Sunday ReRun: Fan! Yash Raj’s Riskiest Movie

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.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

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?)

Advertisements

17 thoughts on “Sunday ReRun: Fan! Yash Raj’s Riskiest Movie

  1. Speaking of fans, have you noticed this disturbing new trend where families of ill people demand to see SRK because the person is a fan? From time to time, a social media campaign starts asking SRK to meet whoever. People who hate him insult him and abuse him for not caring and people who love him start trending hashtags to beg him to meet this person. Then it becomes a media story. SRK is basically forced into making a video or calling the person or doing something to make people calm down. Then soon it starts again with another ill person. And strangely enough, it only happens to SRK. I have not seen this with any other celebrity.

    I wonder how he feels about this. On one hand, I get it that people want to give their family members some happiness but on the other, it’s such a perverse demand on someone else’s time and life. If he capitulates and gives time to one or two people, it will encourage more people to do the same. When does it stop? Is he supposed to just keep on jumping from one sick person to another like a puppet because people demand it? At the end of the day, he’s a real living breathing human being and he has his own life. You cannot just summon him every time you want like a magical creature.

    Like

    • It’s a lack of distance…also a subject of the movie…a lack that charcterizes Aryan-ShahRukh, too. Therefore we have to have the chases because it’s Aryan searching the contact whith a fan now searching the distance…Gaurav-ShahRukh is on the way to become the star who was a fan, and Aryan becomes the one who gets into the role of the fan mimicking a star…in FAN, all limits or well-known structures are blurred…it is deconstruction at its finest.
      Unfortunately they left out a very important part of the jail scene (which now can be watched among the deleted scenes). What Aryan-ShahRukh lives between the two cuts done in the published movie, is a turning point. (Here again something ShahRukh did experience himself as he had been arrested and passed some time in jail because of beating up a reporter who alleged that he had sex with the Maya Memsaab actress…to ‘rehearse’ the love-making scene.)
      When Gaurav commits sucide he might be right that Aryan don’t /won’t understand, but the line is right for Gaurav, too. He neither understood and would not have understood. He would not admit that he only played a role, that he wasn’t genuine. It’s through death and the fact that through death one sheds everything earthy, Gaurav is able to feel true love, unconditional love, pure love…no admiration or attention seeking anymore, just the joy of loving. And I think this movie had been done for this…it is not about being a fan but about loving someone, really loving…about being so well with oneself, so accepting the person one is, not wanting to be somebody else that one can give his love wholeheartedly. I saw on Aryan’s face that he began to understand while seeing Gaurav.
      It is not important that the fans make a star or that a star would be nothing without the fans. It’s even a false assumption. What actually counts is the relation between both which would – in the most ideal form – be based on unconditional love.
      Unconditional love from both sides because this form of love isn’t judgemental or demanding or patronizing (all these destructive forces get their due in the movie).
      It was extremely courageous from ShahRukh to risk a disappointing experience (which he did…and did again with Zero, his last attempt of deconstructing his stardom as the shining surface of a prism where too many people just see a reflection of their thinking, their wishes, their concepts and not him).
      Thanks for merging your review 2 and review3, Margaret, I like your ideas and analysis, especially of the wonderful structure…a real piece of Art (with a big “A”). I think it was Maneesh’s story in every way including the back and forth structure, the ‘tit-for-tat’, the inversions, and it was ShahRukh’s idea to play both characters.
      And it had to be ShahRukh because of the intimacy people feel they have towards him that they believe they can treat him whichever way they want because of lack of distance.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I like your idea of it being about unconditional love. Jumping off on that, we also see that Aryan craves, but does not trust, unconditional love. He keeps his wife, his loyal assistant, even his kids at a slight distance. He relies on his fans for that feeling of support and love. Meanwhile Gaurav is the one who believes in it, the unconditional love of his parents for him, the potential love of the girl next door, and of course the unconditional love of Aryan which he expects to receive. Gaurav is hurt when he loses the love of Aryan, Aryan is hurt when he loses the love of his fans. And then the ending brings it all together when they both attack the love of each other’s families.

        On Sun, May 26, 2019 at 6:10 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

        >

        Like

    • I think other stars do get the same kind of push, just from what I have seen on twitter. Shahrukh of course gets it a little more, because he is always a little more. But the whole thing is strange, you are right! That this demand for charity is being played out in public, with the implication of public punishment if they don’t comply.

