrogant, acerbic star or the almost entitled jilted-lover fan? You can’t root for anyone. You’re in a world with positives (the establishment of normalcy via families and friends) and negatives (the Bhutianis, the impostors, and the media trials). Humans are flawed, and despite their superficial Mary Sue behaviors, the characters’ emotions are only human and hold minuscule little moral ground. of course, there is compassion and principle, but there are no ethics.

The film dabbles a lot with irony (the multi-faceted scene at Madame Tussaud’s is a brilliant example) and weaves a not-so-subtle allegory of twisted borderline-narcissism and how the demons of your past are always lurking around. But more than anything else, what will be most visible to the viewers is the surgical deconstruction of a star and a fan, and how the social image of a star in the mind of a fan may not always be the same as his real life self. Which, in the garb of a commercial studio-backed film, is a feat that succeeds in a lot more than it shows it does.

Of course, for a movie to have given me a lot to write about analytically, it’s saddening when there are dips, technically or otherwise. Radio presenting as a plot device is an oft used one, but the vocal radio jockeying duo used in the beginning of the post-intermission portions is so cringeworthy to hear it’s flabbergasting. Surely considering the film’s ambitious platform, acquiring authentic radio jockeying voices shouldn’t have been a problem? Additionally, for its terrific CGI, there still is a shot or two that is less than convincing in its composite. And for all of its creation’s poetry, you’d expect the final conversation between Gaurav and Aryan to sound less like a preachy public service announcement of crazy fan-behavior; or better, have no dialogues at all. No, seriously, for a movie presented with the most precisely constructed dialogues (Sharat Katariya, you genius), this seems like that moment’s major setback.

Oh well. We can’t have it all now, can we?

Delusional dreamer

To Perform or Not to Perform

Over the last decade, there have been only two films of prime importance to Shah Rukh Khan’s acting career—Chak De! India, and My Name is Khan.  And while his filmography is littered with the likes of Maaya Memsaab, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Hey Raam and Swades, among others, the performative highs over the last nine years haven’t been as strong as the amount of records his mass-friendly productions have broken.

Not this time.

Shah Rukh Khan might get back in the big-ol’ Bollywood doppelgänger trope, but he’s a spectacular screen presence. Rising out of the ashes of Dilwale and Happy New Year as a performer, Khan gleefully sinks his teeth into two diverse, multidimensional roles, and comes out a clear winner. As Gaurav Chandna, he is a wonderfully essayed character, while as Aryan Khanna, he hits closer to home. It is as Aryan Khanna though that he surprises with beautiful restraint.

Now, while of course Khan hogs the screen to boot, there is one more person whose confidence bowls you over like no other. Sayani Gupta as Khan’s personal assistant is a force of nature. Right from the deep understanding of the teensy characteristic bits of the person she plays (her earnest thank-you chants to an official after Khanna’s passive aggressive spat feel almost as real and urgent as they should, and this is just one of many, many terrific examples) to the confidence with which she essays them (her death-stare as Khanna jokes when he asks her if she was pregnant), she’s proven herself as an actress to keep a close eye on. Waluscha De Sousa as Khanna’s wife is a commendable presence in the film, despite the short runtime of her role. Yogendra Tiku—who as of now is turning into the Indian Hindi-film industry’s favorite on screen father—is excellent, but it is Deepika Amin who bowls us over with her low-key emotional performance. And last, but certainly not the least, there’s Shriya Pilgaonkar. Yes, there are times when her voice reminds me of early Deepika Padukone, but her confidence helps her sail through smoothly in the movie.

Worth it?

When Fan, in a voice as rare as it can be, made an authentic-to-boot commentary on the fickleness of film journalism (the crux of that London press-con) and how media trials can come close to ruining a person’s overall image, I was reminded of only one other movie in recent history successful enough to achieve it with the sneering cynicism of a jaded spectator—David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

The movie itself is filled with many such scathing, yet subtle, commentaries.

Sure, it’s illogical, implausible, and—at most times—downright bizarre. Superficially, this could probably be one of those unsurprising, lazily-written studio-backed films we’re witness to everyday, saved only by Shah Rukh Khan’s powerhouse performance. But that’s how it is. The self-awareness of the film isn’t as visible as—say—Adam Wingard’s action-thriller The Guest, for example. But the beauty of it all lies within how underplayed it is. The story and the narrative are, but, only a means to an end much bigger than anyone could have imagined.

This isn’t a film that can easily be recommended for many-a-reason. Given its popularity factor, one wouldn’t want to see through it; they’d heartily dismiss it even. Giving it an honest try, however, for Shah Rukh Khan’s performance at the very least, would be a good idea to see where you fit in the scheme of things. Should one understand where Fan is coming from and what it achieves, they’ll find a lot to appreciate within the fascinatingly deceptive narrative. Should that not happen, however, the least they’ll get to see is a comeback of sorts of Khan the actor and three gorgeously executed action set-pieces.

That wouldn’t mean it’s a terrible film, no. It’s only a few steps short of the kind of misunderstood, unblemished brilliance you’d expect from writer Habib Faisal and director Maneesh Sharma, packaged deceptively within multiple genre-template brackets, and scattered with easter eggs abound. And unlike YRF’s other self-aware productions—the fascinating, but fatally flawed Kill Dil and Tashan are perfect examples—this is the first that’s an actual success in pure filmmaking terms.

Of course, movie-viewing and film appreciation is almost always subjective, and the debate and discussion this has already begun to cause is proof enough of it. But the very fact that a mainstream film like this has caused a debatable discussion more than anything else gives the discerning movie viewer hope of a widened knowledge, and of subjectivity being more than just an abused phrase.

About the Author

Ankit Ojha

Facebook

Ambivert. Intermittent cynic. Content creator. New media enthusiast. Binge-watcher. Budding filmmaker.

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