This is honestly such a brilliant movie. I would recommend it to anyone, that is, anyone who was serious about film and popular culture. It’s not a “fun” watch, but it is a challenging and ultimately rewarding watch.
I mean, I don’t even know where to start! I guess, with Shahrukh. His performances are really brilliant. At the end, I found myself thinking “Oh come on, Shahrukh! Giving yourself the hero’s role, the perfect guy who always wins. Unlike the other guy, who always loses. Oh wait, that’s also Shahrukh!”
The rest of the cast is fine, I guess? None of them really have characters. Not because they are 2 dimensional, but because they are so secondary to the story of our hero/villain. Shahrukh’s star character does have a wife and family, and a loyal assistant, and the Gaurav character has doting parents and a girl he has a crush on. They each get their moment in the sun, but for most of the film they are just there to be there, to fill in the blanks around our two heroes.
They must have known that’s how the film would be, that it was going to be about Shahrukh and Shahrukh and no one else, because that’s how they cast it. I’m sure they could have gotten Rani Mukherjee to play his wife in a couple of juicy scenes, to have Hrithik play the rising star who was clearly based on Hrithik, to have Anupum Kehr play our hero’s father. But instead, they got a variety of very good, very experienced actors, none of whom drew attention away from Shahrukh and Shahrukh.
The world of this film is just about the two of them, because it’s about how the two of them are alone together in the world, how there is a special linkage between them, that sets them apart. And I think that is why the perspective and sympathy keeps switching between the two of them. We start off with Gaurav, then switch to Aryan, then back, then forth, and so on. The two of them see their relationship differently, but they both see that it is just between them, that no one else should be involved. They send each other secret messages, they play vicious games with each other, but it all comes out of a place of love.
You know, that’s kind of what this movie is most like, an obsessive love story. Darr, obviously, but a Darr where Juhi gets equally obsessed with defeating Shahrukh. Or, maybe Roma and Don? Or, Ram and Leela from Ram-Leela. From their first meeting, even before that when they first meet, they are obsessed with each other, they are two sides of the same coin. Gaurav, sure, he’s a fan, like he says. But Aryan too. His reaction to seeing Gaurav’s insanity is to take responsibility for it, to try to solve the problem himself, to keep it between the two of them.
I was thinking this was going to be a movie about Aryan not being able to appreciate his fans. But actually, it is about him appreciating them too much, trying to take full responsibility for them, not letting outside society come into their connection.
Let’s see, what else can I say without spoiling it? Oh! Dubrovnik is gorgeous! Totally want to go there someday.
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When Gaurav comes up with his revenge plan, he says that he wants a Star to run after a Fan. He also quotes several times a line Aryan has said, about how he is nothing without his fans. The simplest interpretation is that he is trying to destroy Aryan by removing his fans from him, in a gesture of poetic justice. Teaching him the truth of this saying he has been mouthing without really believing it.
But, the film doesn’t quite support that interpretation. For one thing, besides his treatment of Gaurav, we never actually see Aryan be disrespectful to a fan. And his treatment of Gaurav is understandable within the film. He really shouldn’t have given him 5 minutes of his time, he can’t do that for every fan. And he shouldn’t do that as a reward for violent and crazed behavior like that Gaurav showed.
Certainly, Aryan’s refusal to say “sorry”, and his insistence on handling the Gaurav threat himself say something about Aryan’s personality. But the flaw is not a lack of appreciation of his “fans”, it’s a general unwillingness to ask for help or reveal weakness. So, why is it that Gaurav decides to punish him by removing the love of his fans, if that is not the personality flaw that actually needs to be fixed?
I think that, no matter what Gaurav tells himself, the attack is not on Aryan, but on the other fans. Think about how the first two incidents are shown. At Madame Tussaud’s, he is first noticed by a little girl, who stares at him with wonder, and to whom he winks, gently letting her in on the joke and drawing her closer to him. And then that same little girl is shown being disturbed and unhappy by the turn his actions take, as her innocence and faith are destroyed by ugliness.
The same thing happens in Dubrovnic. We see this very young woman, from the dialogue apparently not even the bride at the wedding, mostly likely a teenage guest, who is ready to enjoy a simple and sweet romantic fantasy of dancing with Aryan. But when the dance turns sexual, her reaction is the same as that little girl, confusion and heartbreak. Innocence destroyed in the ugliest way possible.
Of course, the obvious first thing to think about with these incidents is how they relate to the real life scandals the stars have dealt with. Salman’s violence, Aamir and Shahrukh’s political statements, Sanjay’s criminal connections, etc. And none of them felt quite the same as what we were seeing on screen. And then I realized that, for me, it felt most similar to the Bill Cosby scandal. Not simply a matter of them doing something wrong, or hateful, but a revelation of a deep sickness and ugliness which forever poisons who they are to me, and destroys the part of my life that revolved around them.
Gaurav (and of course the script writers who dictated his actions) could easily have chosen to use a scandal like Salman’s or Shahrukh’s in real life to tarnish Aryan’s image. He could have simply said something anti-Indian at Madame Tussaud like, I don’t know, “I like London better than India because India is dirty and smelly.” Or he could have simply punched his host at the wedding. Those incidents would result in protests, in boycotts, we know that because that is what happened in real life in response to such occurances.
But instead of something clean and simple like that, Gaurav decided to turn Aryan into a perversion of what he should be, a magical surprise appearance descending into anger and hatred, an innocent dream of a young girl changed into something sexual and dirty. He chose to do things which would most damage the fandom, which would not just cause them to hate Aryan, but to hate themselves for ever believing in him, which would color their memories, which would destroy their ability to believe in anything or anybody from now on.