      Like

      • As so many people in India worship ShahRukh like a God, they also voice their wishes like they would do in front of the deity …and social media platforms have become their temples.
        On the other hand, they treat him as a human being and the person they imagine, hence the emotional blackmailing. I doubt that they would blackmail a statuesque deity.

        Like

  2. After having watched Fan, I also could value even more the promotional things ShahRukh did.
    I like that ShahRuck still admits how much the non-acceptance of Fan (and now Zero, too) makes him sad because he learned that so many people just didn’t understand what he wanted to tell, to show them…or only partly…or misunderstood…

    I think, one can easily conclue that ShahRukh reveals a lot of himself in the movie. He may be kinder/gentler than Aryan but he would be exactly as protecting in thoughts and deeds and naughty in behaviour in the correspondant circumstances. But I don’t think he would use his starpower to put somebody in jail…and he won’t go himself, he would send somebody to talk to Gaurav and sort the things out. And I think he won’t react like Aryan did towards the billionaire.
    Fan is a kind of parable and parabola at the same time, imo. And a brilliant as to that.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your analysis of Fan and the comments defending SRK’s desire to tell a greater truth in films like it and Zero, make me ashamed of not wanting my idol to change. He is responsible for creating his image. He KNOWS he has a mesmerizing smile, a sexy walk, molten eyes, etc. He’d be a fool not to use them. But he has a right to share other sides of him, to dig deeper and show us he’s more than just the sum of his glittering surfaces. I’m going to watch the second half of Zero and re-watch Fan with that in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love Fan. It’s one of the most exciting films from the modern Indian cinema. And like others, I too think that SRK revealed a lot of himself in the movie. I mean, how could he not?

    My premise for why he chose to make Fan is that on a personal level, I think, he might have wanted to share a part of him with the people he knows love him unconditionally. Like he might have felt that after all the love that he has received, he wanted to let his “fans” learn some part of his story.. himself. And not like a biopic or something where they are just looking in, but through a story where they could actually be entertained too. I think this premise works for two reasons, one, SRK does love people.. and especially people that he knows adore him.. and his interactions and the way he has been in his public life attest to his absolute love for the people who love him; and two, he likes action and the thriller-type genre. SRK has said it about a hundred times.

    I wish Fan were better received.. but I can see why it wasn’t. The mass Indian audience does not care about films as an art form. They care about content and entertainment. Most well-received films have either of these, while only a very few have both. This one has content and entertainment, just not the kind that is very mass-y. For example, some of my Indian neighbors (middle-aged) who have watched Fan had said, “No content.” and “But, what’s is it trying to tell to the audience?” I would have loved to explain to them that the film is about the story its telling you, but I understand the context they are talking from. They only think “content” exists in a patriotic movie or a social-issue movie. All the others are usually classified as entertainment movies. Also these are the same people who then went on to praise Padmaavat. *Rolling eyes*

    In all, hopefully, Fan goes on to become one of those better-appreciated movies in the long-run.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Really interesting point about “content” being seen as the message of the movie, not the quality of how the film is made. We see the reverse all the time, right? Anything with any kind of minimal social message gets credit as a good movie, while anything without an explicit social message (no matter how good it is), is expected to be just “entertaining” first and foremost. A film like Fan which isn’t really entertaining exactly, and doesn’t have a social message, doesn’t fit in anywhere.

      On Sun, May 26, 2019 at 8:37 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

      • Oh, fm0194, I really like your view on the how and why this way of the movie and the public reaction! That makes a lot of sense!
        I think, the positive reception of ShahRukh’s Suri-character in RNBDJ gave a boost to making happen Maneesh Sharma’s Fan. Unfortunately neither a considerable part of the domestic critics nor a considerable part of the domestic audience embraced the psychological message… (like it happened with Zero, too). They are able to enjoy ShahRukh’s intelligence in interviews and witty repartees, but for the movies it seems that they mostly want a kind of mass-connecting “jabra fan” feeling.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. First a small thing. Because the font on the poster is all caps, I thought the actual official name of the movie is FAN. But I just asked grandma google, and she tells me it’s Fan. So I’ll stop typing FAN whenever I mention this movie. 🙂

    This is such a poignant story. Gaurav wants to be seen, truly seen, by the person in his life who matters most (rightly or wrongly). Even if it’s for 5 minutes. Aryan wants Gaurav to see, truly see, that Aryan is just a person who also has a right to live, to put limits on what he gives to his fans. Even if it’s just giving 5 minutes. And neither can make the other see him. A classic, tragic love story.

    I watched Fan 3 times in the theater, crying each time, then a couple more times at home when it released on Google play soon after. It was interesting watching it again last weekend after a long gap. A couple of things in Shah Rukh’s performances really stood out to me this time. First, he really plays Aryan as more arrogant and colder than Shah Rukh. Even in that “movie montage” that Gaurav performs in front of, Aryan doing the iconic Shah Rukh scenes has very little of Shah Rukh’s approachable-ness, his warmth, his charm. Just the intensity is there. When Shah Rukh says some nice lines and opens his arms to a woman, he is inviting her, hoping she’ll come. When Aryan says the same lines and opens his arms, he knows she’ll come. Having said that, I don’t see an emotional distance between Aryan and his wife and kids, or between him and his staff. It’s just that he’s a fighter and he firmly believes he must tackle Gaurav alone.

    The other thing I noticed is how very clever Shah Rukh the actor is, establishing as Gaurav a few recognizable Gaurav elements (pooching out his lip, slouching, running in a goofy way, biting his lower lip when he wants to look tough), which make it easier to convey Aryan imitating Gaurav later on. In other words, some of the scaffolding of Shah Rukh’s performances showed for me this time in a way they didn’t before. But it makes me appreciate the forethought that went into his performances even more. Is it my imagination that Gaurav really moves like a younger person? If so, what specific physical aspects make him seem to move like a guy in his 20’s to an audience? I’m a klutz, so fascinated with how actors, and Shah Rukh in particular, use their bodies so well.

    I agree that this is Maneesh’s baby, though maybe Aditya helped with some of the structure of the story, which as you and Claudia say, is genius. This film was conceived with Shah Rukh in mind and would only have worked with Shah Rukh. I’m glad he and Red Chillies took on the challenge.

    Like

    • Oh, that is a really interesting way to look at it! Very similar to a classic stalker romance, just because Gaurav loves Aryan does not mean Aryan will love him back, you can’t force love.

      I like your idea of Aryan being colder and harder than Shahrukh. Another small thing, we never see evidence of Aryan doing the work of acting. He practices for a live show, he goes to a wedding, he falls asleep reading scripts, but we don’t see him as an artist digging deep for a role. “Aryan Khanna” is a star who is focused on the power and fame and money and sees his art as a means to that end, while Shahrukh clearly balances the two needs. If he was really just Aryan Khanna, why would be be in this very risky and draining movie instead of making more silly crowd pleasers to stay on top?

      I like your point about Gaurav’s behavior. There is an interview with Karan somewhere where he mentions that Shahrukh changes his walk slightly for every character he plays, it is part of getting in to the role. I assume adding specific tics and traits to Gaurav would have the same effect, let him easily remember when he is Gaurav and when he is Aryan as an actor. For his movements, I’m trying to remember the bits in the “making of” when we get to see Shahrukh do the role before the CGI. I think maybe it is the thoughtlessness of his movements? As an older person, he tends to move deliberately, always careful not to fall or hurt himself. But when he is playing Gaurav, he leaps around carelessly, bit wild movements instead of controlled ones. Which also fits with Gaurav’s whole character.

      In Maneesh’s interviews around the film, he talked about working on the idea for something like 10 years, and checking in with Adi as he went. And Adi telling him “it’s not ready, not yet not yet not yet” until he finally said “yes, I am taking you to meet Shahrukh”. It sounds like what a really good editor would do, not actually writing the thing, but helping Maneesh create the best version of what he wanted.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Another reason I really enjoyed watching the deleted scenes (thanks again for mentioning them, Claudia) is that it’s so neat to watch him enact Gaurav, but without the CGI finishing touches to his face, shoulders, and height.

        Following on your response to my question, I’m in awe of the ability to gain impulsiveness and freedom and lose dignity, but not in a clownish way, to move like a younger person. And to keep it consistent over such a lot of screen time. Wow.

        Like

        • It’s the only role where I think he has played young in just that way. In JTHJ, he moves more easily and with more bounce, like just being alive is joyful. And in JHMS he throws in a few moments of rapid movement to imply that he is old enough to be wise and careful, but young enough to move when he feels like moving (like in jumping on the table during Beech Beech Main). This is the only one I can think of that really captures that unembarrassed freedom of youthful movement.

          On Wed, May 29, 2019 at 1:50 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

          >

          Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.