And I think that is why Aryan decides to hold a press conference, finally. Because he looks out the empty stadium and sees not just how his power has diminished, but how every seat represents a broken heart. And that is why he stops in the press conference when he begins to say his usual “I owe everything to the fans” speech. Because it’s not about what the fans owe him, it is about what he owes them now. His protection, his promise that their faith was not misplaced, that they should not doubt themselves or allow themselves to be hurt any more. And that is why he attacks the reporter who tries to turn it into a joke, because it is not a joke for his fans, for the ones who had their innocence and faith destroyed. Maybe to a cynical reporter none of this matters, but for the millions of people who find strength in believing in him, it does. I also think this is why the attacks we see are through the eyes of young women, those most powerless, most innocent, most unable to protect themselves, and most in need of a simple faith.
Gaurav may tell himself that he is attacking Aryan, getting revenge on him, but in reality he is trying to make other fans hurt as much as he does, to find companions in his own pain. And his final act is to destroy the most innocent and pure of these followers, Aryan’s own daughter. He doesn’t just make her a hostage, or threaten her, he destroys her faith in her father. Her mother reports that she is asking, “why did Daddy break his own study?” and that is why she and her brother have been sent away to their grandparents. And that’s when Aryan knows how best to get back at Gaurav.
It’s not about threatening him or beating him up, it’s about similarly removing his followers’ faith. Wooing away not just his would-be girlfriend, but the crowd he is used to having cheering for him. That is the real attack, destroying the faith of his own fans. Gaurav can survive any physical attack, any machinations, even a threat to his own parents, without giving up. But once he sees “his” crowd cheering for someone else, that is when his heart breaks.
Everything about this movie was brilliant. But what really stood out was Shahrukh’s performance, and the script. The script is listed as being written by Habib Faisal. Based on his filmography, he is a good workmanlike writer, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Baand Baaja Baarat, Daawat-e-Ishq, etc. All Yash Raj films I think, I’m picturing a guy typing away in an office somewhere on the studio lot, cranking out whatever interchangeable rom-com is requested.
But, this script is way way beyond anything like that! I’m going to go ahead and wildly speculate that Aditya Chopra actually wrote the script, or at least conceived the story, and then just had Habib dot the Is and cross the Ts. Because not only is the central theme brilliant and original, but it is outlined and constructed just right.
The conception, just the idea of Shahrukh playing both a character clearly based on himself, and his own fan/lookalike, is super awesome and original. But then it is designed just so. We start with Gaurav, we see his life, and how he takes strength from his “connection” with Aryan Khanna, how everyone in his life tolerates and understands it. There is just the slightest indication that he is a bit extreme in his beliefs, that he takes things slightly too far. But not that far, it is mostly just sort of sweet and adorable. And we get sucked into his perspective on this relationship, that his extreme devotion really does mean he deserves something extra special from the star when he meets him. Our excitement builds and builds along with his, and our hearts are broken along with him when it doesn’t live up to expectations.
Just when you are ready to hate Aryan Khanna for being so unfeeling, suddenly we see him with his family. With his sweet kids that he plays with, with his assistant that he respects, and with his wife. Most importantly, we get a glimpse of the dark side of his life, and how he has to be even darker to stay on top. The story reported about him hitting a junior actor merely for wishing him “Happy Birthday” turns out to be because the actor was pestering his wife, and he had to hit back to defend her. Or did he? The same sympathy we have for Gaurav with that undercurrent of “wait, is that going a little too far?” is now present with Aryan. Did Aryan teach Gaurav to act like this, to be a little too independent and strong and determined to have his own way? Or is Gaurav his fan because he felt they had this in common?
This is the problem for the rest of the film. Aryan hits an actor for hitting on his wife, Gaurav beats up the actor for badmouthing Aryan, Aryan has Gaurav arrested under the table and sent home, Gaurav manages to have Aryan arrested in turn, Aryan decides to dedicate himself to finding and destroying Gaurav rather than going to the cops, Gaurav decides to keep on his own revenge quest even though he has already succeeded in his initial goal, Gaurav goes after Aryan’s family, Aryan goes after his, Gaurav tries to shoot him, Aryan tries to beat him to death. They both just can’t quit.
I think there are two statements here. First, that this is the nature those who become stars. That they have to have something a little mad inside of them to keep them going. That being a movie star means constantly being ready to man the barricades and fight off your enemies, whether it is the rising star who comes on to your wife, the London police officer who belittles you, or even the Indian ambassador who helps you but fails to be appropriately respectful. It sounds self-indulgent when I put it like that, like this is how SRK wants to see himself, but really, that is the nature of stardom in India. It’s a real “with great power comes great responsibility” kind of thing. Or, more accurately, “with great power comes constant attacks and threats.”
And secondly, that the act of being a fan will also make you mad. But it is a beautiful madness. A holy madness. A madness that is stronger than the object of it’s worship. At the end of the film, Aryan tries to talk sense back into Gaurav, to give him his view of the world, where he is just a man, like any other, who worked hard and continues to work hard and that is all he is, no better than Gaurav. But in response,Gaurav simply says “Tum Nahin Samjhe.” The star himself can’t quite understand the madness of the fan, the beauty of it, the power of it. Finally, in the end, the fan is bigger than the star.
(also, do you think they told the fan in the promotional video to use that phrase, or do you think she said it and they decided to put it in the script?)